By on November 5, 2021

 

Volkswagen Golf R. Tim Healey/TTAC

The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R remains a potent backroad weapon – almost too potent.

I came to this conclusion while driving part of North Carolina’s famed Rattler highway. The Golf R, one of the hottest of hot hatches, was making me feel a bit like a superhero thanks to stout brakes, the ability to shorten straightaways, and firm and accurate steering that allowed me to place the wheels exactly where I wanted/needed them to be.

And all this while I was driving relatively conservatively because I was on a public road. Imagine this car unleashed on a track.

Undoubtedly, that’s what VW wants its customers to do. Because why pay more for a steroidal GTI – a car that, as you’ll see in a forthcoming first drive, can do 80 percent or more of what the R can do, shares the same MQB platform, and is also more relaxed in urban driving – if you’re just going to use it to fight parking wars at Trader Joe’s?

The car certainly has the right specs: 315 horsepower and up to 295 lb-ft of torque from the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, all-wheel drive with torque vectoring, and a choice of either a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG automatic transmission. The engine’s power numbers are increased from before.

Volkswagen Golf R. Tim Healey/TTAC

Other changes/updates include a redone cabin, new drive modes, larger brakes, updates that aim to improve handling, and the addition of VW’s IQ.DRIVE driver-assistance package.

(Full disclosure: Volkswagen flew me to Asheville, North Carolina, and fed and housed me for two nights so I could drive the Golf R, GTI, and Jetta GLI, plus any other current VW I wanted to. They offered socks in the same pattern as GTI seats and I left them behind.)

On the road, it feels almost like overkill. The car scoots from point A to point B with general ease. It doesn’t hurt that peak available torque is on hand right off idle – at 1,900 RPM in manuals (which do give up 15 lb-ft to the automatic) and 2,000 in the DSG. There were a couple of moments in the twisties when I found the engine lugging on an uphill and needed to drop a gear, but those instances were few.

More to the point of this car’s mission, the handling is very well buttoned down. That’s especially true when the car is placed in Sport mode, which increases steering heft and adjusts throttle response (along with providing for more-aggressive shifts with the DSG) for sportier driving. I also tossed the car into Race mode, just for grins, which made the steering even heavier, though neither Race nor Sport completely eliminated the traces of artificiality that snuck in.

Volkswagen Golf R. Tim Healey/TTAC

I didn’t often flirt with “the limit” – public road, remember, and one with very little shoulder and lots of trees just a few feet away – but to the extent that I did, there was a bit of predictable and controllable understeer. Body roll does rear its head here and there, but it’s not obnoxious.

The Golf R is standard with DCC adaptive damping, and uses a strut-type setup with lower control arms – the spring rates are stiffened by 10 percent over the previous car – in front. Camber is increased, among other tweaks. Meanwhile, the multi-link rear uses an anti-roll bar, also has 10 percent stiffer spring rates, and similarly makes use of smaller tweaks and adjustments in a bid to improve handling.

Other drive modes include Comfort, Custom (lets you customize the setup, duh), Special (programmed for driving the Nürburgring Nordschleife), and a Drift mode, which is obviously meant only for private roads. What it does should be self-explanatory, and it works by sending all available torque to the outside rear wheel.

Volkswagen Golf R. Tim Healey/TTAC

 

The car’s cross-drilled vented disc brakes get a shout-out here for being firm and quick to bite during aggressive driving without being grabby during gentler moments.

I did most of my driving, except for some around-town trundling for photos, in a manual Golf R. The clutch is unremarkable in terms of take-up and feel and the shifter isn’t a particular joy to row, but both work well enough to be counted on the positive side of the pro/con ledger.

As for the automatic, it seemed to work well for urban driving, but I’d need to spend more time hustling it to get a sense of its shifts and how well the paddles work. I did find the shifter to be irritating to use, especially during a drive-to-reverse-back-to-drive parking maneuver. Add VW to the list of automakers who can be accused of overthinking this basic control.

Our drive wasn’t all fun and games, as we needed to hit the freeway to get to the Rattler, and this is where the Golf R’s flaws started to emerge. The good news is that its ride was acceptable on the freeway, especially in Comfort mode. The bad is noise – tire noise was prevalent, and engine noise was ever-present, even at low RPMs. I understand that this is a trade-off most Golf R customers will happily make, but I’m also paid to point these things out.

