Volkswagen introduced the eighth-generation Golf GTI online in March 2020, but it didn't say much about the American-spec variant during the model's unveiling. Autoblog chatted with some of the company's engineers and product planners to find out what to expect when the hot hatch arrives for the 2022 model year.
Although the regular Golf is very likely dead in the United States, the North American market remains hugely important for the GTI. We absorb about 45% of the total volume, according to Megan Closset, the Golf family's product manager. The outgoing seventh-generation model was the most successful GTI in the nameplate's 44-year history, so its replacement has a lot to live up to. The competition is fiercer than it's ever been, too.
Familiar, but smarter
Styling cues enthusiasts expect to see on a GTI, like red emblems and honeycomb-shaped trim pieces, are accounted for in the new car's design. 18-inch wheels will come standard, while 19-inch alloys — a first for the nameplate — will join an illuminated grille on the list of options. Technology is part of the package, too. Closset listed blind spot detection, lane-keeping assist and autonomous emergency braking as some of the electronic driving aids every GTI will be equipped with. Inside, a new-look plaid cloth upholstery will come standard, while leather seats that are heated and ventilated — another first — will be offered at an extra cost. Motorists feeling particularly festive will have a 30-color ambient lighting system with a GTI mode to play with.
Volkswagen chose to send analog gauges the way of the Scirocco. Every GTI regardless of trim level will gain a digital, driver-configurable instrument cluster connected to an 8.25-inch touchscreen that displays the next generation of the company's MIB infotainment system. There's a 10-inch screen on the list of upgrades along with a head-up display and a Harman Kardon sound system which replaces the current car's Fender setup.
"We've taken the seventh-generation car's formula and added a lot of great features. Whether it's power- and performance-related, visual, design, dynamism, digitalization, infotainment. Everything you come to expect that's standard has been evolutionized rather than revolutionized; it is, after all, a GTI. We play it a little bit safe when it comes to the design, because you would never want to mistake it for anything else," Closset explained.
An X-ray machine's view
As we've already reported, the GTI will land with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine turbocharged to 242 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, increases of 14 and 15, respectively, over the seventh-generation GTI. Front-wheel drive will come standard, like it always has, and transmission options will again include a six-speed manual as well as a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Killing the stick in the United States wasn't an option, because about 40% of GTI and Golf R buyers order their car with three pedals, Closset revealed. She added the extra power won't compromise fuel economy. It's too early to provide official figures because the Environmental Protection Agency hasn't tested the car yet, but it will be at least as efficient as its predecessor, which returns 25 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg combined with the seven-speed dual-clutch.
More power is difficult to argue against, but it normally accompanies an increase in weight. That won't necessarily be the case here. Volkswagen isn't ready to reveal where the eighth-generation GTI tips the scale, but hinted its weight will be comparable to the seventh-gen model's, which checks in at approximately 3,000 pounds.
Engineers tweaked the chassis, too. Karsten Schebsdat, Volkswagen's manager for vehicle dynamics and chassis control systems, explained his team's goal was to make the GTI quicker and more engaging to drive without compromising its drivability. This was achieved by tightening the suspension, shedding weight from key components (like the front subframe), and relying on electronic wizardry to make the hatchback docile when it needs to be, and aggressive when the occasion calls for it. The end result, according to Schebsdat, is a much wider spread between comfort and sport when the driver plays around with different driving modes. There's also a new profile called Individual that lets drivers configure and save their own set of parameters.
Schebsdat added the standard electronic limited-slip differential makes the GTI more agile while giving it more grip around fast bends, and noted the progressive steering system (which has 2.1 turns lock-to-lock) improves the driving experience on back roads, around town, and at high speeds. We'll wait until we have the opportunity to take it for a spin to see how Volkswagen's newest hot hatch improves on a formula that was already excellent.
Volkswagen will launch the eighth-generation Golf GTI during the second half of 2021 as a 2022 model. It will be built alongside the standard Golf in Wolfsburg, Germany, yet it will only be about 10% more expensive than the current model sourced from Puebla, Mexico. Full pricing information will be released closer to its on-sale date. In the meantime, the seventh-generation hatch will return for the 2021 model year. The next all-wheel drive Golf R (which hasn't been unveiled yet) will go on sale in the United States at approximately the same time.
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