2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Review

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Nov 10, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

Before there was a Honda Civic Si, or a Hyundai Veloster N, or even a Subaru WRX, the first Volkswagen hot hatchback was launched in the United States in 1983 as the Rabbit GTI. It didn't matter that the VW econobox had but 90 horsepower. After suffering through the oil crisis years of the 1970s, enthusiasts flocked to Volkswagen's nimble, affordable, and fun-to-drive small hatchback sedan. To this day, the Golf GTI delivers a uniquely European driving experience at a price well below that of sporty offerings from premium European brands.

Even as Volkswagen moves to electrify much of its product lineup (gas-powered SUVs still constitute 70 percent of the brand's sales in the U.S.), the company considers the Golf GTI, along with the Golf R and Jetta 4-door sedan, to be core models that have a solid fan base among its constituents.

As evidence of that commitment, Volkswagen is introducing an all-new eighth-generation Golf GTI for 2022. Still, an affordable, 4-cylinder-powered, front-wheel-drive (FWD) 4-door compact that merges the dynamics of a sport sedan with a versatile, roomy hatchback body style, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI is available in three trim levels: no-frills S with plaid cloth seats, nicely equipped SE, and leather-lined Autobahn.

Although the new GTI's core basics of an enthusiast-oriented FWD hatchback sedan remain true to the past, the exterior sheet metal, interior layout, chassis detail, and most parts are either new or significantly updated. For 2022, the Golf GTI sees changes in these key areas:

  • More horsepower
  • More torque
  • More cargo room
  • Upgraded vehicle dynamics
  • Standard torque-sensing limited-slip differential
  • Larger available 19-inch summer tires
  • New digital-touch control interfaces
  • Upgraded MIB 3 infotainment
  • Standard IQ.Drive advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) package

What Owners Say About the Volkswagen Golf - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Light Green Front Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

The Volkswagen Golf* competes in the Compact Car market segment. According to data collected from verified new-vehicle buyers for the J.D. Power 2021 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 80 percent of previous-generation (Mark 7) Volkswagen Golf buyers are male (vs. 55 percent for the segment), and the median age of a Golf buyer is 49 years (vs. 50).

As part of the APEAL Study, owners rated the previous-generation Golf in 10 primary categories. Listed below in descending order, you'll find their preferences from their most favorite thing about the vehicle to their least favorite:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Powertrain
  • Feeling of safety
  • Interior design
  • Setting up and starting
  • Getting in and out
  • Driving comfort
  • Infotainment system
  • Fuel economy

In the 2021 APEAL Study, the previous-generation Golf ranks seventh out of 11 Compact Car models.

*APEAL scores are reported at the model level and include all variants of that model (i.e., 2021 Volkswagen Golf includes Golf, Golf GTI, and Golf R)

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Volkswagen Golf GTI - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a 2022 Golf GTI Autobahn equipped with a 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT) and the following options:

  • Pomelo Yellow Metallic paint

The price of the test vehicle came to $40,185, including the $995 destination charge.

Getting In and Getting Comfortable

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Light Green Front Seats

Photo: Ron Sessions

You'd expect the front seats in a German car to be outstanding, and the GTI's don't disappoint. They're German firm, of course, but supportive in all the right places for enjoyable hours behind the wheel. Bottom cushion lateral support is just right, enough to keep you in the seat storming through the twisty corners the GTI is built for, but without hard edges that might give your thighs a nether-region check when getting in and out. More pronounced bolsters in the front seatbacks hug your lower torso without interfering with working the grippy standard heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel.

The front seats are also heated, with traditional GTI plaid cloth-coverings in S and SE trim and ventilated leather in the Autobahn. The base S and SE front seats are an odd mix with power-reclining seatbacks but manual fore/aft and lumbar adjustment. Autobahn upgrades to ventilated leather seat trim and a full-power driver's seat with position memory. The front buckets now have integrated head restraints, like the 1983 original.

This is a high-quality car, now, by the way, assembled in Wolfsburg, Germany. Interior fitments have a durable-goods look and feel with soft-touch surfaces on many high-traffic touchpoints.

Switchgear is a mixed bag. A new standard, 10.25-inch color driver-configurable dash display with three views and nearly two dozen viewing options face the driver. Tapping a "view" button on the steering wheel provides access to the different modes. The driver can import the full-screen navigation map into the driver display on SE and Autobahn trims with navigation.

In a move to digitize the driving environment, some controls got moved around. The analog climate controls that used to live in the center stack are now dispersed to various locations. The front and rear defroster controls are now combined with a touch-sensitive headlamp control switch on the left side of the dash. Temperature controls are now tiny touch-sensitive sliders in the center of the dash, and still, other climate and seat heating/ventilation controls are accessed via the 10-inch infotainment screen. These are sometimes hard to find and tap successfully in a moving car.

Interior storage is decent with a pair of American-size cupholders; a small bin alongside the shifter for key fobs, candy bars, and such; a larger open bin forward of the shifter for electronica; and another smaller cubby under the padded center armrest. There are also large available bins in the doors capable of handling a Big Gulp or two.

