2023 Acura Integra vs. 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI: On-Paper Premium Hatch Comparison
These two hatchbacks are warm-to-hot, and trace their lineages back decades.
Ask any group of car guys and girls what a hot hatch is, and you'll likely find most of the answers are based on well-known three-door models from 20 or 30 years ago. These trailblazing icons were small, front-engine, user-friendly cars that utilized a framed rear window that you lifted open to gain access to a roomy cargo hold, rather than a short trunk lid. With higher-output engines, sporty body addenda, and usually some sweet stickers, these cars defined what we know today as "hot hatchbacks."
Among those earliest of hot hatches were the original Volkswagen Golf GTI, Honda Civic Si, and the Acura Integra. Today, the Civic Si is no longer offered in hatchback form (though its mightier Type R sibling is), and with the Integra back after an extended hiatus, we figured the time was ripe to pit these OGs against one another on paper. Both are longtime fan favorites that have been used as first cars, A-to-B college transportation, career commuters, hand-me-downs, and platforms for spending unimaginable dollar amounts on aftermarket upgrades. The GTI has morphed over the years into a premium, pseudo-Audi while retaining the original's frisky handling, and the resurrected Integra conveniently slots into a similar market strata. Both continue to offer a manual transmission, too. Let's see how the two up-market, sporty hatchbacks compare:
2023 Acura Integra: The Comeback Kid
You hear "Integra" and without delay your brain, packed with far too many passwords, to-do lists, and an unhealthy amount of The Office one-liners, pulls up images of spunky, high-revving, sporty two-doors with or without obnoxiously loud exhaust systems and towering rear wings from the late '90s. Serving as Acura's entry-level gatekeeper for a few decades, it was embraced by most everyone, especially enthusiasts who relished in the additional power and amenities it offered over its Civic cousin, and it quickly became an industry darling for the aftermarket.
Today's Integra is labeled as a four-door hatchback, or, five-door, for the math-gicians keen to include the hatch in that count. Like VW, Acura doesn't offer a two-door version, though a four-door was among the first run of Integras back in the '80s, whereas a four-door GTI took decades to appear before eventually replacing the two-door outright.
That said, the Integra might not look like the traditional hatchback models you're used to. From just about any angle other than standing over the trun…er, hatch, it resembles a sedan. (This isn't by total accident—back in 1986 when Acura introduced the first-generation Integra, that model's five-door variant mimicked a sedan from most angles.) The liftback, additional cargo space, and official description say otherwise, though, and the fact that this is a hatchback allows it some (very slight) separation from the 11th-generation Civic family it's mechanically linked to, as no Civic hatchback is available with the Integra's powertrain.
If you're a fan of the current Civic family, then the Integra should also appeal to you given that much of it is the same underneath the Acura dressing. An upscale grill and sleeker headlights go a long way in adding some charm to the Integra's mug and the muscle tone added to its sides give it a more athletic look than the somewhat blunter Civics' styling. Other than the third-generation-derived Integra logos embossed on the bumpers and the aforementioned original five-door, nothing else about the modern version will bring about feelings of nostalgia for owners of previous generation Integra coupes or sedans. It's a much different time and the demographic and average American size have changed as have buying habits with the SUV and EV markets overshadowing the fun loving hot hatch segment.
2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI: Rock Solid Bloodline
The Golf GTI's history runs a bit deeper than that of the Integra nameplate, starting way back in the mid-1970s. A crack team of engineers at Volkswagen aimed to develop a hotter version of the Beetle-replacing Golf and ended up creating enthusiast greatness that's remained a staple in the VW lineup ever since. Much like the Integra, the Golf and especially the GTI were heavily supported by the aftermarket and gained cult-like status among the tuner crowd right away. As a result, it was one of the very first to earn the "hot hatch" designation.
Unlike the Integra, sift through old images of the first few GTI and compare them to this modern example and if you look beyond the overall size and detail, there's still quite a bit of resemblance eight generations later. The boxy aesthetic similarities go a long way in attracting long-time fans and expressing some familiarity among the masses.
