By on November 9, 2021

2022 Vokswagen GTI. Tim Healey/TTAC

If you’re a Volkswagen Golf GTI fan, you were probably worried that Volkswagen would screw it up as they refreshed it for 2022.

Here’s the good news – the company (mostly) didn’t do that. Especially when it comes to the most important part of GTI ownership – on-road driving performance.

Here’s the bad news – the same interior that I panned in the Golf R first drive is on hand here as well, since the cars share their Golf bones. They also, of course, share the MQB platform.

Changes for 2022 include more power for the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, suspension changes, and refreshed styling. It’s longer and lower than the previous car.

(Full disclosure: Volkswagen flew me to Asheville, North Carolina, and fed and housed me for two nights so I could drive the Golf R, GTI, and Jetta GLI, plus any other current VW I wanted to. They offered socks in the same pattern as GTI seats and I left them behind.)

The engine now makes 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque with either the six-speed manual transmission or the seven-speed DSG automatic.

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Tim Healey/TTAC.

On the road, the front-drive GTI behaves a lot like its more powerful all-wheel-drive sibling, but the differences are obvious. Like with the R, I was careful about approaching the limit, but when I did push it, the car seemed to reach the limit sooner, and it also generally experienced understeer. I drove a top-trim GTI with the available DCC adaptive damping suspension – GTIs have a strut-type front setup and the rear is multilink, and both receive tweaks meant to improve handling.

The car felt looser, or at least less buttoned-down, than the Golf R, but that’s not necessarily bad. It lent a playful air to the GTI. The GTI’s steering is similarly not quite as hefty, and it’s a smidge less accurate. Body roll is present but not too shabby.

There’s less power to play with here, and it shows, though the GTI is no slouch. It’s more than quick enough for most back-road blasts along with freeway merging. The clutch and shifter work well enough to give the #savethemanuals crowd good feelings, and the brakes are almost as stiff as the R’s, while still avoiding being grabby.

I had no chance to drive the DSG automatic.

I didn’t get any freeway-cruise time in the GTI, but the car felt reasonably docile around town. The GTI is a bit on the louder side in terms of engine/tire noise, but it’s not too obnoxious for daily-driving duties. Using the Comfort or Normal drive modes definitely quiets things down a bit. Sport gives the driver heavier steering and a more responsive throttle.

Like the R, the GTI gets the new digital cockpit, and like with the R, it’s infuriating to use at times. This is where VW forgot the mantra “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and screwed up a good thing. My kingdom for knobs and actual buttons.

Maybe I’d be a bit more copacetic if the infotainment system wasn’t also so gol-durn slow to switch menus. At least the menus in the gauge cluster work better, look cleaner, and are more useful. If VW had stopped the digital revolution at the gauge cluster and kept the knobs, that would’ve been a fine compromise. Instead, we get an interior in which even changing the cabin temp requires you to take your eyes off the road for too long.

At least the steering-wheel haptic touch controls are easier to use than the ones on the center stack.

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Tim Healey/TTAC

Since the GTI and R are dimensionally pretty much the same, the GTI is like the R in that it offers good front head- and legroom, limited in-cabin storage, and rear-seat room that is acceptable for taller passengers as long as the seats don’t go back too far. The chairs in this car weren’t as snug as the R’s, but they were plenty comfy.

Golf GTI comes in three trims: S, SE, and Autobahn. S models start at $29,545 ($30,345 for the DSG), with SEs starting at $34,595 ($35,095 for the DSG). The Autobahn will cost you $37,995 for the stick, and $38,795 for the automatic. Destination is $995.

Standard features on S include automatic climate control, keyless starting, automatic headlights, heated seats, heated steering wheel, wireless charging, and rain-sensing wipers. SE adds navigation, satellite radio, keyless entry, Harmon Kardon audio, and in-car Wi-Fi, and an available leather package adds leather, a power driver seat, seat memory, and cooled front seats. Autobahn trims get tri-zone climate control, cooled front seats, leather seats, heated outboard rear seats, and a head-up display. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, along with Bluetooth. A panoramic sunroof is standard on the top two trims.

The amount of USB ports is trim-dependent, but they’re all USB-Cs.

Fuel economy is almost identical with either transmission – 24/34/28 with the stick and 25/34/28 with the auto.

VW

When I pulled over for photos, a young dude in an F-150 pulled over to tell me a bear had been spotted nearby. Confused, I thought he was warning me, then it dawned on me that he saw the camera in my hand and was trying to help me get pics of it.

I didn’t see Yogi – perhaps he/she was scared off by the GTI’s red paint job. I’m also surprised the local didn’t ask me about the car. Usually, GTIs draw young car buffs like moths to a flame.

If he had inquired, I’d have told him that the next GTI is as fun to drive, if not more so, than the last one. That Volkswagen got the most important part – performance – right. That the car is really good, except for its frustrating interior controls. Oh, and the sticker for the Autobahn trim makes me wince a bit.

