Two Steps Forward, One Step Back


Bradley Iger

2022 Volkswagen Golf R Fast Facts

2.0-liter turbocharged inline four cylinder (315 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm)

Seven-speed DSG automatic, all-wheel drive

23 city / 30 highway / 26 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

10.3 city / 7.7 highway / 9.1 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $45,440 (U.S) / $44,995 (Canada)

As Tested: $45,440 (U.S.) / $49,495 (Canada)

Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $1,850 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Let me start this by saying that I considered the previous Golf R to be the all-around best enthusiast vehicle available in its price range during its time on sale. That’s particularly high praise coming from someone whose performance tastes generally gravitate toward V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive coupes, but I think Volkswagen had achieved something remarkable with the Mk7. It was a car that had the dynamic chops to hang with some very serious hardware out in the canyons but didn’t need to shout about it from an aesthetic standpoint, and it also sacrificed very little in terms of daily drivability and practicality to get there.

Beyond the fundamentals, the Mk7 Golf R had other important elements sorted out too – solid interior materials in a well laid out and comfortable cabin, a class-leading infotainment system with a nice-sounding stereo – that sort of thing. Automakers can get away with phoning in some of that stuff when it comes to their top-tier performance cars because enthusiasts tend to have different priorities than mainstream buyers do, but Volkswagen didn’t half-ass it. This is all to say that the Mk7 Golf R set the bar pretty high.

All-new for 2022, the Golf R returns to North America rocking a new look and underpinned by a revised version of Volkswagen’s MQB platform. Its turbocharged 2.0-liter powerplant has been worked over as well, now dishing out a very healthy 315 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. With the help of key chassis updates and a new multi-plate clutch on the rear axle which can distribute up to 100 percent of the torque that’s sent to the back end to an individual rear wheel, VW development driver Benjamin Leuchter put down a 7:51 lap time on the famed Nurburgring Nordschleife with the car back in 2020. It’s a number that puts this hatchback on par with the 997-generation Porsche 911 Turbo, and a full 19 seconds ahead of the Mk7 Golf R that’s so near and dear to my heart.

Bradley Iger

There’s a lot of new technology onboard, too, and that all certainly bodes well for Volkswagen’s latest high-performance machine. But over the course of the week that I spent with the new Golf R, I discovered that the changes aren’t entirely for the better.

The Golf R has long been considered a stealthy alternative as far as hot hatches go, and the Mk8 remains much more aesthetically low-key than something like the Honda Civic Type R, but it’s far from boring. Visual flair is ramped up by way of a unique front fascia with big air intakes, a rear roof spoiler, a quad-tipped exhaust, gloss black trim, unique 19-inch alloys, and a performance-focused stance. The combination gives the Golf R a noticeably more aggressive look than the GTI’s (the only other version of the Golf now sold in North America) without resorting to anything outlandish, and I think it works especially well in this Lapiz Blue Metallic hue with the blue brake calipers.

The interior materials feel like a bit of a downgrade versus the outgoing car, though, but that’s indicative of the Mk8 Golf in general rather than the Golf R specifically. The sharp-looking, customizable 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro digital gauge cluster helps make up for some of that, and so does the 10-inch touchscreen display with VW’s MIB3 operating system software, which supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both are outfitted as standard on the Golf R.

Bradley Iger

But the infotainment turns out to be one of the 2022 Golf R’s biggest weaknesses, and since nearly every one of the vehicle’s features is accessed through this system, the frustrations it regularly generates are ostensibly unavoidable. Unlike the MIB II system used in the Mk7 Golf R, MIB3 offers no physical buttons whatsoever. Instead, much like Cadillac’s Cue system from a few years back, all inputs aside from those made on the touchscreen itself are registered through capacitive touch sensors and acknowledged with haptic feedback. There’s no volume knob, no physical buttons to change drive modes, turn on the seat heaters, or skip audio tracks.

While this does provide the Golf R’s interior with a sleek, uncluttered look, it can be very cumbersome to use in practice. Beyond the fact that this interface design encourages you to look away from the road in order to find the function you need and confirm that the requested action has been done, touch inputs on both the capacitive buttons and the infotainment display itself often don’t register correctly, or at all. Something as simple as changing the HVAC fan speed is a multi-step process. Throughout my time with the car, I kept wondering why Volkswagen had chosen to create a problem where one did not exist before.

Bradley Iger

When you can ignore the tech flaws, the 2022 Golf R offers drivers a lot to like. Around town, the adaptive dampers do an excellent job of isolating the cabin from the big impacts that are common on LA’s pockmarked streets despite the fact that spring rates are up by 10 percent at all four corners. The default driving mode is Sport, but a softer Comfort mode can also be accessed by pressing the R “button” on the steering wheel and then selecting the mode from the infotainment display to mellow out the damping, throttle response, transmission behavior, and steering weight a little bit more if you want. The DSG generally does a good job of blending into the background when handling everyday tasks and delivers nearly seamless shifts, though the dual-clutch occasionally skipped a beat when transitioning from forward gears to reverse and vice versa.

Bradley Iger

Out on the winding tarmac found throughout the Angeles National Forest, the Mk8 Golf R’s performance seems to be defined more by the power on tap than the car’s handling prowess. Weighing in at just over 3,400 pounds, the new car is about 150 pounds heavier than the outgoing Golf R, but you wouldn’t know it based on the shove delivered from the powertrain. VW quotes an official 0-60 MPH time of 4.7 seconds, but behind the wheel, it feels like it’s probably several tenths quicker than that. Either way, it’s more than enough to dust a Civic Type R at a stoplight.

Bradley Iger

Hot hatches have traditionally been more focused on corner-carving than drag racing, though, and the 2022 Golf R has some clever party tricks to show off on that front as well. While the torque distribution remains split 50/50 front and rear, the new multi-plate clutch on the rear axle not only provides more sophisticated torque vectoring, it also allowed VW engineers to program in a Drift mode so that you can bring some power oversteer shenanigans into the mix if you so choose. I didn’t, but hey – you do you.

Bradley Iger

There’s also a Special drive mode that replicates the settings used by Leuchter to set that lap time on the Nurburgring, and that setting seems well dialed in for a good mountain road, too. But given their relatively low grip levels for summer tires and the overall numbness of the steering, even when weighted up in Race mode, I doubt the deed was done on the Hankook Ventus S1 evo3 tires that my tester wore. Bridgestone Potenza S005, Goodyear Eagle F1 Super Sport, and Pirelli Pzero PZ4 summer tires all appear to be factory fitments as well, and I’d probably opt for one of the latter if I was given the option as a buyer.

Bradley Iger

Even though the infotainment leaves much to be desired and it’s not quite as well-rounded as the outgoing Golf R was overall, there’s no question that this is the most potent Golf R built to date. The shift in focus from agility to horsepower might be kind of a bummer for some, but it’s the kind of performance that tends to be easier to exploit for a wider range of enthusiasts, and I think a good set of tires would go a long way toward improving the former anyway.

Bradley Iger

What’s New For 2022

Making its debut in the eighth-generation Golf this year, the Golf R scores a more aggressive new look and a revamped interior with new infotainment and a customizable digital gauge cluster. There’s also more grunt available from its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, a new multi-plate clutch that can shift all of the torque that’s sent to the rear axle to one wheel as needed, a retuned suspension with stiffer springs, and a Drift mode, among other upgrades.

Who Should Buy The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R

Those seeking a hot hatch with tons of power and plenty of real-world practicality who are also willing to shell out $45K for a Golf and are patient enough to get used to the MIB3 interface.

[Images © 2021 Bradley Iger/TTAC]

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