Volkswagen Golf R. Tim Healey/TTAC

There’s a bit of bigger bad news, and that’s the fact that VW has gone almost all haptic touch with its digital cockpit. That means no volume or tuning knob, and no HVAC knobs or buttons. Adjusting the cabin temp the old-fashioned way is infuriating and takes one’s eyes off the road for too long. Ditto adjusting the seat heater – which was necessary on a chilly Carolina day. The haptic touch buttons on the steering wheel worked a bit better, at least. I even found the touchscreen infotainment system to be too slow to switch screens/menus. The Golf R I drove also refused, for reasons unknown, to list the distance between waypoints in miles – it went Euro and gave me kilometers.

Volkswagen Golf R. Tim Healey/TTAC

Volkswagen would likely point out that one can use voice recognition to tell the car to, for example, adjust the temperature, and while the system seems to work, it seems an unnecessary step when simple knobs for radio and knobs/buttons for the climate controls would be the ideal solution. There’s also a safety issue in how long must take his/her eyes off the road to use the haptic-touch controls.

A step into digital hell aside, the rest of the cockpit is fine. I do like the digital gauges – they are clear and easy to read and offer a ton of menus to play with. The seats are comfortable for road trips and bolstered enough to keep you more or less in place without being overly snug. I found headroom and legroom to be more than fine for my frame, and I was able to sit in the rear just fine, as long as the rear seat wasn’t all the way back. Materials seem class-appropriate for the most part, but some cheaper-looking/feeling plastics seemed to sneak into the cabin in some places.

Volkswagen Golf R. Tim Healey/TTAC

As usual with VW, there’s a lot of black at play. Ambient lighting aside, the cabin isn’t very colorful.

Storage space is limited – the center console is deep but small – and you’ll need a USB-C if you want to plug your phone in.

Available features include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, four USB-C ports, navigation, heated seats, and heated steering wheel. IQ.DRIVE includes lane-centering (which was fairly intrusive on the backroads), adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and more.

Only trim is available, and it’s $43,645 for the manual and $44,445 for the automatic, plus $995 for destination.

Volkswagen Golf R. Tim Healey/TTAC

Fuel economy is listed at 20/28/23 for the manual and 23/30/26 for the DSG.

When it comes to driving dynamics, the Golf R is hard to beat, even at a price that’s quite dear for a hatchback. The biggest problem is that there’s another car that’s almost as good, more fun to drive in some ways, costs less, and is better suited for the mundane commute. And it shares the same platform and is sold by the same company.

The Volkswagen Golf R is really, really good. Really good. But its own sibling gives it a run for its money.

Assuming both are within your budget, it really comes down to use case and whether you want the car that makes you a better driver or the one that challenges you but is a tad more fun. The Golf R is the former. Shop accordingly.

What’s New for 2022

The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is thoroughly refreshed, with a largely changed interior, more power, and changes meant to improve handling.

Who Should Buy It

The weekend-warrior track rat. Someone who thinks the GTI just isn’t good enough. Someone who wants/needs all-wheel drive. Someone who likes the idea of the Honda Civic Type R and/or Subaru WRX STI but wants to look like a grown-up.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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44 Comments on “2022 Volkswagen Golf R First Drive – Track-Focused Toy For The Grown-Up...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    “plus any other current VW I wanted to”

    Updated Arteon?

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      The rest of the cars were carryover. I did drive an Arteon earlier this year and should have a review at some point.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        That’s good. They need to send you a ’22 though because VW made some fairly substantial revisions to it this year.

        • 0 avatar
          theflyersfan

          @ajla – keeping fingers crossed that the Arteon R makes it over. Once it’s in boost, the regular Arteon is pretty quick. It’ll be a beast with the R engine.

          @Tim – interested in your review of the Arteon. I’ve now had three as long-term loaners and curious if your review matches mine.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I’ve heard the Arteon is getting more horsepower.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Yes it now has 300hp/295lb-ft and the DSG instead of the traditional 8A. An SEL R-Line 4Motion should be $44.5K. which is a touch dear but eventually the “buy at MSRP” insanity should end.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            That should make a world of difference – I haven’t driven one of these, but my understanding was that the main problem was lack of power and a lazy transmission. This should fix that.

            Basically, that makes it a lot like an A5 Sportback with more power, that’s about 10 grand cheaper. I didn’t think VW had the balls to do that. Good on them.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    The service manager at the VW dealer I go to (gotten to know the staff very well…) told me yesterday he just placed his order for one of these. Delivery, maybe, by early spring if all goes right.

