Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R blend power, practicality, and tech

When it comes to practical performance cars, Volkswagen is the gold standard. The Volkswagen Golf GTI is the original hot hatchback — a sensible economy car with added spice. The Volkswagen Golf R has refined that concept, adding more power and a more grown-up feel. Avoiding complacency, and aiming to keep up with the latest tech trends, VW is launching new versions of both cars for the 2022 model year.

Previously shown in European-spec form, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI and 2022 Volkswagen Golf R make their United States debut at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show. Both are expected to reach U.S. dealerships later this year.

Front view of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Design

As before the GTI and Golf R are based on the VW Golf, but we won’t be getting the standard Golf in the U.S. (VW will happily sell you a Jetta instead). Both the GTI and Golf R move to the latest, eighth-generation (or Mk8, as VW likes to call it) Golf platform, which brings some fresh styling.

Sleeker-looking headlights, a more rakish hood, and an available LED light bar in the grille may not be the most dramatic changes, but they’re fairly radical for these hatchbacks, which have always been conservatively styled. Similarly, there isn’t much to distinguish the GTI and Golf R from ordinary grocery getters, but that at least means you won’t attract too much attention from the police.

The GTI’s calling card is a red line across the grille, and the 2022 model also gets dual exhaust tips, red brake calipers, model-specific front and rear bumpers, and unique wheels. The Golf R gets a blue grille line and brake calipers, different front and rear bumpers, quad exhaust tips, and a two-piece rear spoiler.

Following a tradition started by the first-generation GTI (which launched in 1976 and landed in the U.S. in 1983), the 2022 model sports a golf-ball shifter and standard plaid seats, but with a new design VW calls “Scalepaper.”

Interior of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Tech

Tech is where the 2022 VW Golf GTI and Golf R really leave their predecessors behind. They both get a 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro digital instrument cluster, and the MIB3 infotainment system seen on other recent VW models. An 8.25-inch touchscreen is standard on the base GTI; a 10.0-inch screen is optional on the GTI and standard on the Golf R. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on the base GTI, while higher GTI trim levels and the Golf R get wireless versions. A head-up display is available as well.

Following the lead of the all-electric Volkswagen ID.4, the GTI and Golf R also adopt haptic touchpads for functions like audio and climate control. While this provides a more smartphone-like look and feel, we found the ID.4’s similar touchpads difficult to use while driving.

The GTI and Golf R are performance cars, so VW also threw in some new tech to help drivers get the most out of them. The Vehicle Dynamics Manager oversees the stability control, electronic-locking differential, and (optional) adaptive dampers. It’s a holistic approach to electronic aids that you don’t normally see in cars in this price range.

Both models also get a suite of driver-assist tech under the IQ.Drive banner, and enabled by front and rear radar, a front camera, and ultrasound sensors. The list of features includes forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, and traffic-sign recognition. Both models can also be equipped with Travel Assist, which combines adaptive cruise control and automated lane centering.

Digital Cockpit Pro in the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R.

Specifications

The 2022 GTI and Golf R use the same EA888 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, itself an upgraded version of the engine from the outgoing models. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) dual-clutch automatic in both models. As before, the GTI is front-wheel drive, and the Golf R is all-wheel drive.

With premium fuel, the GTI produces 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque (increases of 13 hp 15 lb-ft). The Golf R is rated at 315 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque with the DSG transmission, or 280 lb-ft with the manual. That’s 27 hp more than the previous generation, which made 280 lb-ft of torque with either transmission. Volkswagen won’t quote a zero-to-60 mph time, but noted that both models are electronically limited to 155 mph.

As before, the U.S.-spec GTI and Golf R are only available as five-door hatchbacks. Both versions have identical interior space, including 41.2 inches of front legroom and 35.0 inches of rear legroom—about the same as before. VW also quotes 19.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats in place, and 34.5 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

Profile view of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Pricing and rivals

Pricing for the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI starts at $ 30,540 for the base S trim level with the manual transmission. VW will also sell the GTI in SE and Autobahn trim levels, starting at $ 35,290 and $ 38,990, respectively (all prices include a mandatory $ 995 destination charge). The DSG transmission is an $ 800 option on all trim levels.

The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R will be offered in a single trim level, starting at $ 44,640 with the manual transmission and $ 45,440 with the DSG.

The GTI and Golf R’s closest rivals are the Subaru WRX and WRX STI, the Honda Civic Si and Civic Type R, and the Hyundai Veloster N. The Hondas and Subarus are due for redesigns soon, so for now the VW hot hatches will have the advantage of newness.

Several sporty two-doors are also available for similar money, including the Ford Mustang and Mazda MX-5 Miata, but they don’t have the practicality of the VW models. Many cars are enjoyable to drive, but few can handle the mundane like the VW GTI and Golf R.

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