Classic Cars

Car Review: 2022 Volkswagen Golf R

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

The 2022 VW Golf R is precise, balanced and damn fast

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My week at the wheel of the Volkswagen Golf R 2022 made me feel particularly patriotic. It turns out that we polite, pragmatic Canadians have a particular penchant for powerful practicality. Canada is the #4 market in the world for Golf R – not per capita, but in actual gross volume. So while you might think our national sentiment might be something like “Well my God, huh, I’m not paying 50,000,000 for a goddamn Golf”, in reality it’s more like “Hmmm, that all-wheel drive discreet the tailgate goes like hell, sticks to the road like maple syrup and will carry everything I need for a weekend at the cottage.

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The good news for new R customers (and maybe not so good for current R owners) is that the all-new Mk8 Golf R is better than the outgoing car. Volkswagen’s uber-Golf trades some of its stoic, disguised Audi, I-do-everything-so-well-almost-boring hot hatch for a bit more playful hooliganism. V-Dub upped the fun factor and this R wants to rock. And shake his ass. And make donuts.

So where is all this cheeky fuss coming from? Especially his butt. Or more specifically, the new electronically controlled torque-vectoring rear drive unit that can distribute torque from side to side. While the R’s AWD system can still only direct 50% of the power to the rear, 100% of it can be sent to either wheel if needed. During the virtual reveal of the new R’s to international media last year, Benjamin Leuchter, development test driver at Volkswagen, enthused that it was the “funniest” Golf R ever. he has ever driven.

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Volkswagen Golf R 2022

I am okay. The new Drift mode made me hysterical while running donuts in gravel terrain. But more importantly, this ability signals the R’s new dynamic attitude. And it really shows its stuff when selecting the Nürburgring, a subset of Race mode.

But before we get to that, let’s look at the hardware. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder continues, increasing to 315 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque (280 lb-ft for the manual), up from 288 and 280 respectively. The seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission gets faster shift times, and a six-speed manual transmission remains on the menu, but only in North America. The previous grab rate for the Manual R on this side of the pond was around 40 percent, so VW thought that was a bargain to appease us Luddites. Danke schön.

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Spring and anti-roll bar rates are increased by 10 percent, there’s more negative camber on the front wheels, and the steering is recalibrated for better feedback. Visual cues include door sill extensions, standard 19-inch ‘Estoril’ alloys, blue brake calipers with R logo, matte chrome mirror caps, two-piece spoiler, gloss black diffuser and two dual exhausts. The brakes are bigger and the aero is improved, with reduced front and rear lift at high speeds.

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I’m also happy to report that the Golf R no longer suffers from that Subaru-esque whine. It now makes a significant rumble as the revs increase, and when in Race mode it delights with real pops and barks on take-off.

The 2022 Golf R manual costs $45,995, with the seven-speed DSG model at $46,395. A $1,250 sunroof is the only option. The car is fully equipped with Nappa leather, ventilated front seats, Harman Kardon audio, expected driving aids and safety systems, head-up display, traffic sign recognition, heated steering wheel… Well, you got the gist. With its ultra-comfortable seats and adaptive damping, the Golf R plays the luxury cruiser card very well in Comfort mode. That said, you’ll never really be fooled into thinking that you’re not driving a performance car. The ride is still firm and sporty, the exhaust sound is present and, with this six-speed manual car, the engine revs to 3,000 rpm at 120 km/h. Gives some passing power right now though. The DSG-equipped Golf R has longer legs on the highway.

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This 2.0 iron-block turbo-four is a honey, showing smooth, rising power delivery that packs some serious pace. The 2022 Golf R comes into its own when the aforementioned Nürburgring mode is selected. No marketing hoo-ha that. All systems go into kill mode except for the shocks, which are set to a softer setting to keep the car planted on rough surfaces. Perfect for Canada. Idle speed jumps to 500 rpm (just because) and the gauge graphics turn green in a nod to the Nordschleife’s “Green Hell” moniker. The exhaust also becomes more vocal.

With the R’s new central control brain (Driving Dynamics Manager) managing throttle response, stability control, shock absorbers, steering feel and rear clutch response, Volkswagen engineers dialed in here an intoxicating dynamic cocktail with the Nürburgring mode that puts the previous R on the proverbial trailer. Dive into a quick corner in second gear, hit the go pedal, and the R’s behind will squirm delightfully as it cuts the power. This car is precise, balanced and even on those 19-inch winter tires an eye-catching, smiling hoot festival. And damn, it’s incredibly fast.

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The six-speed manual is a good ‘one – not as precise as the Honda Civic Type R’s – but quick and smooth, and the pedals are well positioned for heel and toe action. That’s a good thing, because there’s no automatic diet matching.

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Yes, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is not perfect. The elephant in the cabin is VW’s new all-digital interface which, in the style of the era, banished all analogue buttons, dials and switches (and anything else a tactile human might find convenient) for the dots. haptic touch screens, sliders and an obtuse touchscreen. I understand. We live in an iPhone obsessed world and think of the billions of dollars VW saves by not making and installing old fashioned buttons and dials that take up dash space and require wiring annoying. Much easier to slam on a piece of glass. However, this all-encompassing approach may well come back and bite VW in the glass.

Despite my inability to tune into radio stations, I can’t be mad at the 2002 Golf R for long – it’s such a fabulous piece of hot hatch mastery. You mean a car with bandwidth? Whether worrying a Porsche Cayman down a back road, hauling the belongings of an IKEA apartment, or transporting four adults in spacious comfort, the new R does it all with style, balance, refinement and a new sense of pleasure.

Full disclosure: I’m a fan of the brand and over the years have owned a litany of hot VWs. This reimagined Golf R hits me where it hurts, and I want one. No, I need one. I need one like Boris Johnson needs a comb. So much.

I offered Volkswagen my nearly new, rust-free 2001 GTI in a rare Matchstick Red (with a full tank of gas) in a direct trade-in because it’s… uh, a highly desirable collector’s car. Or soon will be. Still awaiting a response.


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