Volkswagen engineers mostly didn’t fix what isn’t broken, with one notable exception. That’s a win.

What’s New for 2022

The Volkswagen Golf GTI is thoroughly updated, with freshened exterior styling, a reworked cabin, more power, and improved handling. It’s also longer and lower than its predecessor.

Who Should Buy It

GTI loyalists, the hot-hatch fan who wants a well-rounded car.

[Images 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC, Volkswagen]

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41 Comments on “2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI First Drive – Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broken...”


  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    This might have been addressed in the Golf R article, but how was the quality of the plastics in the interior? I thought that’s where VW really penny pinched between the GLI and the GTI. If you didn’t want to spend as much, get the cheaper GLI with the same stuff under the hood but live with a cheaper feeling interior while the GTI had Audi-levels of interior materials at least where your hands made most contact. But if they took that away and cheapened the new GTI interior, they might have taken away a key decision factor between the two models.

    I’m glad to see that you can get actual colors on the exterior, and am glad to see the power bump. And it looks like the lines are being held on price. But even if I was to take the plunge again on another VAG car (not likely), there’s something just a bit cold about the interior. Maybe it’s the screens or the missing shifter, or the [expletive deleted] steering wheel controls that have a mind of their own – I just don’t feel it.

    And to show that VW quality just continues to win me over, with this 2022 loaner Passat SE, about 90-95% of the time, when I turn the volume knob clockwise to turn the volume up, it turns the volume down. So does turning it counter-clockwise. Sometimes the steering wheel controls will fix that, and other times I have to turn the car off and on again. Aahh, Lexus-levels of perfection here… /s

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Did a witch doctor curse you when it comes to infotainment systems or something?

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        I really do think this is God’s way of telling me to find a mint condition 1990’s era 300ZX Twin Turbo with no screens and no infotainment and a flawless manual transmission and gobs of power and torque and leave all of this 2020-era tech behind. I work on PC, networking, server, and production issues all day. I just want it to work in my car!!!

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          I love the Z32 and think it is peak 90’s car (or the SC3/400 depending on my mood), but having owned one, it is full of its own flavors of technical nonsense. Still, worth the effort even if all I ever did was stare at it.

        • 0 avatar
          Ol Shel

          Take one look under the hood before buying. Know that nearly any required underhood repair will doom you.

    • 0 avatar
      Gabe Ets-Hokin

      I didn’t have a chance to compare it to the Audi, but I was at the same event as Tim and I thought the quality and touch of the cabin materials was very nice. But I like cheap cars, so a more discerning individual may disagree. Still, for a car that starts below $30,000 I think it’s very good.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I believe I touched on it in Golf R — the front of the cabin had class-competitive materials. The rear had a few cheap plastics.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    This makes me glad I bought my GLI when I did, before VW had a chance to screw up the dashboard.

  • avatar
    Kyree

    One thing I will say is that the whole mono-panel motif (two screens beside each other, with one doing instrument cluster duty and the other handling infotainment, but appearing as one big component) seems to really be propagating across the industry. Mercedes-Benz pioneered it, on the 2014 (W222) S-Class. And at this point, everyone from BMW to Kia has copied it.

    It looks really cheap, though, when it’s done like this, with a thick bezel that looks like it’s meant to house bigger screens.

  • avatar
    bradfa

    Honda seemed to learn their lesson with the touch volume control in the Civic. There’s a chance VW will learn that lesson with touch everything in the Golfs, too. We can only hope.

    Glad to see the S trim GTI is still reasonably priced and comes with quite a lot of nice interior features (heated seats AND steering wheel in the base trim?! awesome!).

  • avatar
    AK

    Sure feels like a step backwards. That interior looks and sounds terrible. But for $30k it’s still more appealing than Hyundai’s offerings (veloster and elantra N) or the new WRX.

    Edit: forgot to add the new SI now that it’s in the GTI’s price range. I’m taking the GTI over all of these.

  • avatar
    statikboy

    Is that Wallace or Grommet in the 5th picture?

  • avatar
    ajla

    It doesn’t seem like a big improvement over the MK7. Just “new” for the sake of saying it is new. I also don’t care for the front end or interior aesthetics (YMMV).

  • avatar
    kivis

    Went with a 2021 GLI Autobahn w/ Black Package. Found only one in the country with a manual trans. Yeah. Supremely happy.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I don’t like the sad dropping front lights. The price and the glossy full electronic interior/control clusters. Is it still coming from Mexico?

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      2022 GTI and Golf R coming from Germany:

      https://www.motor1.com/news/423131/2022-vw-gti-golf-r/

      And I agree with the front. Maybe I need to see one in person but I wish they didn’t do the huge bass mouth grille with the narrow headlamps like everyone else. It doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the body.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Really like the look outside. I think this is my favorite GTI to look at from outside since the MkV. Although I’d want to replace those ugly-aß wheels with some classic silver BBS.

