2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Long-Term Introduction: Is It Still Our Favorite Daily Driver?


Moonstone Gray is a great color.

Steven Ewing/CNET

Generation after generation, the Volkswagen Golf GTI continues to be a perennial favorite. Thanks to its great balance of performance, functionality and value — not to mention those awesome plaid seats — the GTI is one of the cars we recommend most as an enthusiast’s daily driver.

To see if that all remains true with the new Mk 8 GTI, we added one to our long-term fleet for a year-long test. As we pile on the miles and put the Golf GTI through the paces of everyday life, we’ll be curious to see if we still absolutely adore it, or if the controversial new infotainment tech and reworked driving dynamics ultimately tarnish our love.

How we spec’d it

The GTI can only be had with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 engine, producing 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. We opted to stick with the standard six-speed manual transmission rather than the dual-clutch automatic, since we believe a GTI is best experienced with three pedals. The EPA estimates we’ll see 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined.

Volkswagen offers the 2022 Golf GTI in three grades — S, SE and Autobahn — and we opted to get the midlevel trim. This gives us access to niceties including a sunroof, pushbutton start, Harman Kardon audio system and the 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system, but still allows us to forgo leather upholstery for that sweet, sweet plaid fabric. No, you can’t get an SE in the GTI’s cool new Pomelo Yellow hue, but we’re perfectly happy with our test car’s Moonstone Gray. The SE rides on 18-inch wheels rather than the Autobahn’s 19s, though we aren’t sure why our car was delivered on these horrible/optional black gloss wheels. Yuck.

A 2022 Golf GTI starts at $30,540 including $995 for destination, with the SE commanding $35,290. Add our tester’s $395 paint and $395 black wheels (which we will hopefully get rid of), and the final, as-tested price comes to $36,080.

The GTI’s cabin tech is a huge letdown.

Steven Ewing/CNET

The first 1,000 miles

Ever since its arrival in our Los Angeles test fleet, the GTI’s been in high demand. “It’s a great reminder of how brilliantly hot hatches can handle dense urban environments,” notes executive editor Chris Paukert. “There’s enough turbocharged poke from the 2.0-liter I4 to not only exploit holies in LA’s legendary traffic, the six-speed manual is good fun, too. Just as importantly, the ride quality and ride height are well tuned to this environment. LA is chock-a-block with speed bumps and wavy intersections that are unkind to cars with low ride heights or poorly calibrated suspensions, but the GTI soaks it all up in stride just beautifully.”

“It still drives like a GTI,” news and features editor Kyle Hyatt notes, “with reasonably sharp steering, a comfortable but sporty ride, a rowdy turbo-four engine and a decent six-speed manual transmission, all of which work really well to create a generally fun car.”

“The plentiful low-end torque means you can kind of drive this thing like it’s a diesel,” your author noted after a day trip up the California coast. “Revving the hell out of a car is fun and all, but I love that the GTI provides plentiful passing power without needing to downshift. This makes long highway drives a cinch. Comfy seats, a bangin’ stereo and a nicely sorted ride help here, too.”

Great car, bad wheels.

Steven Ewing/CNET

But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. As fond as we are of the GTI as a whole, the multimedia interface is downright infuriating.

Paukert again: “The new-for-2022 infotainment interface and cabin user interface in general is a massive step backwards. Even with plenty of time to get used to the ergonomic quirks of the needlessly annoying haptic switchgear, this car frustrates. Why would VW spend the money on frippery like puddle-lamp graphics but not backlight the volume and temperature controls? In fact, the GTI’s new control scheme is so obnoxious that I’d probably recommend buying a used Mk 7 instead of this new generation.”

Hyatt agrees: “The infotainment system with its lack of physical buttons is egregiously bad.” Hyatt also notes some other interior issues, including the “fingerprint-magnet plastics and questionable cupholder design.”

Will we get used to this tech over the course of a year? And will the GTI’s other great attributes outweigh those cons? Stay tuned for more updates.


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