2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI review: Our expert's take
By Kelsey Mays
For a nameplate with as many as six members on sale in the U.S., Volkswagen’s Golf family has jettisoned most of its stateside offerings. The hatchback’s eighth-generation redesign is now on sale in broad form overseas, but Americans will see just two examples: the Golf GTI and Golf R, both offered as four-door hatchbacks for the 2022 model year. Both employ VW’s EA888 turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, good for 241 horsepower and 273 pounds-feet of torque in the GTI or 315 hp and 295 pounds-feet in the R.
We took an in-person look at the redesigned hatchbacks earlier this year at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show. But last month at an event for the North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year awards, Cars.com Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder and I sampled a stick-shift Golf GTI and automatic Golf R on public roads in southeast Michigan. (Wiesenfelder and I are jurors on NACTOY, as it’s called.) Note, the Golf R was a U.S. vehicle but the GTI was a European specification, so minor tweaks may apply to the version that hits your local dealership.
We’ll reserve full judgement for when we get the pair back to Cars.com HQ, but our early take is the GTI and R remain fun to drive fast, with new rear-axle torque vectoring paying dividends for the R’s dynamics. If any models can justify Volkswagen’s move to aggravating touch-sensitive controls, it’s performers like these — but even then, those controls are dismal enough to question how much that performance matters.
Manual transmissions are dying in part because few good ones remain. I’m not sure Volkswagen’s unit qualifies as an exception: It’s good but not great. Accelerator response is instantaneous regardless of drivetrain mode — those modes (Eco, Comfort and Sport) seem to impact throttle progression more than response — but the shifter’s a bit clumsy, with medium throws and poorly defined gates. I drove a stick-shift 2022 Honda Civic Hatchback soon after the GTI, and Honda’s unit has far crisper (if a little notchy) operation.
I’m noticing more turbo lag these days, likely painted in stark relief by the immediate surge from the EVs we increasingly test. It’s alive and well here: The GTI has mild power starting out, but the engine pulls hard as rpm climbs and the turbocharger spins up. It’s plenty strong overall, and the Golf R is quicker still — downright explosive by the time you get past 4,000 rpm or so. The R’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission hesitates to downshift if you need more power while already in motion, but enough accelerator pedal can induce it after moderate delay. (We didn’t test the GTI with the dual-clutch or the R with the manual, though Volkswagen offers both.)
2022 Volkswagen Golf R | Cars.com photo by Kelsey Mays
Improved AWD in Golf R
The Golf R features terrific, quick-ratio steering; Volkswagen told us it shares the same ratio with that of the GTI, but the latter setup feels a little less engaging — a possible impact of tire selection or steering assist, among other factors. More differentiating is dynamics: Equipped with high-performance summer tires, both the GTI and R we drove held off understeer until late, but the R’s standard all-wheel drive let you iron it out (rather controllably, too) with extra mid-corner throttle. Both cars feel at home attacking hard curves, but the R adds gratifying neutrality as you work your way through them. Credit its AWD, which adds rear-axle torque vectoring for 2022. It’s an improvement versus the outgoingGolf R, whose AWD couldn’t shake the push.
Ride quality is similar in both cars; it’s busy but livable, with just enough impact absorption as the dampers near full compression to avoid feeling too choppy. Adaptive dampers (which is to say, shock absorbers) are optional in the GTI and standard in the R.
As we hinted at the beginning, the elephant in the room for the GTI and R has nothing to do with how they drive. Volkswagen’s move to touch-sensitive controls has turned cars like the refreshed Tiguan SUV and all-electric ID.4 into complicated, unsatisfactory user experiences. And so it goes with the new Golf, whose climate, audio and steering-wheel controls rely mostly on touch panels instead of physical controls. (We aren’t the only ones aggravated by this. Leading consumer surveys indicate owners also dislike touch-sensitive controls.) If any cars justify ignoring the interface, it’s performance hatchbacks like these. But that’s a big if — especially for the GTI, given Volkswagen’s updated Jetta GLI sedan pairs similar power with more traditional controls.
The 2022 Golf GTI and Golf R hit dealerships later this year; pricing with destination starts at $30,540 for the GTI and $44,640 for the R.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Nov. 2, 2021, to clarify that adaptive shock absorbers are available in the 2022 Golf GTI and R.
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Overall, this is one of the best cars I have ever owned. This car hugs the road while providing the opportunity to be a real daily driver. Fast, refined, and full of options which accommodate any driving style. If I have one complaint, it is - yes the same as so many others - the infotainment system. The base model gives you a better feel and option for using actual knobs for some of the specifics, which I find somewhat ironic. If you can manage to get past the infotainment system, you’ll love this car.
Rating breakdown (out of 5):
Purchased a New car
Used for Having fun
Does recommend this car
24 people out of 25 found this review helpful.
New car and Certified Pre-Owned programs by
New car program benefits
48 months/50,000 miles
84 months/100,000 miles
48 months/50,000 miles
24 months/20,000 miles
36 months/36,000 miles
Certified Pre-Owned program benefits
MY 2016-MY 2017 vehicles/75,000 miles; MY 2018- MY 2019 vehicles/72,000 miles; MY 2020 and newer vehicles/75,000 miles
Basic warranty terms
Vehicles purchased on or after 1/5/21: MY 2017 & older, 2 yrs/24,000 miles (whichever is 1st) limited warranty; MY 2018-19, 1 yr/12,000 miles (whichever is 1st) limited warranty; MY 2020 & newer, 2 years/24,000 miles (whichever is 1st) limited warranty