About the shifter, Volkswagen still offers a manual 6-speed in the GTI, and it's clear that the company learned a thing or two about manual-shifter precision and feel in the nearly 40 years since the GTI first broke cover. Models with the DSG automatic get a new shorty fore-aft shifter that's slightly larger than a USB stick, and despite its console space-saving diminutive size works with the same precision you've come to expect in a Volkswagen.

Moving aft, the GTI's back seat is a bit tight on legroom for 6-foot adults, but surrendering a bit of the excellent front-seat legroom will handle that situation nicely. Headroom for both seat rows is just fine, even with the available moonroof. Autobahn trim includes heated outboard rear seat cushions and console-mounted rear-seat climate controls.

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI MIB 3 Infotainment System Review

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Interior Dashboard

Photo: Ron Sessions

The 2022 Volkswagen GTI comes with one of two infotainment systems. In the base SE, the MIB 3 Composition Color system elements include:

  • 8.25-inch touchscreen display
  • Wired VW App-Connect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity
  • Dual front USB-C ports
  • Charge-only dual rear USB-C ports
  • 7-speaker AM/FM stereo
  • Wireless charging for Qi-enabled phones

The SE and Autobahn trims upgrade to a MIB 3 Discover Pro system. It includes:

  • 10-inch touchscreen display
  • Wireless VW App-Connect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity
  • Embedded navigation
  • Voice control
  • Four USB-C ports (two front, two rear)
  • 9-speaker, 480-watt Harman Kardon premium audio system with subwoofer
  • Wireless charging for Qi-enabled phones
  • 3-month trial of SiriusXM satellite radio with 360L personalized content based on listening habits

The GTI Autobahn test car had the Discover Pro 10-inch system with embedded navigation. One cool feature is that the digital driver cluster and center infotainment screen light up when the driver's door opens, and the pushbutton start button pulses red until the driver starts the engine.

Unlike previous GTI systems, the infotainment system is fully digital and free of traditional analog knobs and buttons. Like a big cellphone screen, you can access different functions by tapping and sliding your way through the menus you want. A circular tile on the left of the screen functions as a handy back button. Volume adjustments are accomplished by tapping small touch-sensitive "plus" or "minus" buttons under the screen or using similar touch-sensitive controls on the steering-wheel spokes.

All versions of the 2022 GTI come standard with Volkswagen Car-Net capability. Car-Net is an extensive array of subscription-based, mostly pay-to-play connected services. Components include a Wi-Fi hot-spot (except the base GTI S model), remote access for things like locking/unlocking the doors and starting the engine, and emergency and vehicle security assistance.

The SE and Autobahn trims come with a basic voice-control system using wake-up phrases like "Hey, Volkswagen" to come alive. I found this system a bit slow and hit or miss in finding points of interest. What you want is to sign up for the Car-Net 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot connected service plan (Verizon or T-Mobile) and then layer on Plus Speech for the better voice-recognition app that recognizes natural speech.

What It's Like to Drive the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Light Green Side Profile

Photo: Ron Sessions

Volkswagen keeps finding ways to improve upon the excellent driving character of the Golf GTI. On paper, the GTI's underpinnings sound as if they could be found on any other small, front-drive hatchback performance sedan: rigid, lightweight steel body, MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link independent rear suspension, 4-wheel disc brakes, variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering, wide track, low center of gravity. But it's the way VW tunes these components and what it's learned from doing this for nearly four decades that makes it all so good.

Under the hood of the all-new 2022 Mark 8 GTI lives VW's lively EA888 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo engine, updated this year to 241 horsepower (up 13 from last year) and 273 pound-feet of torque (another 15 over 2021). This power plant comes with a choice of a slick-shifting 6-speed manual (with a slightly shorter final drive for 2022) or near-seamless 7-speed DSG automatic transmission.

The 241-hp turbo-four is a happy partner with either transmission, although 40 percent of GTI buyers go with the manual gearbox. The manual shifter is nicely weighted, has reasonably short throws, provides lubricious action, is a perfect foil for the clutch pedal that operates with just-right effort, and has a broad engagement band that can make any driver shift like a pro.

The other 60 percent of GTI buyers go the dual-clutch (DSG) 7-speed automatic route. It's geared to maximize the 4-cylinder turbo's broad torque band. Steering-wheel paddle shifters are standard with DSG-equipped GTIs, but the shift programming is so intuitive that most drivers will be happy to let the transmission pick the proper ratios while they enjoy the rhythm of the road.

The new Volkswagen GTI can scamper to 60 mph from rest in the low 5-second range with the stick shift or automatic gearbox.

All new VW GTIs come with four selectable driving modes: Normal, Comfort, Sport, and Custom, with different throttle response, shift timing, and steering weight. The amazing thing is that even in Normal mode, in which I found the GTI once after a car swap, the VW hot hatch handled the North Carolina Appalachian switchbacks with calm tenacity. That says a lot about the upgrades to the GTI's vehicle dynamics system VW implemented this year working continuously to make every driver better.

