Tested: 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Still Defines The Hot Hatch

Photo credit: James Lipman - Car and Driver
Photo credit: James Lipman - Car and Driver
From the June 2021 issue of Cars and Drivers.
Good cars make you smile. The big ones make you laugh. We chuckled as the Volkswagen Golf GTI 2022 made its way through Little Tujunga Canyon Road. Little Tujunga and the adjacent Sand Canyon Road were built in the 1930s and comprise 17 miles of curled tarmac over the San Gabriel Mountains on the western edge of the Angeles National Forest. The narrow, winding two-lane road gradually climbs to 2,750 feet and connects Lake View Terrace at the southern end to an In-N-Out burger in Santa Clarita.
Little Tujunga is less popular than the famous Angeles Crest and Angeles Forest highways to the east. It features switchbacks and low-speed bends that favor agility, as well as steep descents that test the driver's confidence in the vehicle and commitment to speed. Small, light cars work best here, which is why Mazda engineers likely used this road to dial in the final setup of the current Miata.
If you are coming from LA, take the Osborne exit off the 210 freeway and travel north. As houses give way to riding stables, Osborne becomes Little Tujunga. Enter Limerock Canyon and the view changes to mountain views and empty road. The new GTI loads hard, its 241 hp four-cylinder with turbocharger is unimpressed by the thinning air. A 4.3 psi increase in boost pressure to now 26.1 psi adds 13 horsepower for the '22, and the new generation's curb weight of 3,154 pounds is 28 pounds lighter than its predecessor. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, but our Euro-spec test car came with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic flashing. Equipped with a start control that increases the speed to over 4000 rpm before the clutch is engaged, the GTI runs to 60 in 5.1 seconds (0.7 seconds faster than the last, automatically equipped, year-round shod Rabbit that we tested. Edition), and the quarter goes by 13.6 seconds at 105 mph.
Photo credit: James Lipman - Car and Driver
The sun-dried asphalt of the little Tujunga offers a good test for the ride quality. With the adaptive dampers in comfort mode, the chassis ensures the sharpest hits despite an increase in the spring rate of 5 percent at the front, a bulge by 15 percent on the rear axle and the optional 19-inch wheels on our car (18-inch wheels will be standard). VW has homologated six tires for the GTI; It remains to be seen which models will be available in the US, but the Bridgestone Potenza S005 in our test car strikes an excellent balance between driving comfort, steering feel and light grip.
Drive through the riding modes to Sport, and the basic stiffness of the dampers increases, causing the occupants to be more jolted. VW has redesigned its adaptive dampers for the latest GTI, and the new programming makes adjustments up to 200 times per second depending on what you or the road throw at them. With 15 possible settings, best practice requires leaving the suspension in Comfort and letting the software tighten as required. The wheel and body control remains tight, and the GTI looks more stable, less hideous and less affected by bumps in the middle of the corner. That's the great thing about adaptive dampers - they adapt.
Photo credit: James Lipman - Car and Driver
After a few kilometers, the road climbs to hug the mountainside. Views range from dusty mugwort to a painting by Bob Ross. Around Dillon Divide, Little Tujunga rolls into a series of turns at recommended speeds of 10 to 15 miles per hour. Guard rails that have been painted by drivers who have run out of talent are threatening, but the sure-footed handling of the GTI seems to widen the lane. Again and again, the small box on wheels sends everything the driver demands of him. Corners fall with such infallible ease that it is possible to flirt with all of the handle available. We measured 0.97 g of a giant killing stick on the skid pad.
Although the GTI is easy to master, it never gets boring. The variable-ratio rack accelerates the further you turn off-center, and switches from lock to lock in just 1.9 turns of the steering wheel. The top spokes of this thick rim wheel have capacitive buttons for various controls. When you start driving, you will find that your hands are sweating, not because of work, but because the palm of your hand accidentally turned on the heated steering wheel. The response is natural and creates confidence in the front-end grip. The GTI pulls the inner rear brake to throw yourself in and through a bend, but the real joy comes when you roll on the throttle as you exit a bend.
Photo credit: James Lipman - Car and Driver
The GTI's handling and ability to lower power are so impressive that you'll giggle like an idiot. We thank the electronically controlled limited-slip differential for pulling this front driver out of the corners with supernatural zeal. Selecting the sport mode increases the enthusiasm with which the differential locks its clutch pack. All you have to do is hit the gas pedal and let the differential and brake based torque vector figure out the rest. The GTI comes out of the corners with unbelievable ambition and self-confidence. Locking differences on vehicles with front-wheel drive can cause undesirable pulling forces and noise on the steering wheel when the load shifts from one side to the other. With the GTIs, however, the vehicle can maintain its path without drama and without impairing steering precision or steering feel. You are in awe of its magic.
The practicality of the shape of the hot hatch is not magical. It's a box. (There's a reason Amazon doesn't ship your products in teardrop-shaped packages.) The cargo space seems to rival those of smaller crossovers, and the back seat remains family-friendly in case you want to use Little Tujunga and the GTI as emetics. There is a 10.3-inch screen in front of the steering wheel that shows virtual gauges, navigation, and a host of other information. Like an Apple Watch, the bright, readable screen has a lot to say, but we miss the simple clarity of the old analog displays.
Photo credit: James Lipman - Car and Driver
We also strongly prefer a volume control, which the GTI lacks. The volume of the audio system is adjusted via capacitive buttons on the steering wheel or under the 10.0-inch touchscreen in the center, which controls a number of functions and settings hidden in a dizzying menu structure. We never found an odometer. Fortunately, cars coming to our coast may have Apple and Android phone mirrors, so owners can avoid VW's dull infotainment system for the most part.
Traditionally, GTI customers have enjoyed interior appointments from the next class onwards, but the latest-generation surfaces are not good enough for an Audi. While the dashboard is more modern than the upright minivan-like design of the old car, the materials aren't rich and disappoint when you touch them. Checkered fabric seats are a tradition that has not been forgotten. They don't adjust as far down as they did before, but the hood of the car appears lower and the outside view is greater. At a constant speed of 100 km / h there are 71 decibels four-cylinder hum. If you add a little speed, the resonance of the roaring motor goes away by 80; Kick it to three-digit numbers and there is practically no gust of wind. All of this is in line with the GTI's "go faster" mantra.
Photo credit: James Lipman - Car and Driver
At the back of the mountain, behind the Bear Divide parking lot, Little Tujunga's name changes to Sand Canyon and we hit the brakes harder. The GTI shares its rotors and single-piston calipers with its predecessor, but VW tuned the new electrically powered brake booster to maintain a firm pedal - something the old car struggled with. Stops at 70 mph take a sports car-like 151 feet and given the lack of fading of the brakes, we never feared the GTI would lose against the mountain.
The road opens for the final access to Santa Clarita and ends for us at the In-N-Out Burger just before Highway 14. We turn around and go back. We're not hungry for a double-double with cheese and raw onions, but rather for the happiness of driving a great and willing car down a tough mountain road. We could all use a good laugh now.
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