The Volkswagen Golf GTI pioneered the hot-hatchback genre and now, after decades of existence, it is still the whipped cream atop this sundae of delectable, fun-to-drive compact machines. The GTI was redesigned for the 2022 model year, complete with updated styling and more modern interior features, but it still possesses the fun-to-drive nature that makes it a performance icon. A turbocharged, 2.0-liter, 241-hp four-cylinder is under the hood and powers the front wheels through either a seven-speed automatic or—our choice—a six-speed manual transmission. Its cabin is spacious in both the front and the back and, like every GTI since the nameplate’s inception, there’s plenty of room for cargo under the hatchback door. Whether you are new to speedy boxes-on-wheels or have been a faithful GTI fan since the early days, this latest rendition is as fun-loving as when the original first arrived on these shores. For a GTI turned up to eleven, check out the Golf R (reviewed separately), which boasts 315 horsepower, standard all-wheel drive, and similarly brilliant handling.
What’s New for 2023?
The only thing new for 2023 is the addition of a 40th Anniversary Edition to the lineup to celebrate 40 years since the Golf GTI made its way to the U.S. The limited production edition joins the S, SE, and Autobahn trims, slotting in above the S. Otherwise, the Golf GTI is unchanged from 2022.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
When deciding which GTI trim to buy, the mid-level SE strikes us as the best value. For an extra $800, the standard six-speed manual can be swapped for a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. We prefer to shift for ourselves, so we’d avoid the surcharge. Compared with the entry-level trim, the SE adds a 480-watt Karman/Hardon audio system, a cool illuminated grille, enhanced infotainment features, and a sunroof. It can also be fitted with leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, and memory settings for the driver’s seat, but that means ditching the GTI’s traditional cloth seats and their plaid design. We’d never do that.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The 2023 Golf GTI is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that develops 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. That’s an increase of 13 horses and 15 pound-feet versus its predecessor, but that power is still routed to the front wheels through either a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. We tested a GTI with the auto ‘box, which had smart shifts and helped deliver the hatch to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds–0.7 quicker than a last-gen Rabbit edition with the automatic. Not only is the new GTI quicker in a straight line, we credit its revised suspension, electronically controlled limited-slip differential, and brake-based torque vectoring for an uptick in entertainment value on back roads and race tracks. The VW’s expertly tuned chassis deserves more praise than ever, with its sharp responses and not-too-firm, not-too-soft ride quality. The latter was experienced in a top-spec Autobahn model, which comes with adjustable adaptive dampers and a set of 19-inch wheels (18-inchers are standard) wearing summer tires. Nothing puts a damper on spirited driving like a soft brake pedal, but the GTI provides firm feedback and noteworthy stopping power, halting the hatch from 70 mph in just 151 feet.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The most efficient Golf GTI model is the one with the automatic transmission, which earned ratings of 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. Opting for the six-speed manual reduces fuel economy in the city by 1 mpg. When we tested a Golf GTI with the automatic on our 75-mph highway fuel economy route, which is part of our extensive testing regimen, it overperformed its EPA estimate and returned 38 mpg. For more information about the Golf GTI’s fuel economy, visit the EPA’s website.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Inside, the Golf GTI boasts a more modern design than before and some traditional callbacks. The dashboard is dominated by two large displays—a 10.3-inch gauge cluster and a 10.0-inch touchscreen—that share a piano-black bezel. The GTI’s three-spoke steering wheel boasts a heavily contoured rim and touch-sensitive controls. Its bolstered front seats have red accents around their outer edges and iconic plaid inserts on the top and bottom cushions—a GTI hallmark through the decades. Unfortunately, unlike the high-quality environs of the previous generation, the new interior is marred by some chintzy finishes and hard plastics. Seeing the road ahead is improved by a lower cowl, but we prefer a simple set of analog gauges over the overly configurable digital setup. The new GTI grows by an inch overall and sees its wheelbase stretch by 0.6 inch, which only furthers its impressive passenger accommodations and cargo space.
Infotainment and Connectivity
The GTI’s infotainment system runs through a standard 10.0-inch touchscreen. Unfortunately, it’s primarily operated via touch-sensitive sliders instead of more intuitive buttons and knobs. Along with a couple of charging ports, the system includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. These familiar phone apps and menu structures will help offset VW’s otherwise busy and potentially distracting interface.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The GTI comes with a host of standard driver-assistance technology as well as optional upgrades. Notably, VW’s IQ.Drive system is available on all trims and, in addition to traditional features such as automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist, includes Emergency Assist, which brings the vehicle to a stop and turns on the hazards in the absence of detected driver input. For more information about the Golf GTI’s crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection
- Standard lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
- Available adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
VW includes an above-average limited warranty, but its powertrain protection trails behind most competitors. The company does sweeten the deal with complimentary scheduled maintenance that is similar to what Toyota offers.
- Limited warranty covers four years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers four years or 50,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for two years or 20,000 miles
2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI
front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
PRICE AS TESTED
turbocharged and intercooled inline-4, iron block and aluminum head
121 in3, 1984 cm3
241 hp @ 6500 rpm
273 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Suspension (F/R): multilink/multilink
Brakes (F/R): 13.4-in vented disc/12.2-in disc
Tires: Bridgestone Potenza S005, 235/35R-19 91Y
Wheelbase: 103.4 in
Length: 168.8 in
Width: 70.4 in
Height: 58.2 in
Curb weight: 3154 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 5.1 sec
100 mph: 12.2 sec
1/4 mile: 13.6 sec @ 105 mph
130 mph: 24.6 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 5.5 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 2.7 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 3.8 sec
Top speed (mfr’s claim): 155 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 151 ft
Braking, 100–0 mph: 311 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.97 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 25 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
Combined/city/highway: 27/24/32 mpg