2022 Golf r first drive: ultimate hot hatch

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

The 2022 volkswagen golf R brings torque-vectoring AWD, adaptive dampers and specifically designed drive modes to advance the performance envelope. Volkswagen

The first volkswagen golf R32 appeared roughly 20 years ago, just in time to witness the emerging import tuner scene add a new chapter to the history book of performance.

But unlike those heavily massaged extroverts sourced from aftermarket catalogs, the golf R adhered to the same clandestine strategy its predecessor and subsequent stablemate, the volkswagen golf GTI, employed since its 1983 stateside introduction: A curated blend of performance, engaging driving experience and comparative value in a package with subtle aesthetic nods to its pedigree.

The difference, of course, is the 2004 golf R32 included a wish list of factory-supplied performance mods, including a 240-horsepower V6, all-wheel drive and a price tag to match. (europe got the R32 in 2002.)

Fast forward to 2022, and the allegory remains. The 2022 golf R remains atop the golf lineup, which, after the stateside departure of the standard golf in 2021, stands firm at two models for the U.S. Market. Fittingly, the golf R comes loaded with adaptive dampers, a 480-watt, 9-speaker harmon kardon audio system, heated and ventilated nappa leather seating, a sunroof and a full complement of safety assists.

Golf R powertrain

For 2022, volkswagen extracted 315 horsepower and 295 pound-feet (280 in manual-transmission models) of torque from the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. That’s an increase of 27 and 15, respectively, over the previous golf R. Known internally as the ea888g, the engine is used across the brand in different applications, but the version in the golf R represents its most potent form. For instance, in the current golf GTI, the engine is rated at 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque.

A choice of a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission handles the gear swaps. In a curious but welcome aberration, the U.S. Market alone gets the option of a manual transmission, VW telling forbes wheels that europeans have embraced the higher-performing dual-clutch automatic en masse, while americans still seek the visceral and nostalgic thrill of a manual transmission despite a minuscule reduction in performance.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

Buyers can choose either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic transmission for an $800 upcharge. The latter provides better performance but lacks the old-school visceral involvement. Volkswagen

The new 4motion all-wheel-drive system replaces the old center coupling torque-vectoring setup with a pair of electronically controlled clutch packs that better manage torque distribution between the rear wheels resulting in sharper handling. The vehicle dynamics manager guides the application of 4motion torque distribution, compiling and analyzing data including steering angle, throttle position, lateral acceleration, yaw rate and speed and makes nearly instantaneous decisions of where the power should go. At the risk of oversimplification, the setup puts all available torque to the outside rear-wheel in hard cornering, reducing understeer and promoting vehicle rotation and tightening the turning radius. A byproduct of this system is the new drift mode, which sends available torque to the outside wheel to help the novice driver explore the wonderful world of being in control of being out of control. Even in drift mode, 50% of the torque remains at the front wheels, so it’s not entirely a license wreak side-sliding havoc.

Driving the golf R

To fully experience the 2022 golf R, we convened with volkswagen in asheville, north carolina, a brick-and-mortar esty of a town conveniently located just southeast of the smokey mountains. The geographic location provided a variety of roads, including long-flat straights and the type of tight, rural twisting mountain routes that keep a driver on task.

The golf R offers comfort, sport, race and individual driving modes; an "R" button on the R-specific spots steering wheel shortcuts to the race mode or the drive mode selection screen. In addition to the aforementioned drift mode, the golf R also has an additional "special" mode developed explicitly for germany’s famed nurburgring nordschleife circuit. It must have worked, as VW says the 2022 golf R completed the course 17 seconds faster than the previous generation golf R. Plus, it’s precisely the type of back story detail many golf R fanatics are likely to geek out over.

The golf R responds obediently, blending fluidly into long sweepers or quickly changing direction in tight quarters as we ascended the terrain en route to the tragically hip hot springs community on the french broad river.

Full torque is available at a low 2000 rpm, so it’s ready to pull you out of corners at nearly any velocity. Skilled drivers, or those just curious to find out where they rank, will be glad to know that sport mode relaxes the electronic stability control’s grip on traction control and stability intervention. Indeed, confident drivers can deactivate it entirely-although it will reactivate if VW’s standard radar-based assist warning and braking system detects a pending emergency.

2022 Golf R

Standard adaptive dampers contribute to the performance and comfort equation, filtering out harshness from impacts produced by the low-profile 19-inch 235/35 summer performance tires. Still, the ride can be harsh on any setting if road conditions are poor. Even with the adaptive dampers, the effects of low profile tires, large wheels and performance coil spring rates are hard to mask.

Regardless of drive mode setting or path of travel, the golf R keeps the simple joy of driving at the forefront of the experience; that it packs the hardware to perform at elevated levels on a track day is a bonus.

Family feud: golf R vs. GTI

Over a lunch break, megan closset, product manager for golf GTI and golf R and long-time VW aficionado, discussed some of the similarities and differences between the golf siblings. Aside from the previously noted mechanical differences, the golf R separates itself from the GTI with several visual cues, including a more aggressive fascia, side skirts with a bolder presence, a rear diffuser bracketed by a quad-tipped exhaust system topped off with a prominent "R" badge on the hatch.

Though the interiors are redesigned, the widespread adoption of capacitive controls (touch control buttons) in addition to moving many functions to the touchscreen has proven to be a sore point among many VW faithful. Somewhat randomly placed on the wheel, the dash and center stack, we unintentionally triggered the controls repeatedly. Moreover, using them effectively required a learning curve due to slight delays in reaction times. Whether a cost-cutting measure or a forced attempt at modernization à la the ID.4, we prefer the tactile feel of actual buttons and knobs whenever possible.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

Part of the appeal of a hot-hatch is its flexible storage capabilities. The golf R offers 19.8 cubic feet behind the second-row seats and 34.5 with them folded. Volkswagen

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

Combined with a useable rear seat, the golf R offers a decent amount of practicality for a performance vehicle. Volkswagen

In terms of straight-line performance, VW says the DSG-equipped golf R leaps to 60 mph in just 4.7 seven seconds, shaving seven-tenths from the GTI’s 5.4-second run. The R, by definition, has a host of all-wheel drive hardware and the attendant software working hard to ensure grip, tighten apexes and shave seconds off lap times. That said, certain purists and drivers of a certain age claim to prefer the more familiar and comparatively analog experience of the front-wheel drive GTI. It’s this "choose your weapon" variety that likely helped the 2022 volkswagen golf GTI and golf R win the forbes wheels sports car of the year award.

2022 golf R price

Priced at $44,640 with a six-speed manual and $45,440 with a dual-clutch automatic (both including a $995 destination fee), the golf R continues to push against the value ceiling of the original hot-hatch equation. Still, buyers can take solace in knowing it comes fully appointed. The lesser GTI in S trim can be had for $30,540, but that’s the base model; adding adaptive dampers, 19-inch wheels the head-up display and other features requires the $38,990 autobahn edition. And that’s before adding the $1225 leather seats. At that point, $5000 or so for all-wheel drive and a more powerful engine start to look like a bargain.

The golf R’s list of true competitors is sparse. For example, the honda civic type R, a be-winged, front-wheel driven non-hatchback that otherwise shares some of the same qualities and appeal as the golf R, starts at $38,890, including an $895 destination charge. But that’s before a trip through the options sheet; the type R limited edition starts at $45,010, putting it right in league with the golf R.

Ultimately, however, the golf R exists in a favorable consumer vacuum of sorts, one populated by knowledgable enthusiasts unlikely to be swayed by alternatives.

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