Volkswagen is making some big news at a generally sleepy Chicago Auto Show this week with the debut of its next-generation hot hatch models, the Golf R and GTI.
With millions of Americans shifting from passenger cars to light trucks, the German automaker has decided not to bring over the mainstream Golf. But it is launching two performance versions of the eighth-generation hatchback.
While prices will take a jump, company officials noted that both the Golf R and GTI also get big boosts in power, along with a number of new standard features.
“The previous Golf GTI and Golf R models were widely regarded as the best hot hatches you could buy, but the Mark 8 versions up the ante,” said Hein Schafer, senior vice president, Product Marketing and Strategy, Volkswagen of America. “The cars,” he added, “have more performance, better handling, more standard equipment and improved tech features, yet minimal price increases.”
VW first introduced the GTI to American buyers in 1983, the hatchback then making just 90 horsepower out of its 1.8-liter inline-4. The new GTI takes that to 241 hp and 273 pound-feet of torque. And though it shares the same EA888 2.0-liter engine, the I-4 punches up to 315 hp and 290 lb-ft with the Golf R — making it the most powerful version of the Golf ever, said Schafer.
Buyers can choose from either a 7-speed double-clutch gearbox or a 6-speed manual.
The Golf R has some other tricks in store for buyers seeking serious track and street thrills. For starters, it directs power to all four wheels through VW’s 4Motion system — normally balancing power 50:50, front and rear. But it will shift up to 100% of engine torque to one of the rear wheels, as needed, to sweep through a tight corner.
The Golf R also adds features like an adaptive suspension to smooth out rough roads while cruising, or tighten up when driving hard. And drivers can select from several different mode settings, including the new Drift Mode.
Not straying very far
From a design perspective, the new, Mark 8 Golf models don’t stray far from their predecessors, despite all the significant mechanical changes under the skin. They’re slightly longer and sportier, with more sharply raked hoods and new LED head, fog and taillights.
The GTI adopts X-shaped foglights, a honeycomb lower grille and distinctive red accents, inside and out. That includes a red grille line and red brake calipers. Some classic GTI cues carry over, including the golf ball-style shift knob that first appeared on the original 1983 model.
The Golf R, meanwhile, goes for distinctive blue accents, including the grille line and brake calipers. It adds a large two-piece rear spoiler, as well as more aggressive front and rear bumpers and diffusers than the GTI. Side still extensions and a quad-tipped exhaust system round out the design.
Inside, the two hot hatches share the same, basic layout. Both get the new, 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro display which can be reconfigured by drivers. They also feature a 10-inch Discover Pro infotainment system. A head-up display is one of the options.
The more exclusive Golf R adds features like a leather steering wheel — heated is an option — a standard sunroof, 19-inch wheels and more.
The two models also include VW’s IQ.Drive suite of advanced driver assistance systems, including forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking, blint spot monitor and more.
The 2022 Volkswagen GTI will start at $29,545 with a manual transmission. The Golf R starts at $43,645, a $3,200 bump up from the outgoing hatchback. Both models land in U.S. showrooms during the fourth quarter of 2021.