    Inside… other publications have dinged the interior materials hard, and that’s a shame as it was such a strength of the old GTI. The styling’s not bad but the feel is more important. I don’t mind the digital displays for the most part, but I do wish for hard buttons for temperature adjustment and heated seats.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      VW must have hired some Acura peeps for their wheel design department. Its truly amazing to see the co. go from very tasteful split 5 spokes that flattered the cars proportions to their current tackily painted uglier-than-steelies normal. The worst part is the more you pay the uglier the wheels get, most notably on the jetta. The other worst part is they know it and have received extremely negative feedback (actually directly to corp from public events), and yet it persists years later.

  • avatar
    Vanillasludge

    Seems like VW paid for diesel-gate by budget cutting their interiors.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    Has just a hint of that E60 Dame Edna thing going on… or maybe it’s an homage to Sebastien Bourdais.

  • avatar
    tedward

    We’ll, or at least my wife, will very likely end up in a 22. Our current 16 gti is at 150k+ and the not worth it list is beginning (not replacing a window switch for example). It was decent to us considering the hell-ish duty cycle, commuting up to 2 hours to southern Manhattan. Water pump at 110k, alternator at 145k, i can’t hate that.

    The thing is there’s no options. It has to have a stick and my wife has zero interest in a civic grade interior. She’d happily buy a premium brand if they wanted her business enough to offer the right transmission in a normal-ish car format. So vw by defsult i guess, but with them transitioning so aggressively to electric and canceling manuals even in Europe i suspect it will be our last vw purchase.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “zero interest in a civic grade interior.”

      The interior on the new Civic Sport Touring is pretty nice while it sounds like VW downgraded the materials a bit on the GTI. The Mazda3 is still available with a manual as well and they’ve upgraded their interiors recently. Either might at least be worth a look.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        The mazda3 is worth a look, good idea. If she is ok with having a bit less real world power it could take the W. As far as the civic goes the sins are exterior too, in her opinion at least. It’s just too loud for her, kinda like the mustang but in a different way.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          The 3 is a lot less “hardcore” than the GTI, particularly with the non turbo engine. And it has a very posh interior for this class. I wouldn’t talk anyone out of it.

    • 0 avatar
      bradfa

      If you can hold out long enough, maybe the Acura Integra? Announcement is supposed to be tomorrow.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Have you priced a window switch as a DIY? There’s probably 20 videos on how to replace that part on that big video platform that starts with a Y.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Tedward, I Imagine this would do the trick for your busted window switches…

        https://www.ebay.com/itm/174080941476?fits=Model%3AGolf&hash=item2888085da4:g:4u0AAOSw88VduVVs

        Youtube is definitely your friend in auto repair. I switched out the ignition coils on my kid’s car myself last week (savings: $100), and the HVAC actuator motors on my old A3 as well (savings: $500).

  • avatar
    Funky D

    Nearly $40k for a subcompact car? And I thought the Eos was overpriced (and it was).

    As with a lot of VW/Audi cars, good luck with those plastic engine pieces in 5-7 years.

    • 0 avatar
      northeaster

      It’s actually a pretty interesting corporate blind spot.

      For example, VAG’s inability to attach a reliable water pump to a pretty bullet-proof lower end has been fairly striking for at least 20 years.

      At least the coil packs work most of the time these days.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        What’s a reasonable life span to expect from a water pump?

        I somehow got the only reliable one BMW bought and it lasted 125k miles. Replaced out of an abundance of caution.

        Coil packs – same question? How long should they go before replacing?

        • 0 avatar
          northeaster

          Fair question.

          I do think expecting more than 25-40k miles from a water pump is not terribly unreasonable, though. Especially when you put it in a place that requires taking off the front of the auto to get to.

          I have never regarded ignition coils as a routinely replaceable part but at least coil packs are usually pretty easily diagnosable. My B5 actually fried them in inverse proportion to distance from the firewall every 15-20k miles. Another, “I don’t know the number is (50-100k?), but it isn’t what VAG seems to think.”

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          The water pumps (there are actually two) in my old A3, which has the same motor as the GTI/GLI, made it to the ripe old age of 60,000 miles.

          Pretty ridiculous.

  • avatar
    TonyP

    I was in the market for a GTI to the point of being a day away from dropping a deposit on a Mk8. Once the reviews rolled out talking about the touch-buttons everywhere, I bought a used, manual, mk7 GTI Autobahn (along with a JB4 tube). I regret nothing. My first GTI, it’s an absolute blast with good ol dials and real buttons.

  • avatar
    AK

    Car and Driver’s “How we’d spec it” article today is saying that the base S trim does come with physical knobs for the smaller touch screen in the center stack.

    I haven’t seen any photos of it to confirm, but if true- that just hammers home the point that the best GTI is the base one. Cloth plaid with a stick and leave it like that. I’m interested.

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