Acura Integra vs. VW Golf GTI: Styling
The latest iteration of the GTI feels mature and upscale with aggressive touches like its wide mouth front bumper, large wheel and tire package, and sleek headlights treatment, though it doesn't tiptoe into wild aero territory. In fact, it goes the opposite direction, relying more on a clean and simple exterior that, fitted with four doors, makes it an ideal candidate for a wide array of buyers.
|Acura Integra||Volkswagen Golf GTI|
|Length||185.8 in||168.8 in|
|Width||72.0 in||70.4 in|
|Height||55.5 in||57.6 in|
|Wheelbase||107.7 in||103.6 in|
Styling is purely subjective, of course, but if you're looking to wax nostalgic, the Integra doesn't carryover the look or feel of its most popular second- or third-generation days beyond the embossed bumper nod and the manual transmission available in A-spec trim. The GTI, though larger and more refined than it was "back in the day," still offers much of what you've come to expect from it and maintains a more traditional hatch style, though it's notably smaller than the Acura.
Acura Integra vs. VW Golf GTI: Powertrain
You really can't earn the hot hatch label without something spicy under the hood. The Honda Civic, once known for its high-revving, abuse-proof, naturally aspirated engines made the switch to turbocharged power well before the Integra's reveal and as such, boost is standard on the new Civic-based Acura. While some might have hoped for a version of the Civic Type R's heart—which still could come in a future Type S variant—the Integra instead comes fitted with the same turbocharged 1.5-liter I-4 engine found in the Civic Si, with the same 200 hp. That figure is actually a few ponies weaker than the old Acura RSX and previous-gen Civic Si.
|Acura Integra||Volkswagen Golf GTI|
|Engine||200-hp/192-lb-ft 1.5L I-4||241 hp/273-lb-ft 2.0L I-4|
|Transmission||6-speed manual/CVT||6-speed manual/7-speed dual-clutch auto|
|EPA Fuel Econ (city/hwy/comb)||26-30/36-37/30-33 mpg||24-25/34/28 mpg|
What this new breed gives up in peak horsepower, it makes up for in usable midrange torque. That's good or bad, depending on the sort of experience from behind the wheel that you prefer. Gone are days of those lofty 8,000-rpm rips, but now you can scoot around traffic without having to downshift and shoot for the moon. The seamless highway pass is obviously the mature approach, but there's something to be said for dropping a gear and hustling to grab that position. It's what made that daily commute so much fun and provided weekend thrills with cars like the Integra GS-R back in the day. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is standard across the Integra range, but a wonderful six-speed manual is a no-cost option on the range-topping Integra A-Spec with the Technology package.
The GTI walks away from the Integra with its 2.0-liter turbo I-4 that musters 241 hp and boasts a huge advantage in torque with 273 lb-ft. Mostly, this is a product of the VW engine's larger displacement. That welcome grunt is tasked with pulling around 3,100 pounds, a tad more than the Integra that tips the scales just above the Civic it's based on, meaning the GTI is, unsurprisingly, quicker. Though we've yet to gather hard numbers on the Acura, the slightly lighter Honda Civic Si with the same engine and gearing reaches 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, while a six-speed 2022 Golf GTI did the deed in 6.1 seconds. For those who can't stomach a CVT, good news: The GTI's automatic transmission option is a super-sharp-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
It's tough to pick the Integra's power output over the GTI's, as that delicious torque makes a huge difference in just about all driving situations, fast or slow. If you're not already aware, small cars with peppy, high-revving engines are a blast to toss around on the back roads—but this ain't the '90s and all those modern electronics and safety additions on board add substantial heft, not to mention the growing waistline and length of both cars. With that in mind, torque becomes even more important.
