For seven generations and nearly 40 years in production, German automaker Volkswagen has been serving up tons of fun with its Golf GTI hot hatch.
Add to that a higher-performance, all-wheel-drive version of its short-wheelbase mainstay, the Golf R, and you have a VW duo duking it out for top hatchback honors.
Having attended Volkswagen’s Family Media Drive event in Asheville, North Carolina, we drove the all-new 2022 GTI and Golf R in the surrounding hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Both eighth-generation Golf models offer added power, more standard technology, refined styling, and competitive price points — while offering a 6-speed manual or 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission.
VW is one of the few manufacturers still offering a host of its vehicles with a manual transmission, and that includes both Golf GTI and Golf R. We couldn’t resist the urge to row our own gears while testing both of these manual transmission-equipped models.
2022 Golf GTI Review
The eighth-generation Volkswagen GTI (also known as the Mk8 or Mark 8 GTI) is powered by a 2.0L turbocharged and intercooled EA888 TSI engine. This inline four-cylinder 16-valve powerplant packs 273 pound-feet of torque when using regular octane fuel from its 13.2-gallon tank.
Golf GTI models, when equipped with the 6-speed manual, boast 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, and 28 mpg combined. The optional 7-speed DSG transmission allows slightly better fuel economy when spending time in metropolitan areas, offering up an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 25 mpg in the city, 34 mpg when traveling on the highway, and 28 mpg combined.
The new GTI’s persona includes all-new bodywork and design details. The front showcases Volkswagen’s new “light signature” scheme. Distinct X-shaped fog lights and an available light bar border the centered VW logo, while red GTI accents, as well as LED headlights and daylight running lights, round out the GTI’s façade.
Offering three trim levels (S, SE, and Autobahn), the GTI’s side and rear styling is simple and modern. Red-painted brake calipers accent standard 18-inch alloy wheels shod in 225/40R18 all-season rubber. If you spring for the top-of-the-line Autobahn package, the wheel size ups one extra inch and exchanges all-season traction with grippy 235/35R19 summer performance tires.
Additionally, a chrome-tipped dual exhaust sits below the GTI’s rear fascia, letting out deep and rounded growls during takeoff and burbles along the way with spirited on-pavement driving.
VW Mk8 GTI: Interior Amenities
The Golf GTI’s interior nods to the vehicle’s past while progressing to its future. The GTI retains its golfball-style shift knob on our stick shift test mule and a new “Scalepaper” tartan plaid pattern adds color to the GTI’s fabric sport seats, which hugs your body in all the right places.
The remainder of the interior cockpit details race-inspired elements and thoughtfully placed controls (though we wonder how long it will be before glossy black finishes start to show scratches or fingerprint wear).
A standard configurable 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro tops off the center stack, along with touchpoints to control lighting, HVAC, and audio, as well as the sunroof (available on select models).
Other techy items include wireless charging, Bluetooth connectivity, and Car-Net (allowing vehicle access, standard across the board). It also offers a plethora of safety goodies that include niceties like blind-spot monitoring, rear traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane and travel assist systems, and park distance control.
A digital dashboard displays a brightly colored red tachometer and speedometer, as well as other important information.
A standard heated steering wheel rounds out the interior bits, but overgripping it when fully immersed in the GTI driving experience may accidentally turn on its heating elements to full-throttle hot if not careful. (Ask us how we know!)
GTI Drive Impressions and Pricing
If you’re in the market for a fun-to-drive hatchback that’s nimble and responsive — and won’t break your bank account — then the all-new 2022 Volkswagen GTI should be a sure-fire contender. Once belted in, our Mk8 GTI stick-shift test subject allowed for quick acceleration, tight steering, and all-around rock-solid performance.
Clutch uptake is long and light, whereas shifting duties are easily notched into place most times. Downshifting invited vocal gurgling from the dual-tip exhaust system and slowed the five-door hatchback as necessary on tight, twisty roads. The Mark 8 GTI’s braking ability is adequate and visibility is exceptional.