    I’ve always really like the GTI and Golf R, especially the previous gen, but this interior leaves me cold. Maybe it’s all of the screens, or the push button shifter, but it doesn’t look like it belongs there. Save the manuals and put a shifter where it belongs! This is a performance car, not an Acura crossover! At least the infotainment screen, while tablet-like, doesn’t jut up from the dash so it looks semi-integrated.

    I’m sure I’ll see this and the GTI in the flesh soon enough – I want to especially see that front end in person because on some angles, it looks a little “off” like an arc or some rounded shape that doesn’t flow into the rest of the body that well. Maybe it’s a trick of the light or my eyes.

    And no Arteon R-Type Premium this time around…nope…the loaner is a brand new (1,000 miles) 2022 Passat SE 2.0. Quite possibly the most bland, forgettable car ever dreamed up since the 1991 Buick Century. Books can be written about how forgettable this car is.

    Channel my inner-RCR here…2022 VW Passat. For the man who thinks both cinnamon AND artificial sweetener on his plain oatmeal is living on the edge.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      This is a great summary of where VW is going. It used to do bland in a way that made cars feel sort of timeless and classy. Now they’re just starting to feel dull. I’m getting worried VW is becoming Toyota without adopting any of the perks associated with the Japanese brand.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        If you guys want a couple thousand words about intense blandness, trust me, a 2022 Passat review is right up your alley. I remember what it was when it first came out – German, serious, fun, VR6, W8 craziness, everything we associated with German cars of that era.

        What I hopped into yesterday evening was none of that. Everything you see, everything you touch, everything you sense – you can tell that it was examined down to the last atom to save money. There is ZERO German feel in that car (I thought even being built in TN, they could at least import the feel). It has fallen HARD.

        VW can do German fun when they want – the GLI (when working), GTI, and R are three examples. But when my butt slid into that “leatherette” cold vinyl seat and my hands grabbed the thin, rubber innertube-like wheel that was slightly set to the right, and it rowed through only 6 gears (when most VWs have the 7-speed DSG or 8-speed automatic), it felt like it was a car build via death through a thousand cuts.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I think they’re hanging on to the conservative/natty styling ethos that has worked so well for them, but anything on a VW lot without a GTI, GLI or Golf R badge is going to be deadly dull to drive. Heck, I had a base Jetta back in ’16 (with plastic wheel covers, natch) that was still a kick to drive; the new non-GLI Jettas are a total bore. As you say, it boils down to Toyota driving experiences without Toyota reliability.

        I think they need to “GTI” the entire lineup. It’s too late for the Passat (though the old R-line with the V-6 was a pretty nice piece), but what about, say, a Taos with the GTI’s suspension and engine? Both cars are on the same platform, so it’s doable. Sell it for $35,000. It’d add some star quality to the lineup.

        I am holding out some hope for the new Arteon, which is rumored to have a nice bump in horsepower.

        • 0 avatar
          Matt Posky

          Big time agree. For having so many carry-over parts, the 7th-gen Jetta has not excited me (save for the GLI). The 6th gen was quite a bit more enjoyable to drive and felt just upscale enough to make you think you were in something nicer than a basic small sedan. Back when I testing car-sharing services, I used to intentionally snag base Jettas on the regular just because I liked them.

          Most people tell me they prefer the current model, however, making me feel like I’ve been taking crazy pills. Still, it isn’t selling nearly well as the 6th gen and there has to be something to that.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Engine aside, there wasn’t much carryover at all from sixth to seventh gen with the Jetta – they put it on a whole new platform (MQB). It basically became a Golf with a trunk and a beam rear axle (the outgoing Jetta had a fully-independent setup). The new base model got a six-speed manual; my ’16 was a five speed (and I can tell you a sixth speed would have been welcome on the highway).

            Having owned one from the old generation, and had a base one from the new generation as a renter, I’d say the old one was much more fun to drive, but, man, was the interior cheap. Acres of nasty, hard plastic. The new one’s a major step forward in that respect, and it’s more refined, but it nearly as fun to drive.

            As you say, the GLI’s a whole different ballgame.

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            @Matt Posky – I’m in the camp where I like this generation’s styling in a very understated way. I’ve mentioned before that when you put the GLI next to an A3, there are a lot of similarities in the front and rear. It also helps that what’s under the hood is similar also. They just saved the nickels between VW and Audi in the interior.

            It might be where you live, but in my corner of the US, there are a lot of new Jettas on the roads. Probably more than I see Corollas, although the Civic is still the king of small cars here.