Acura Integra vs. VW Golf GTI: Interiors and Features
The cabins for both cars are very much like the exteriors in that the Integra uses plenty of curves and interesting lines while the GTI is more stoically styled. Acura borrows some Civic pieces for the Integra's layout but does its best to disguise them with nicer materials and more standard and available features than you'd get in a Civic Si. The honeycomb-patterned air vents that occupies the center of the dash here (and all of the dash in the Civic family) is something you should get used to as it appears on the upcoming Honda HR-V and CR-V, and likely will show up on the new Accord, as well. Every Integra gets a standard digital gauge cluster, heated seats, automatic climate control, and either a 7.0- or 9.0-inch touchscreen, depending on the trim. The Acura is available in base, A-Spec, and A-Spec with Technology package, but take note: The manual transmission is only available on the range-topping A-Spec w/ Tech package, where it's a no-cost option.
The VW has a familiar feel and represents an evolution of past variants. It even brings back those famous plaid seat patterns that never really age, at least on the base S model (there are SE and Autobahn trims, as well). Even in photos, however, it's apparent that the GTI uses harder-than-expected plastics throughout, which are unusual given the VW's recent streak as a budget Audi. That's offset by a modern digital cluster and an infotainment unit that's better integrated with the dashboard than the Integra's tombstone unit. Still, the Honda's touchscreen is way simpler to use, as we've found the VW's display to be frustrating and at times not super responsive—a criticism that extends to its myriad touch-sensitive controls, even on the steering wheel, which are easy to accidentally activate while hustling the GTI down a back road.
Both cars offer the sort of versatility that you'd expect from a hatchback, especially when those rear seats are folded forward. The cargo area in the VW is more upright, as the roofline doesn't cut in as much on the vertical space back there, but it's not quite as deep, so the 20 cubic feet it offers (with the rear seats up) actually trails the 24 cubic feet of the Integra. Fold the seats down, and the GTI's cargo area swells to 35 cubic feet; Acura has yet to confirm its seats-down volume, but it's likely slightly bigger (if not as boxy), given its 95 cubic feet of passenger volume to the VW's 92. Keep in mind, the Acura is notably larger than the VW, with a wheelbase that's 4.1 inches longer and an additional 17 inches of length overall; it's also 1.6 inches wider, albeit 2.1 inches lower.
Acura Integra vs. VW Golf GTI: Hot Hatch Magic?
Hot hatchbacks have always been about their feel as much as their performance. So, while in terms of on-road performance, the Acura—which isn't offered with summer tires like the GTI or its Civic Si sibling—falls behind in hard numbers, it is a scrappy contender with a buttery smooth shifter. It's like that favorite uncle that seemed to make a point about going against the grain when he was younger and even as he matured, still carried an edge about himself. Sure, he ditched his switchblade comb, but he still sported his shades inside the house. He disappeared somewhere around your 30s, then showed up at a family function and surprisingly accepted adulthood, doing his best to blend in. Neither the quickest sport compact around nor the hardest-core performer, the Integra is a "feel" car, in that its simply very satisfying to drive around.
The GTI, on the other hand, is all about performance, at the expense of some everyday comfort. Examples we've tested have rode stiffly, though they brake, steer, and go with aplomb. In downgrading this latest model's interior materials, Volkswagen has taken some sheen off the GTI's up-market persona—while charging more than ever for the privilege of owning one. Still, if you're looking for peak hot hatch performance for less than more feral options such as the more powerful Golf R or Honda's Civic Type R, and can deal with its interior foibles, it won't disappoint.
|Acura Integra||Volkswagen Golf GTI|
|A-Spec w/ Tech pkg||$36,895||Autobahn||$39,820|
|+$800 for DSG auto|
Acura Integra vs. VW Golf GTI: Pick A Side
Decades after their debuts and subsequent uprisings, the Integra and Golf GTI are alive and kicking in a modern age forecasting the complete elimination of manual transmissions and a potential end to internal combustion engines entirely. For this moment in time, both cars represent a modern interpretation of the hot hatch with pricing that serves a much larger segment than the elevated Civic Type R and Golf R that heat things up considerably, though at a much higher price point. Your loyalties from 25 years ago will likely play as large a part in your decision as their respective performance, practicality, and looks.