Pricing for the 6-speed manual 2022 GTI S model starts just under $30,000 (at $29,545). The midgrade SE trim level will set you back $34,295, whereas the top-of-the-line Autobahn package comes in at $37,995 — all trim levels require an additional $995 destination charge.
The 7-speed DSG automatic ranges from $30,345 for the entry-level S model, $35,095 for the SE variant, to $38,795 for the Autobahn trim, plus $995, respectively.
Racetrack-Ready: 2022 Golf R Review
Whereas the 2022 Golf GTI fits the bill for a fun-to-drive sporty hatchback for the dollar-conscious consumer, the all-new Volkswagen Golf R steps up the performance, refinement, and amenities to a whole new level.
First released in 2004 as the Golf R32, the latest iteration of VW’s Golf R generates a potent 315 horsepower, up 27 more than its predecessor. Using the same EA888 2.0L inline four-cylinder turbocharged and direct-injection TSI engine, the new Golf R puts out 280 pound-feet of torque with the manual transmission (like our tester had) or 295 pound-feet with the DSG transmission — using premium fuel.
The biggest difference between the GTI and the Golf R is that the R gets VW’s 4MOTION AWD system, providing excellent grip. However, the combination of more power and AWD does lower the fuel economy a bit.
EPA-estimated fuel economy of the single-trim level Golf R is rated at 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway/23 mpg combined for the stick shift choice, whereas the automatic derivative gets 23/30/26 mpg, respectively. But hey, you’re not considering this hot hatch for its stellar fuel economy, right? This race-ready roller is poised to give you grins no matter where you drive.
Various driving modes (including drift and special modes) and dynamics settings along with torque-vectoring 4MOTION AWD help improve handling and keep the Golf R planted, even when pushing its revs. These systems can distribute up to 100% of the rear torque to an individual rear wheel, as needed.
The 2022 Golf R is equipped with several performance features to make it a track-ready fun car. The new R showcases 14.1-inch cross-drilled rotors with bright blue twin-piston calipers up front and vented 12.2-inch discs in the rear — aiding in quick speed adjustments when needed.
Newly created suspension controls marry electronic stability control (ESC) with its electronic differential lock (XDS) and optional DCC adaptive damping systems. Its exterior includes aggressively styled bumpers, a large rear spoiler, and a throaty-sounding quad-tipped exhaust system.
Certain styling cues resemble that of the Golf GTI, the all-electric ID.4, and other models — tying Volkswagen’s current corporate styling into the model lineup.
Golf R Drive Summary
The 2022 Golf R offers a fully digital dashboard, including the same standard configurable 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro as found in the GTI. When we drove the car, the gauges were different than the traditional tach and speedometer of the GTI.
The Golf R showcased a horizontal race-inspired digital tach bar near the top of the display that signifies revs when the hot hatch is in action. However, this can be switched back to look like traditional round gauges if desired.
Steering wheel placement is adjusted by both telescopic and tilting functions; however, shorter people may have a difficult time seeing some gauges once it’s set into place properly. The top of the steering wheel impedes full visibility of the bar-like tachometer when the gauges are in that configuration.
A heads-up display indicated our current speed, speed limit sign, and navigation arrows, although the initial brightness made it difficult to see in bright sunlight. Upon further review, the heads-up feature is configurable — with on/off opportunities as well as adjustment options for brightness, height seen, and information displayed.
Unlike the Golf GTI’s three choices, the 2022 Golf R is obtainable in only one trim level: a fully loaded option, starting with an MSRP of $43,645 before destination for the stick shift and $44,445 for the DSG variant. Three colors are to be had: the Golf R’s signature Lapiz Blue Metallic, as well as Pure White and Deep Black Pearl hues.
GTI or Golf R: That Is the Question
No matter which five-door hatch you opt for, both are fun to drive, extremely responsive, and will turn heads. The GTI will get you into the game for under $30K.
And the Golf R, Volkswagen’s top performance hatchback, has all the bells and whistles to help set you up for driving-engagement success — no matter if it’s on tight, curvy roads or the back straightaway of a racetrack.