The Autobahn test car with adaptive dampers did a great job handling dips and moguls with plenty of off-camber, decreasing-radius turns thrown in for good measure. The adaptive dampers can independently tailor every suspension event's jounce and rebound cycle in real-time according to road and driving conditions.

IQ.Drive Review

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI ADAS

Photo: Ron Sessions

All 2022 VW GTI trims are now available with IQ.Drive, Volkswagen's suite of ADAS technologies. The technology is standard with all trims except as noted. Using a front camera, front and rear radar sensors, and an array of ultrasonic sensors, the components of IQ.Drive are:

  • Pre-collision warning system with pedestrian and cyclist detection and forward automatic emergency braking (Front Assist)
  • Lane-keeping assistance (Lane Assist)
  • Active blind-spot warning (Active Side Assist)
  • Active rear cross-traffic alert (Rear Traffic Alert)
  • Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability
  • Travel Assist (adaptive cruise control with lane-centering)
  • Emergency Assist (automatic transmission models only)
  • Front and rear park distance control
  • Park assist (on Autobahn only, semi-automated steering control for parallel and perpendicular parking)
  • Dynamic road sign display (SE and Autobahn only)
  • Automatic high-beam headlight control (Autobahn only)

What's significant here is this technology is standard with most GTI trims. That's in stark contrast to the practice of most European brands, which until recently made most of it available only in extra-cost tech or safety packages.

Notably, the blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection systems now include active intervention, the blind-spot system with counter-steering, and the rear cross-traffic one with active braking if the driver does not take action to avoid a collision.

New to the 2022 GTI is Travel Assist, which combines the speed-setting and vehicle-spacing functions of adaptive cruise control with the active steering assist of lane-keeping. Cars outfitted with an automatic transmission also have Emergency Assist, which uses capacitive sensors in the steering wheel rim to detect if the driver's hands are on the wheel.

While opportunities to use adaptive cruise control did not present themselves in the twisty Appalachian Mountains, I was amazed at how fervently the lane-keeping system (which I kept switched on at all times) dealt with keeping the GTI following most of the road's snaking twists and turns.

Another noteworthy GTI ADAS feature is the sizeable blind-spot warning lights on the car's side mirrors. Many times, when driving other vehicles in bright sunlight, their tiny pinky-nail-size blind-spot icons are difficult to see at a moment's notice.

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI FAQ - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Light Green Cargo Area

Photo: Ron Sessions

How much cargo space does the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI have?

There's a full-size sedan-like 19.9 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat and 34.5 with the 60/40 split-folding back seat folded nearly flat. The rear seat has a fold-down "ski door" in its center, handy for carrying skis or other long items such as 2x4s without folding down one or both rear seatbacks.

Additional stash space ideal for hiding valuables such as a camera, tablet, briefcase, or purse is available under the cargo floor, adjustable at two different levels. There are also two pockets large enough to hold a half-gallon of milk in the rear corners of the cargo area. A fun feature is the large VW emblem on the liftgate, which, when lifted, doubles as a latch to gain access to the cargo hold.

Does the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI get good gas mileage?

According to Environmental Protection Agency estimates, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI has a 28-mpg rating in combined city/highway driving with either the 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic transmission. In 124 miles of enthusiastic driving over mostly winding, rural 2-lane highways, the combined observed fuel economy of both 6-speed manual and 7-speed automatic GTI test cars was 26.5 mpg. With the GTI's 13.2-gallon fuel tank, the driving range on this trip topped 340 miles.

Is the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI safe?

As of the posting of this review, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had released crashworthiness results for the 2022 Volkswagen Golf.

How much is the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI?

Prices for the 6-speed-manual versions of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI range from $29,545 for the base S model to $37,995 for the range-topping Autobahn. Switching to the 7-speed DSG automatic is an $800 upcharge. The destination charge is $995.

What are the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI competitors?

In the J.D. Power 2021 Initial Quality Study (IQS), the Kia Forte ranks highest in the Compact Car segment. The Nissan Sentra and the Toyota Corolla (in a tie) are the next highest-ranked models.

In the 2021 APEAL Study, the Nissan Sentra ranks highest in the Compact Car segment. The Hyundai Elantra and the Honda Civic are the next highest-ranked models.

Other competitors to the 2022 Golf include the Mazda Mazda3Honda Insight, and Subaru Impreza.

Performance-oriented competitors specific to the Volkswagen Golf GTI include the Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Veloster N, and Subaru WRX.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Light Green Rear Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

Nearly four decades since the first one leaped into enthusiasts' hearts in the U.S., the Volkswagen GTI is still the one to beat. With more power and technology than ever, the all-new Mark 8 version of the hot hatch defines the segment. The Golf GTI manages to be involving, whether it's a base S model with plaid seats and 6-speed stick-shift transmission you can move a friend's couch in if need be or a leather-lined Autobahn model with a slick DSG automatic with Audi levels of sophistication. Front-drive sport hatchbacks don't get any better than this.

Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive and consumer websites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals, and newspapers.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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