Small cars can be fun to drive, especially the performance versions. Lots of horsepower and torque under the hood make these models fast, easy to maneuver, and in some cases, they double as track stars.
There are few models, however, that rise to super-compact status. The Volkswagen Golf R is one of them and, boy is it a hoot to drive! Indeed, there may not be a better model available now that the Ford Focus RS is no longer offered stateside. But even if the Ford competition were a factor, the Golf R we believe offers better handling.
Please read on to learn more about the latest-generation VW Golf.
Introduced in 1974 as the replacement for the iconic VW Beetle, the Volkswagen Golf enters its eighth generation beginning with the 2022 model. The Golf, also known as the VW Rabbit at various times in its history, is a subcompact model. It rides on the company’s modular MQB platform that supports various Audi, SEAT, Skoda, and Volkswagen vehicles.
For 2022, Volkswagen scrapped its standard models for the U.S. market. Therefore, only the GTI ($29,545 to $37,995) and the R ($43,645) are offered. Add $995 for the delivery charge.
The remaining Golf models are still available in many markets, including in Europe where it remains one of the continent’s most popular models. There, Volkswagen offers the Golf in numerous permutations, including its Alltrack configuration. We applaud Volkswagen of America for sticking with its performance versions even as U.S. consumers overwhelmingly prefer crossovers. Forget the enthusiasts and you risk losing them completely.
Potent Engine and Capable Transmissions
Volkswagen supplies a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine for both the GTI and R. In the GTI, it makes 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque with power routed to the front wheels. In the Golf R, the engine is tuned to deliver upwards of 315 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Power routes to all four wheels here.
Both models work with a standard 6-speed manual gearbox or an available 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The DCT is an $800 upgrade. For the record, our test model came with a manual transmission.
We’re seeing 0-60 mph test times of 4.7 seconds for the DSG, which likely is slightly faster than the manual. In any case, the 2022 Golf R is plenty fast and quite fun!
Steering and Handling
The Golf R benefits from progressive variable-ratio steering, which adds heft as you increase your speed. This feature is drive mode dependent, which means that it is relatively light-to-the-touch in normal but much heftier in race mode.
Volkswagen’s all-wheel-drive system, dynamic control chassis, and adaptive dampers supply a level of control prized by racing enthusiasts. The all-wheel drive kicks in early and often, adding a measure of handling precision that simply makes it easy to handle twisty roads and corners like a champ. So, not only does the all-wheel-drive system shift upwards of 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels, but it can also shift up to 100 percent of the power, left or right.
Unlike the GTI with three trim levels, the Golf R is offered with one. This means it comes very well equipped, supplying everything you’d expect for its price.
This includes a fully digital 10.3-inch instrument display, an 8.3-inch color touch-screen display, smartphone compatibility, four USB ports, connected services, and a Harmon Kardon Audio system. Among the safety items are travel assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane assist, rear traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and emergency assist with the automatic transmission.
Other features include sport seats, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescopic steering column, climate control, and a head-up display.
On the Road
The fun factor is ingrained in the VW Golf R, a true driver’s car. We had to remind ourselves that the power-to-weight ratio makes it a formidable player. Add in stellar turning and the Golf R can take down not a few of the larger performance models out there.
We found the six-speed manual is a smooth operator. It shifts with virtually no effort and is worth holding gears long to achieve the desired effect. This means we were fond of staying in third speed until we reached highway speed, then shifting to fourth and fifth gears to set the mood. Moving to sixth gear is almost an afterthought, although we were frequently reminded by the upshift indicator to do so at higher speeds. It is the most efficient gear too, so if you are concerned about gas mileage, then you will most likely utilize it.
The VW Golf R is fast, easily maneuverable, and a blast to drive. Besides hanging the twisties with its 19-inch performance tires, the Golf R acquits itself while cornering. In and out of corners it goes with minimal body roll thanks to the ever-shifting chassis. Physics would suggest that it does not do certain things (like make 90-degree turns on a dime), but it does. Of course, practicing your most aggressive driving in wide-open areas with no traffic around is the ideal approach. It will not take you long to get used to that, however.
The 2022 VW Golf R is certainly not inexpensive. You can get base models of the Ford Mustang, Toyota Supra, and even an Audi A3 for less. But they are not models fans would consider anyway.
The Golf R’s nearest competitors are the Honda Civic Type R and the Hyundai Veloster N. Also in the mix is the slightly larger Subaru WRX STI. All three are worth comparing, but we believe Volkswagen shines brightest among them.
Photos copyright Stumpwater Medai Group, LLC. All rights reserved.