Consumer Reports Says the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Is the Second-Best Sports Car Under $40,000, but Still Doesn’t Recommend It

If you’re looking for affordable sports cars, you probably can’t go wrong with the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The Golf GTI has a sterling reputation for its performance, and with a starting MSRP under $30,000, it won’t break your budget. Yet, despite it being ranked high in its class by Consumer Reports, the site doesn’t recommend it, which is quite a red flag for prospective buyers.

What Consumer Reports liked about the Volkswagen Golf GTI

The 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI hot hatch sporty hatchback model in gray driving through a desert
2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI | Volkswagen of America, Inc. Newspress Limited

The Consumer Reports reviewers appreciated the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI’s power and performance – even more than the last-gen model. They noted its more powerful engine: a 240-hp-generating 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that improves over the previous model by 13 horsepower. They also praised its transmission choices: a standard six-speed manual or an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which, coupled with the engine, produced polished handling and quick acceleration (60 mph in 6.4 seconds). As a result, the Golf GTI earned an 85 out of 100 on its road-test score.

Performance, styling, and comfort ratings likely drove the Golf GTI’s 4 out of 5 predicted owner satisfaction score. While this score was not broken down into the usual categories of Driving Experience, Comfort, Value, and Styling, the reviewers appreciated the Golf GTI’s exterior and its throwback plaid upholstery trimming inside. They also noted seat comfort and rear-seat headroom as pluses.

However, the Golf GTI only scored a 67 out of 100 overall, driven by a 2/5 predicted reliability score. Unfortunately, even though the latest version of this affordable hatchback sports superior performance, it also comes with serious issues.

Where the Volkswagen Golf GTI was found lacking

The Volkswagen Golf GTI’s low predicted reliability score was primarily driven by severe problems with previous models. For example, model years 2015 through 2017 had extensive engine troubles, and some minor issues were found in the 2019 version. Body integrity issues also plagued the 2015 through 2019 model years, as did problems with power equipment. Assessments are not available for 2020 or 2021 editions, but you can easily find online complaints about the same areas for those model years as well.

Despite being a hatchback, the Golf GTI’s trunk space is relatively small, and its in-floor storage bins can’t handle much. Still, the biggest driver of the Golf GTI’s low overall score was the confusing infotainment system and climate controls. Even the most mundane infotainment system tasks typically require a minimum of two steps. Additionally, the touch controls don’t automatically illuminate in low light, and the buttons react slowly when pressed.

Reviewers also noted that it’s too easy to make accidental changes via the steering wheel controls. The climate controls are just as tedious and confusing as those of the infotainment system. Beyond the controls, reviewers also criticized the center dash vents’ placement as too low and the defroster buttons’ placement (near the headlight controls) as “baffling.”

What sports car does Consumer Reports recommend instead?

Instead of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Consumer Reports recommends the 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata. With an overall score of 85 out of 100, the MX-5 Miata outperformed the Golf GTI in most categories. While it got lower marks for its road test (80/100), it earned perfect scores in predicted reliability and predicted owner satisfaction.

With an MSRP also starting under $30,000, the MX-5 Miata delivers an impressive performance that rivals the Golf GTI. While its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine only generates 181 horsepower, the car itself only weighs 2,300 pounds. As a result, Consumer Reports reviewers noted that the MX-5 Miata could get more performance from that engine. It’s also nearly as quick as the GTI, with a 0 to 60 acceleration speed of 6.7 seconds.

Where the MX-5 Miata falls short is as a daily driver. It is tight for a two-seater, has a tiny trunk, and sports little insulation from the road, tire, and wind noise. It’s also not exceptionally comfortable, with minimally padded seats and few adjustability items. However, if you’re considering the MX-5 as a daily driver, you’re missing the point.

The MX-5 Miata outperforms its competition as a sports car. By contrast, the Golf GTI is one part daily driving hatchback and one part sportscar. So, if you’re looking for a pure sports car, you’re better off with the MX-5 Miata.

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