Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: January 3, 2022
The eight-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI is here and it continues to be one of the most enticing bang-for-buck entries in the performance hatchback segment. Some might not enjoy its new, slimmed down, squinty headlights, or its bloated silhouette, but we think the Golf has only become more handsome over time. Same with the LED light strip that now runs across the entire front grill. The rear balances out its heavier demeanor with macho proportions, and overall it’s just one of the best looking pieces of kit currently on sale.
Volkswagen also made sure to pack the interior with as much modern tech and gizmos as possible. As such, you’ll find an optional head-up display, Apple CarPlay, and a dizzying array of digital screens. Many will adore the Golf’s migration to a fully-digital interface but many will despise it. We unfortunately fall into the latter camp, and can’t for the life of us wrap our head around how a touch-sensitive pad for every high-traffic feature is more convenient than an actual button that can be felt and utilized without looking directly at it.
There’s no physical button or dial for the volume, fan controls, or the heated seats. Instead, each have a designated panel that you use your finger to activate, which isn’t even noticeably highlighted on the dashboard, so you end up pushing them like you’re playing the piano. Worse yet, none of the panels light up at night, and it’s infuriating because you have no idea what you’re pressing until you see the temperatures change up on the screen. It doesn’t help that the screen lags as well, especially when turning on the heated seats.
Unlike the new Volkswagen Taos, even the steering wheel buttons on the Golf are touch sensitive, and though they have minor grooves that separate them, you still end up pressing the wrong ones. If you have large thumbs, best of luck to you. Overall, the connectivity is wonderful but the user interface is not a pleasant experience that we can warm up to due to the lack of accurate touchpoints. And for the skeptics who say we just have to ‘get used to it’, we spent over 1,000 kms with the new Golf GTI and Golf R over three weeks, and still haven’t bridged the learning curve.
On the bright side, the overall cabin aesthetic is pleasing, minimalistic, and interface-aside, erognomically sound. The sport seats with integrated headrests are comfortable and supportive for long journeys, and matches the supple ride quality to provide the optimal road-trip companion. We’re not sure what happened to the gear shifter with the 7-speed DSG models, as it’s now been shrunken down to a little stump, Porsche 911-style. It’s not the most satisfying thing to clunk into gear, but it undoubtedly frees up precious real estate for storage space, which goes a long way for a small compact hatch.
But let’s dive into the real reason why someone would choose a GTI over a base Golf, and that’s the added performance. The Golf GTI still uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder but it now pushes out a healthy 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque exclusively to the front wheels via your choice of a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Of note, that’s 13 hp and 15 lb-ft more than before, and the new GTI will scooch from 0-100 km/h in a scant 6.4 seconds.
The new GTI drives with improved low- and high-speed stability than before. It’s more grounded and doesn’t react as sharply to broken pavement or harsh vertical movements. The eight-generation GTI is larger and it does feel that way from behind the wheel, but it doesn’t hinder the agility that made it such a popular choice among driving enthusiasts. The steering is a little rubbery, moreso than before, but it is still easy and effortless to place the front nose exactly where you want it without receiving a tricep workout.
Wheelspin off the line is inevitable when matting the throttle, as 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque is already more than enough for this chassis to handle. And while front-wheel drive was never our preferred method of sending power to the tarmac, it’s still fun to drive when not flirting with its limits. Because when you do, the GTI will understeer until kingdom come, so those used to adjusting your line with the throttle in a rear-driven Subaru BRZ, will have to train their foot to use the brake pedal instead to load up the front. There’s only so much the electro-hydraulic limited-slip differential can do to fight physics. Volkswagen realized that instilling the Golf with any more power needed an AWD setup, hence the Golf R that lies up the trim ladder.
The quick firing gearbox adds to the GTI’s sense of urgency, and it is a perfect companion to this turbo-four. Taking charge via the paddle shifters will expose just how polished the dual-clutch is, and it is even smooth at low creeping speeds, something that can’t be said of all Volkswagen DSGs, like the Taos we recently reviewed. Like the outgoing GTI, the exhaust sounds properly macho, and drivers can even customize the driving modes to adjust the amount of piped-in engine noise coming through the speakers.
One of the most appealing aspects of the Golf GTI and its diminutive footprint is its fuel efficiency. Over a mix of both city and highway driving, we averaged an impressive 8.2 L/100km. The cherry on top? It only requires regular 87-octane fuel even though it’s turbocharged. Win win, if you ask us.
The eight-generation Golf GTI is a grown up yet still endearing and engaging hatchback that doesn’t sacrifice usable performance for everyday civility. Attainable limits, a rapid-fire gearbox, and a darling of an engine make it a strong competitor against the Honda Civic Si and MINI Cooper S. The maddening user interface and touch-sensitive switchgear leaves much to be desired, but those wishing for the most modern ways of functionality will find solace in the upgrades. Be that as it may, the new 2022 Golf GTI continues to be one of the smartest and most thrilling ways to spend a cool $40,000.
Model: 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance
Paint Type: King's Red Metallic
Base Price: $40,395
Price as Tested: $41,645
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,287 / 1,789 / 1,463
Curb weight (kg): 1,447
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 241 hp @ 5,000 - 6,500 rpm
Torque: 273 lb-ft @ 1,750 - 4,300 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 8.2