American VW Golf GTI And R Buyers Are Saving The Manual

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VW has seen an amazing take rate for the three-pedaled versions of its hot hatches.

Despite demand for the manual transmission dwindling, there's a small group of enthusiasts in America who crave three pedals and the ability to row their own gears at will. That's why the USA got a manual E60 BMW M5, and it's why in 2022, Volkswagen still sells you a manual gearbox as standard on the Golf GTI and Golf R. In fact, the latter is available with a manual only in the USA and Canada. But just how high is the demand for the manual versus the exemplary DSG dual-clutch automatic? As it turns out, pretty darn high.

CarBuzz recently spoke with Hein Schafer, VW Group of America's senior vice president of product & strategy, and among the topics we discussed were the brand's hot hatches.

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Gearbox Controls Volkswagen
Gearbox Controls Volkswagen

GTI & R Fans Love Manual Transmissions

Schafer confirmed that the buying public has supported the manual transmission's availability strongly. "Both the GTI and R are running quite heavily on manual transmission [uptake]," he tells us. "Last time I checked, we were up roughly 40% on the manual transmission."

That means that of the 1,204 Golf Rs sold in 2022 so far, approximately 480 of them have shipped with the manual.

Speaking of the effort VW went through to get the manual to North America, Schafer says, "It's something we fought very, very hard for." One of the big driving forces behind getting the manual to America was Megan Closset, GTI and R product manager at VW of America.

"She's very popular amongst the enthusiast community, and she did most of the Golf 8 planning for us, and she fought like hell to retain the manual transmission in both the GTI and the R. They are popular, and people still love them and enjoy them, and we're going to try and keep them alive as long as we can."

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Emblem Volkswagen
Emblem Volkswagen

Schafer acknowledges the problems manufacturers face with dwindling demand, saying, "it is becoming tougher [to keep them around], but we're trying to hold on to both of those and, of course, the manual transmission in the [Jetta] GLI, as long as we can."

A lot of this boils down to the type of buyer purchasing these cars. Whereas in years gone by, the hot hatch was the perfect one-car garage for an enthusiast, Schafer tells us that now these are second or third cars in a garage, which allows people to buy them with the manual as purely a fun toy. Many buyers of the Mk8 GTI and R have been in the GTI fold for some time already.

"This is someone that maybe owned a Mk1 or Mk2 or Mk3 that now has very nice cars in the garage and has purchased this as a third vehicle. Very often, it's just a Golf enthusiast that's owned generation after generation after generation."

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Forward Vision Volkswagen
Side Angle Driving Volkswagen

GTI & R Aren't Going Anywhere

While it's clear that GTI and R buyers are keeping the manual alive, what about the longevity of the GTI and R on the whole? The regular Golf 8 never made it stateside, and with crossovers gaining in popularity, there have been schools of thought that the GTI and R might not be long for this world. The good news is that both the GTI and R are likely to stick around for at least another six years in the US, as Schafer tells us the two hot hatches will be facelifted "probably a year to two years from now and exist for at least another three years thereafter, so GTI and R are for sure here to stay."

Highlighting the importance of these cars, Schafer says, "Those two brands are critically important for us. Those are our 911s, our Camaros, our Mustangs; that's our brand. So yes, we do want to hang on to them."

Rearward Vision Volkswagen
2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Front Angle View Volkswagen

What Happened To The Regular Golf Models?

The reason we don't see regular base model Golf 8s is that, as Schafer tells us, "we saw a lot of migration, even before we canceled the Golf TSI, into compact SUVs. Obviously, with the introduction of Taos, which occupies that exact Golf TSI price point, we did a fair amount of homework and realized that the volume would be dwindling just on the TSIs, and that's effectively why we decided to bring the Mk8 just in GTI and R."

For so long as enthusiasts are willing to pony up for the GTI and R, VW will keep bringing them to America.


Can VW Take R Electric?

What happens when VW's entire portfolio goes electric? Schafer tells us, "There is a lot of work being done in Wolfsburg to see how we can emulate the R strategy on the electric vehicle side," highlighting that VW's "R strategy has been pretty successful. I think Golf R has become an icon, and in Europe, the Tiguan R is doing relatively well. So I do think being a fun-to-drive brand like VW definitely needs a high-performance strategy."

While VW is effectively in its first generation of dedicated BEVs, still learning the tech as it's developed, he says VW is "at base camp right now" with regards to its performance EV strategy and that "there are a lot of plans behind the scenes to get battery efficiency up, to get performance up, and to get range up." He tells us there's a lot of discussion as to how VW can achieve a three-second car - referring to its 0 to 60 mph time - but promises that the brand is "trying to take the next step up the mountain. We're not quite there yet, but [it's] definitely on our radar."

Rear Perspective Driving Volkswagen
Side Perspective Driving Volkswagen

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