            And like other’s have written, please GTI/GLI up the Taos and Tiguan. They would sell loads of them and they might actually be a little bit of fun.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          yes. “GTI all the things” has been my mantra for awhile now.

          Maybe don’t put the meat into all of them–it’s OK to have a weaker engine to save costs–but certainly give me the spice. Suspension, steering, interior materials. Make that the “R-Line” standard, and offer it on everything.

          Watch the world respond. Not everyone wants a Corolla.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      No need to worry about saving the manuals — this one still has one! I just happened to drive an auto for photos.

      • 0 avatar
        Lichtronamo

        The Golf R is unique in that the US gets a manual but the EU and UK don’t. VW states 40% of GTI//Golf R sales in the IS are manual. I’m still surprised it’s available as it’s still 40% of a relatively small number.

  • avatar
    Matt Posky

    Until Toyota exports the GR Yaris to the United States, the Golf R remains the vehicle I most want to pretend to buy. Absolutely hate the updated infotainment display though.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    And one other thing -the VW haptic controls. The Arteons I’ve driven use those. I found them to be among the most fussy way of doing anything with your car. You have to be dead-on accurate with each push or when you want down, you’ll get right and so on. With the hard buttons, you have a solid “clunk” with each push that you feel and the car reacts. With these haptic controls, there’s no such feel. And haptic controls that control the HVAC system just need to go away and burned in a bonfire. I thought everyone learned their lessons after both the Cadillac CUE v.1.0 debacle and the Honda Civic HVAC nightmare. These designers know that the car is moving and the road might not be smooth, right? Make things a bit easier to use!

    Now I need to go yell at some clouds.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Blurry pictures. Check
    Inspiring background clutter. Check
    Doublespeak from Healey. Check
    Didn’t roll the vehicle. Check
    Four commenters so far, half of whom are on staff. Check

    Everything seems to be in order here. Moving on with my day now.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Looks like you *just* missed peak fall colours in Asheville, but then again, hopefully you didn’t have to deal with the extra visitors traffic in the mountains.
    The R is a beast!

  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    If I were coming out of a lease right now, this is absolutely what I’d buy as my next daily driver. Faster than it needs to be, incredibly efficient packaging, small enough to squirt through traffic with ease, and doesn’t look like something a kid would drive the way a Civic R does.

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    I have had three GTIs (MK6, MK7, and currently MK7.5). Have a deposit down on an order for a MK8 Golf R. Same as noted above early spring is the ETA. Reviews from UK have been more positive about the driving experience being usable day-to-day and that the performance is clearly distinguished from the GTI insofar as the GTI feels like its being purposely held-back so as to allow for the Golf R above it. Why the switch? Would like to have AWD in MN even with winter tires. And, probably the last new car with a manual I’ll be able to buy so why not go out with the range topper? Other reasons that seem quite ridiculous is that I don’t like the front facia of the GTI, I don’t like either the 18″ or 19″ wheels on the GTI and the leather seats, while real leather, are a terrible looking light grey mixed with black. Looking forward to spring.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      The new GTI actually has more power than the outgoing one, so I don’t see how it’s being held back.

      • 0 avatar
        Lichtronamo

        The GTI has 240 but the platform is more than capable of handing the 75 additional horsepower the Golf R has. So when the reviewer says it feels like it is being held back I’m sure they mean that the power is good but they way it drives feels like it could use/handle more. My 7.5 is fast enough with out being fast so to speak

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    @Tim:

    I think you should have snagged those socks as a giveaway to the readership. Matter of fact, I think that’d be a good idea for some of the swag going forward.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Hmmm, no real mention of the sports diff affecting inherent understeer of the platform. They finally adopt a real LSD for the R and unfortunately the exterior just still doesn’t excite as much a say a Focus R or even Elantra N.
    One 1st drive mentioned Cayman like responses on the track. At least a manual is still available.
    I’ll put this review in the “you’ll have to drive it yourself” .
    When supply catches up I’ll look to brz/gr twins first in 2023 as I don’t need another 4 place car.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    From the review, it sounds like the Golf R is an excellent car compromised by excessive and poorly designed electronics especially the infotainment system.

  • avatar
    Mr.T

    Has anyone been told when these are going to hit dealerships? I put a deposit on one and the dealerships said a VIN has been assigned to my car and they are already sitting in storage at a port back East already. Not sure if this is true and Volkswagens usual response of end of 2021 deliveries is just plain infuriating since surely they have to have a set date for a release. The wait is maddening.
    Any info us greatly appreciated. Thanks.
    Also one of the better reviews I’ve read on this car. I love hearing all the praise but like everything there are cons so good to hear them.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Are these haptic controls better or worse than those you used to find in big Fords (e.g., MKT, Flex)?

