The halo car of the Golf lineup — arguably of the entire VW line — the Golf R first came to America in 2004 as the Golf Mark IV R32. At that time the hot hatch housed a 240-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 engine with all-wheel drive and a manual transmission. The Golf R has been through several iterations since then, but the basic formula of high-performance all-wheel drive has always been a hallmark, and the tradition continues with the new model. The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R represents the fifth generation of this fast VW, and it takes a major step up from the previous version in terms of style, features and — most importantly — performance.
Like the rest of the Golf lineup, the Golf R gets fresh styling for the 2022 model year. Most noticeable are the sleek headlights with signature LED running lights, a new front bumper with larger R-specific air intakes, and high-gloss black trim. As with previous generations, the R Logo retains its presence in the grille, and the mirror caps are trimmed in matte chrome. A light bar connects the headlights, meeting at the large VW logo, creating a unique look at night.
At the rear of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R sits a stylish yet functional two-piece rear spoiler, as well as a new bumper with a dynamic diffuser. Quad chrome-plated outlets of the sport exhaust system punctuate the high-performance packaging of the new Golf R.
For the 2022 model year, the Volkswagen Golf R is available in a single well-equipped trim at a starting price of $43,645. The only factory option is a DSG dual-clutch gearbox that adds $800 to the base price. Standard features are numerous and include Nappa leather-trimmed sport seats; heated and cooled front seats; heated rear seats; a heated leather-wrapped Golf R sport steering wheel; tri-zone automatic climate control; and a power sunroof.
The Golf R comes equipped with VW’s IQ.Drive, which features the latest advanced safety gear. This includes forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection; a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert; lane-keeping assist; high beam control; and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality. When equipped with the DSG transmission, the Golf R also gets emergency assist, which will eventually slow the vehicle to a stop if the driver becomes unresponsive.
The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R draws power from a new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine producing 315 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque (295 lb-ft with the DSG transmission) — a 27-horsepower bump over the previous generation, making this the most powerful Golf R Volkswagen has ever offered. Peak torque is available from 2100 rpm for excellent response.
Many automakers have dropped manual transmissions from their vehicle lines due to low take rates. Despite this, VW goes against the grain and still offers the Golf R with a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard equipment. For drivers who prefer two pedals, Volkswagen also offers a quick-shifting 7-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. There’s no question that the DSG shifts faster than a human, but we still prefer the engagement and satisfaction of rowing through the gears ourselves.
Volkswagen equips the new Golf R with an all-new 4Motion all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring. The rear-wheel-drive unit features two individual clutches, allowing up to 100 percent torque to be directed to either rear wheel. When the Golf R accelerates through a turn, torque gets increased to the outside rear wheel, reducing understeer and improving overall handling.
The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R rides on a new chassis featuring a stiffer aluminum subframe with an updated suspension specifically retuned for this new model. Sitting 0.8 inches lower than the standard Golf, the Golf R gets increased spring and anti-roll bar rates for improved stability and better ride quality. Also new is a Vehicle Dynamics Manager that monitors and adjusts the electronic differential locks, Dynamic Chassis Control, and the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system for improved agility and performance.
With more power comes more responsibility — thus the need for more brake power. The Golf R gets larger brakes — 14.1 inches in diameter — with 2-piston calipers painted blue along with the R logo at the front. The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R comes fitted with high-performance summer tires riding on 19-inch Estoril aluminum wheels.
Speaking of European racetracks (Estoril is a racetrack in Portugal), the benchmark for comparison among many high-performance sports cars remains how long it takes to complete one lap of the famed Nurburgring Nordschleife racetrack in Germany. The new Golf R completed a lap of this complex 12.9-mile circuit in 7 minutes and 51 seconds — almost 20 seconds faster than the previous generation.
The Golf R has traditional drive modes including Comfort, Sport and Race; Sport is the default mode at startup. For the 2022 model, two additional modes have been added — Special and Drift. Special mode sets the Golf R up as it was for final testing on the Nurburgring Nordschleife racetrack, increasing engine sounds and configuring the stability control, steering, all-wheel drive and DSG (if so equipped) for the sportiest setup. Drift mode changes stability control settings and power distribution to allow some spirited sideways driving in the car; however, the mode is only intended for track use.
The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R gets a premium yet decidedly sporty look, including stylish leather-trimmed sport seats with blue accents and blue R logos embossed on the backrests. Pedals are trimmed in brushed stainless steel, and 30-color ambient lighting sets the interior mood. A premium audio system from Harmon Kardon is also standard .
Volkswagen equips the new Golf R with its latest infotainment system — the MIB3 Discover Pro, which features a 10-inch touchscreen center display. Dual USB-C ports as well as wireless charging keep devices juiced up front; two additional USB-C ports are designated for rear-seat occupants. Contributing to the Golf R’s modern look is a completely configurable 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro digital driver’s display, as well as a head-up display projected in front of the driver.
With VW’s new Discover Pro system, virtually all buttons and knobs have been eliminated from the Golf R cockpit. The infotainment system is operated by touchscreen, voice, small soft-touch controls at the base of the display, or via steering wheel controls. Although this system affords a clean interior design, it might be difficult for drivers to acclimate to new controls that require more attention to operate. Using a knob or button without removing attention from the road is much easier than trying to operate small controls on the display. The Golf R is a driver’s car, so it’s disappointing to be distracted by controls that aren’t intuitive.
For those not lucky enough to be sitting behind the steering wheel of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R, at least it has decent space to be along for the ride. The rear seat has commendable legroom and headroom, and the two outboard seats even have heating as well as separate climate controls and the aforementioned USB-C ports.
Although many high-performance vehicles sacrifice utility in the name of potency, the Golf R has plenty of cargo space with easy access through the rear hatch. An integrated cargo cover keeps valuables hidden, and larger items can be accommodated thanks to folding rear seats.
During a recent press drive on winding roads outside of Asheville, North Carolina, we had the opportunity to hustle the new Golf R a bit and came away from the experience with a big smile. The sport steering wheel feels great in hand, providing instantaneous response to even the smallest inputs. The car’s overall grip is excellent, and the all-wheel drive system manages the power well, making it possible to accelerate cleanly out of corners.
Even though it may not be the fastest car on the road, the Golf R is plenty quick with strong acceleration from any speed. Our Golf R for the day came with the dual-clutch automatic transmission, which delivers quick shifts up and down. When left to its own devices, the transmission doesn’t always shift when expected, which sometimes results in power coming on later than desired. However, manually selecting gears via the paddle shifters solves the issue, making the overall drive more enjoyable.
Although every Golf R owner probably prefers piloting winding backroads rather than cruising congested highways, sometimes there’s no choice. Luckily the Golf R is just as happy on the freeway, delivering a congenial, easy ride while clipping along at highway speeds (or above). The AWD system provides additional grip when roads are wet or slick, contributing to a confident driving experience. The front seats of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R offer substantial support yet are appreciably comfortable for several hours behind the wheel.
The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is a great option for buyers seeking a high-performance ride that can function admirably as an everyday driver — one that easily accommodates both passengers and cargo. As the flagship of the Golf lineup, the R comes well equipped with the latest in high-tech, comfort and safety features, without sacrificing utility for performance. Add in its powerful engine and all-wheel drive capability wrapped in a sporty new body, and the Golf R becomes a tempting option as a capable family car for driving enthusiasts.
Pros: Very quick; excellent handling; comfortable interior.
Cons: Frustrating infotainment system; DSG doesn’t always shift as planned.
Bottom Line: The Golf R retains the utility and comfort of the new Golf in a high-performance, all-wheel drive package.