2022 Volkswagen GTI vs. Volkswagen Golf R: Which Hot Hatch Is Best?

Vehicle Comparison Highlights:

  • The new GTI’s pros and cons
  • The Golf R’s AWD adds usability but takes away fun
  • Which hatchback is right for you?

This is, in all honesty, more a debate about finances and lifestyle than it is a debate about Volkswagens. On the one hand, a FWD car like the 2022 Volkswagen GTI will be more economical and consume less (think: tires, brakes, and the like). On the other, those in all-season climates, or those with the race track in mind, will appreciate the enhanced versatility and grip of the Volkswagen Golf R. Only one hot hatch is right for your lifestyle, and it’s time to figure out which.

2022 Volkswagen GTI2022 Volkswagen Golf R
Price Range$29,545-$40,185$44,640
Engine OptionsTurbocharged EA888 DOHC 4-cyl. Turbocharged EA888 DOHC 4-cyl.
Horsepower241 hp315 hp
Torque273 lb-ft280 lb-ft, 295 lb-ft (automatic)
Transmission6-speed manual,
7-speed dual-clutch automatic
6-speed manual,
7-speed dual-clutch automatic
MPG (combined/city/highway) 28/24/34 (manual)
28/25/34 (automatic)
23/20/28 (manual)
26/23/30 (automatic)
IIHS Safety RatingN/A N/A
NHTSA Safety Rating N/A N/A

2022 Volkswagen GTI

A yellow Volkswagen GTI hot hatch shot in motion from the front 3/4 on a back road
The new GTI gets new colors | Volkswagen

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  • Pros: More refined than the competition, competetive pricing, and the king of consistency
  • Cons: Touch-heavy interior, divisive looks, not as dynamic as the previous generation GTI

We’ll start with the GTI. But first, a warning. Volkswagen has removed nearly every physical button (including those on the steering wheel) from the GTI and the Golf R. It’s a huge flaw for both, especially once you realize the touch-only climate buttons don’t light up at night. Buyer beware and all that. From there, however, the new GTI is all positives. Any trim level will net you one of the most usable and competent hot hatch models around.

The 2022 Volkswagen GTI may not be as fast or raw as a Civic Type R, but it excels at “just being a car” in a way the Civic doesn’t. Plus, it’ll be cheaper than a new or used Type R. You have your choice between VW’s DSG dual-clutch auto gearbox and an old-fashioned six-speed, just like in the R, but FWD means you’ll need snow tires for winter. Whether that trade-off fits into your lifestyle is up to you. One thing’s for sure: The 2022 Volkswagen GTI isn’t perfect, but it’s a hot hatch for the ages, shoddy touch controls and all.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

  • Pros: Absurd levels of grip, hot hatch when you need it and serious when you don’t, adaptive dampers
  • Cons: Touch-heavy interior, divisive looks, the Civic Type R is more fun to drive

Arguably, the Volkswagen Golf R is a $44,000 shot in the arm for the GTI. Because VW’s Haldex AWD system is still FWD until you need AWD, it feels eerily similar to the GTI. You can also argue that the Volkswagen Golf R’s new look fits better than the GTI. However, the R is in dangerous Civic Type R territory in a way the GTI isn’t. Frankly, despite the Type R being FWD, it’s a much better car. But the fins, red seats, and big wing of the Type R ain’t for everyone.

The Volkswagen Golf R is, and always has been, the hot hatch for adults. The segment is sometimes seen as childish (don’t ask us why), and the Golf R puts the hot hatch through finishing school. Plus, you’re getting all of VW’s adaptive chassis goodies, like adaptive dampers and steering. It’s all very good, and AWD means you don’t have to be as worried about bad weather as the GTI.

Which hot hatchback is right for you?

A yellow 2022 Volkswagen GTI shot from the front 3/4 on a country road
The 2022 Volkswagen GTI | Volkswagen

But if you ask us, the Volkswagen Golf R is a little… sterile compared to the 2022 Volkswagen GTI. This segment is about flair, and adding AWD to a car that looks and (is supposed to) feel FWD kind of takes away from the experience. But, while the GTI is cheaper, the Golf R offers peace of mind despite its higher MSRP and predicted cost of ownership (again, think: tires, brakes, and the like). If you need that, the Golf R is the obvious choice. But if you don’t, and you’re here out of love for the game, the Volkswagen GTI is the best hot hatch VW makes, and it always will be.

RELATED: 2022 Honda Civic vs. 2021 Volkswagen Golf: Hatchback Showdown