2022 Volkswagen GTI Review – Generation Revelation?

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2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Autobahn

2.0-liter turbocharged four (241 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm)

Six-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive

25 city / 34 highway / 28 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

9.8 city / 6.9 highway / 8.5 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $39,790 US / $41,432 CAN

As Tested: $40,185 US / $43,177 CAN

Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $2437 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

In some cases where a product is offered in a series, each successive generation is improved and is greater than the last. In other cases, the maker hits upon relative perfection early and later generations can never quite live up to the legend. In the arts, for example, while Indiana Jones fans can argue the merits of Raiders of the Lost Ark versus The Last Crusade¸ you won’t find any sane person suggesting that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is anything but a dank shadow of the past glories. Similarly, my fanatic daughter tells me that the third book (Prisoner of Azkaban) in the Harry Potter series is the best, and all other editions pale.

We are now looking at the eighth generation of hot hatches from Wolfsburg with this, the 2022 Volkswagen GTI. Is it the greatest GTI ever, or has Indy jumped into a lead-lined refrigerator with this latest redesign?

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I can indeed tell you that this Mk.8 GTI lives up to the high standards of recent generations when considering driving dynamics. The latest 2.0-liter engine produces 241 horsepower and a stout 273 lb-ft of torque, all headed to the front wheels in this case through a six-speed manual transmission – a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic is optional.

Torque steer is minimal, helped no doubt by the standard limited-slip differential. Even though my tester was fitted with winter tires, the GTI positively leaps off the line with little drama other than some chirping from the snow tires. Torque shoves the seat into your backside with authority. Shift throws are a bit long, but the action is solid and precise.

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Similarly, there are no complaints when the asphalt turns sinuous. That electronically controlled differential pairs with the adaptive damping (only available on this top-level Autobahn trim) to send the GTI diving for apexes, gripping enthusiastically and rotating seemingly at will. I’ve driven precious few cars that make commutes at sane speeds genuinely enjoyable – the GTI is in that upper echelon of fun-to-drive cars without seriously jeopardizing one’s license, though stupid speeds are there for the asking should irresponsibility beckon. Professional driver, closed course, do as I say not as I do, yadda yadda. Grins are there below 65, don’t worry.

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There is nothing revolutionary about the styling of the GTI – it’s been a long, gradual evolution over the past forty-plus years of the same basic two-box shape. Still, a few changes make the latest car distinctive, mostly with the lighting. The fog lights have five LED lamps that form an X – on this Autobahn trim and on the midrange SE package, the fog lamps are “Active Cornering” lights that will illuminate around corners in conjunction with the steering wheel angle. Otherwise, there is little to distinguish this GTI from the previous generation to anyone but total VW geeks, and that’s perfectly fine by me.

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The interior has seen a significant upgrade in materials, with a clean, attractive layout. The leather seats fitted to this upmarket trim are heated and ventilated, and twelve-way power-adjustable – and it shows. My old body would not have a problem sitting in this GTI and crossing several states in one sitting – the seats are marvelous, with enough bolstering for fun times on backroads and plenty of support for a long day on the interstates.

Rear seats are comfortable enough, my kids report, and cargo room is plentiful in the wide hatchback. Road and wind noise are well controlled – usually, I notice tire noise especially when winter tires are fitted to a test vehicle, but not here.

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However – and this is something I’ve pointed out from other automakers as well – the trend of “simplifying” audio and HVAC controls has reached Volkswagen, and it’s inexcusable. There is a line of something that resembles buttons below the 10-inch touchscreen – these touch-sensitive pads allow for temperature adjustments for the left and right side of the car, and the center pad will allow you to slide your finger for what turns out to be very coarse volume adjustments.

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Below that bar of pads sits four more buttons flanking the hazard switch – one to engage the parking assists, one to bring up the menu, one to engage various driving modes, and one labeled “CLIMA” (incidentally a rather odd abbreviation) that will bring up the climate controls. From here, several button presses are required to toggle through the options of adjusting temperatures, fan speeds, the split between face/floor/defrost, and seat heating/cooling options. Each button press takes concentration – and an eye from the road. Even the sunroof control is a touch-sensitive pad.

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I’m sure that, with time and practice, these functions will become second nature. However, these are all controls that have been well established by other means and didn’t need improvement. Knobs, sliders, and physical pushbuttons may be old – but they work, and they work without practice. You may call me a knob since I so frequently call for knobs, but I shall keep preaching until we’ve brought intelligent human-focused interfaces back to all cars. Am I so out of touch? No. It’s Volkswagen who is wrong.

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This is where I usually wrap up my reviews with an assessment of whether I’d buy the car in question. It’s a tough call this time, especially as I’ve been casually considering my next daily driver over the past few months and one of the strong candidates has been a GTI – either used or new. The whole idea of a well-rounded hot hatch for adults is incredibly appealing – especially as the grey in my beard makes it unquestionably clear that I’m not one of the youths any longer.

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The 2022 Volkswagen GTI is the whole package. It performs beautifully on the highway, the city streets, and the back roads – and I’m sure it’d be a hoot at a track day, too.

It’s comfortable, practical, and reasonably good with fuel economy as well – heck, it doesn’t need premium fuel to make those power numbers. But those damned controls. I’m torn. I’m probably leaning toward recommending the GTI and getting VERY used to setting and forgetting the automatic climate controls. The latest GTI may well be a Temple of Doom in the VW hot-hatch canon — a slight misstep, but still worth watching.

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[Images: © 2022 Chris Tonn]

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