First Drive: The 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R Build on Hot-Hatch Fundamentals

Both redesigned cars are more capable and more satisfying to drive, but everyday usability is below par

2022 Volkswagen GTI front driving
2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE
Photo: John Powers/Consumer Reports

Update: Since this first drive was originally published in February, 2022, we finished testing the Volkswagen GTI.

See the complete Volkswagen GTI road test.

The Volkswagen Golf GTI popularized the hot-hatch genre of sporty, higher-performance versions of more-pedestrian models, starting with the transformation of the European Golf in the 1970s and the U.S.-market Rabbit in the early 1980s. Over the decades, the GTI has always been an automotive tightrope artist that carefully balances a modest price with practicality and fun. The stunt produces a performance-focused car that seemingly does it all—and at a reasonable price. The Golf R takes the same core car and dials up the performance, capability, and features to the nth degree.

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As with prior generations, the GTI’s sensible nature comes primarily from its conventional hatchback shape, which yields plenty of usable interior space for passengers and cargo while remaining small, nimble, and easy to park. The powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and impressive handling for the latest renditions maintain the GTI and Golf R’s positions as fun-to-drive cars that are also livable day-to-day.

In tandem with incremental performance improvements throughout its history, the GTI has developed into a more rational and civilized choice compared with rivals like the Honda Civic Si and Subaru WRX, which are harsher-riding and louder both inside and out. The same can be said of the Golf R when measured against the Civic Type R and WRX STI. The redesigned, eighth-generation 2022 GTI builds on this long-standing advantage with a firm but cultured ride and an exhaust note that thrills without waking the neighbors. But there is more to this exciting pair, as we found out in our extensive time behind their steering wheels. 

We rented two examples from Volkswagen—the Golf GTI Autobahn (six-speed manual transmission) and Golf R (seven-speed dual-clutch automatic)—to gain early impressions. We since bought and tested our own Golf GTI SE.

If you’re a Consumer Reports member, our initial expert assessments of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R are available to you below. We put our own GTI through more than 50 tests at the CR Auto Test Center, including those that evaluate acceleration, braking, fuel economy, handling, car-seat fit, and controls. CR members have access to the full road-test results now. 

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