    I found those usable, although not as good as plain buttons and knobs.

    Disappointed by how cheap this generation’s interior looks. Part of the GTI’s charm since all the way back in MkIV times has been an interior that punched above its weight class, and now, with the sole exception of the gauge display, it looks like just another cheap compact. That’s especially disappointing for the R, which is priced around what you would have expected with the old interiors.

    I’ll still probably try out a GTI once I’m in the market in a couple of years. The R is too expensive for additional speed I don’t really need.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      @dal –

      Maybe FreedMike can add to this also since he has one now, but here’s my take on what you wrote. When I was shopping, I did look at both the GTI and GLI. The GTI, while having the same engine/transmission/etc had the MUCH better interior. Nicer seats, better plastics, larger infotainment screen standard, and even the small things like vents and USB ports in the back seat – something you can’t get in any Jetta. If you went with the GLI, you wanted the performance but you were willing to live with the very obvious cost cutting in the interior and wanted to have a secure cargo area out of sight.

      I can’t stress this enough, and I see this with the Passat – the plastics are really cheap and hollow. Parts of it feel like a child’s foot-powered car in quality. The previous-gen (2020 for example) GTI’s interior felt so much better with more solid plastics, more soft touch, and better infotainment.
      But I wanted to have the car paid off right away and not take out a loan in paying a bit more for a GTI. Looking back on it, I should have taken out the small loan.

      If VW removes the last real reason, besides badge heritage, between a GLI and a GTI – that being interior quality – the GTI might suffer. I’ll hold off until I can sit in one during my next anticipated trip for service – hopefully they’ll have one in the showroom.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I don’t like Hondas but the latest Civic definitely seems to have usurped many of VW’s former core virtues.
      They sure charge out the a$$ for that Sport Touring trim though.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    1. What will it take to downgrade the wheels (and rotors/calipers?) to something rational and durable, like 17s? I don’t stick a wheel in the grass at apex like I used to (Never bent a rim on my 205/60-13s), but still want to be able to hit a pothole without it costing $1500 every time.

    2. Does it turn in the snow, or just plow straight ahead, letting the nannies ensure you slide off nose-first?

  • avatar
    conundrum

    I suppose it would be fair to add here that the notorious Jack Baruth has commented that the Mk 7 Golf R was a dull box to drive, with none of the sprightliness of the same generation GTI. That is, it was a comitted understeerer. Having driven several of those Mk 7 GTIs and Mk1 AWD A3s besides, they seemed all right, if lacking the verve I had hoped for. And the DSG-equipped models were a bit of a donkey to maneuver back and forth at low speeds as the automatic clutch took its time to engage at low rpm. Often this clutch trait has been described as torpor in the turbo department as folks eager to punch out with a left turn from a side road into main-road traffic wondered what the delay in scoot was all about. Then there was the B-pillar cunningly situated to not allow more than a view of its plastic wonderfulness when attempting to look out sideways and a bit backwards at the same time. Without leaning forward to compensate, of course. Overall, and with the quality experience of five new Audis and an execrable 1980 brand new Jetta to my credit, I could not countenance the purchase or lease of one of these MQB cars. Unless it was so brilliant I could not stop myself.

    Now all of a sudden, the Mk 8 R has apparently metamorphosed into a track rat with non-dull handling, and a cheapo interior leavening its price increase. At least, that seems to be what the pundits early to press aver. I await a more experienced opinion of its virtues to be sure whether it would be worth the bother of a personal test drive, considering the high price. I don’t expect its poor sightlines or lack of ease of egress to have changed though. Although, some fun can usually be had, because VW salespersons seem to exist in another reality, which can at least be fun to observe when any wry comment on my part sails easily over their heads, so there’s that. Entertainment!

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      My experience with previous Rs has been a bit similar. But not so much that it understeers annoyingly, as that it feels heavy. Lacking some of the responsiveness and quickwittedness that the GTI has managed to retain.

      Stiffer _everything_, from sidewalls to wheel mounts to added grip to stiffer all parts of the structure and driveline, can make up for some of that in heavier cars, but it is rarely done. Almost inevitably leaving heavier, more powerful, awd versions a bit duller feeling than their lighter, simpler fwd or rwd counterparts. Even if the latter is lower powered and on less nominally “sporty” suspenders.

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