Volkswagen Golf R — The pinnacle of driving enjoyment

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(March 16, 2022) There's bad news for long-time fans of the family friendly Volkswagen Golf — it will no longer be sold in North America. But there's good news for fans of the sporty side of the Golf brand — it's still available in the newly redesigned eighth-generation GTI and ultimate hot hatch, Golf R. With the Golf R, the subject of this review, Volkswagen is now well positioned to take on such mainstream rivals as the Honda Civic Type R and the Hyundai Veloster N.



The Golf R, which has been on hiatus since the 2019 model year, is back with a vengeance measured by its 315 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 310 pound-feet of torque, can hit 60 mph in around 4.0 seconds and climb to 100 mph in 10 seconds. And it comes with all-wheel drive as standard equipment.

Throw in slot-car-like handling and a new drift mode — for those of drifting persuasion — and the Golf R is the 21st Century poster boy for the hot hatch selling for $45,440.

For those people who covet the outstanding drivability of the Golf "hot hatches," the GTI has also been redesigned for 2022 and it's as sporty and fun to drive as the R, but with fewer ponies and with standard front wheel drive. It starts at a more affordable $30,540 with a lively 242-horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder engine.  

While we negotiated our first 15 years of driving with manual transmissions, our fondness for shifting for yourself has waned in later years, but we were entertained for seven days with the Golf R six-speed manual and enjoyed our brief reunion with an excellent transmission. That being said, we were a bit disappointed that we missed out on what reportedly is an outstanding seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that can go through the gears faster than even the most accomplished driver with the manual.

We would plunk down the extra $800 for the seven-speed automatic, which according to magazine testing furiously rows through the gears en route to a 3.9-second 0-to-60 run and flashes through the quarter mile in 12.5 seconds at 111 mph.

The Golf R proved easy to drive and very forgiving when you get it out of sorts while cornering at unholy speeds in such places as our favorite stretch of winding rural blacktop "test track." We've been behind the wheel of dozens — perhaps even hundreds — of vehicles over the years through this five-mile twisting and turning road and the R proved to be one of our most entertaining.

An R button on the steering wheel pulls up a driving-mode-selection screen on the central display. All U.S. cars come standard with the R-Performance package. It readies the R to tackle a vicious mountain road livening up the transmission, and dialing in the 15-position electronically controlled dampers. Drive modes include Comfort, Sport, Race, Drift, Special, and Custom. Comfort for normal driving and Sport for spirited runs were the only modes we used.

The Golf R is offered only as one fully loaded model, the only decision to make when making a purchase is whether you want to trade the standard six-speed manual for the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. By the way, the US. and Canada are the only two markets getting the six-speed.

The Golf R comes in Deep Black Pearl, Lapiz Blue metallic, or Pure White. We drove the blue which is our choice.

Inside the Golf R comes with standard leather seating, R-specific steering wheel, carbon fiber-like trim, blue accents, ambient interior lighting with 30 color selections, heated steering wheel and 10-inch touchscreen with navigation.

Unfortunately, the R comes with one of the most confounding package of controls that we've ever encountered. It takes time — and some owners manual reading — to learn the ins and outs of the controls with many of them creating driver distraction. VW digitized most of the Golf R's switchgear, removing the physical knobs and switches for things like audio volume and tuning, climate control, and lights. The new digital switches require the driver to take his or her eyes off the road to operate, and often requires repeated glances at the center screen. Here's a case where Volkswagen took a big step backward to modernize controls. Fortunately, redundant buttons on the steering are a life-saver for some of the functions.

The new Golf R offers more driver-assistance technology than its predecessor, including blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist. Other key safety features include standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, pedestrian detection and road sign detection.

We enjoyed our seven days and 250 miles with the new R. But if this hot hatch didn't offer so much driving enjoyment, the confounding new digital controls would probably be a deal-killer for us.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R


Base price: $45,440; as driven, $45,440
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 315 @ 5,900 rpm
Torque: 310 pound-feet @ 1,900 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive: all-wheel
Wheelbase: 103.5 inches
Length: 168.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,360 pounds
Turning circle: 39.3 feet
Luggage capacity: 20 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 23 city, 30 highway, 26 combined
0-60: 4.0 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Veloster N

The Good
• Potent powertrain
• A handling beast
• Big cargo area

The Bad
• Commands a big price

The Ugly
• Maddening touch controls