The Golf R Seems to Have Joined The Ranks Of Well-Mannered European Sport Sedans
More than any other brand over the decades, Volkswagen has proven that you don’t have to spend a whole lot of money to have a whole lot of driving fun. But, after experiencing their R32's and legendary Golf R's, we realized they had a far more serious side as well. Well now, it’s time for us to get down to business again with a track test of the latest Mark VIII Golf R.
In this SUV-crazed world we’re in, Volkswagen has chosen to stop selling the base Volkswagen Golf hatchback here in the U.S; but, thankfully, the GTI and Golf R will both still be available. 2022 marks the 8th generation of the Golf, and we can’t think of a better way to get acquainted than hot laps around Savannah’s Roebling Road Raceway in its highest performing variant, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R.
The Golf R is still powered by a 2.0-liter turbo I4, but VW is getting some serious power out of it these days; 315-horsepower and 295 lb-ft. of torque. And it makes this Golf feel insanely fast for a little hatchback. Power gains to this 4th generation of VW’s EA888 come by nearly doubling direct-injection fuel pressure and by reducing internal friction.
If you’re torn between sticking with the standard 6-speed manual or going for the optional 7–speed DSG; know that the manual, while more engaging, does come with 15 fewer lb-ft. of torque. Plus, the DSG adds some sweet launch control into the mix that can pick this car up and hurl it to 60 in just 4.1–seconds. DSG shifts hit hard, and the engine revs so freely there’s barely any pause between them; capable of ¼-mile passes in 12.5 seconds at 111 miles-per-hour.
It was quite fast around the rest of the track too. Sneaky fast, in that it’s so smooth it really doesn’t feel like you’re getting around the track as quickly as you are. Steering is very solid and robust feeling, cornering almost perfectly flat. It seems to have abandoned the gnarly and aggressive hot hatch genre it helped create and joined the ranks of well-mannered European sport sedans.
Vehicle dynamics systems are upgraded, including the electronic locking differential and adaptive damping, but the bigger transformation comes from a new torque vectoring rear setup that can send 100% of rear torque to a single wheel, primarily the outside wheel when cornering. That happens in the new Drift mode which is definitely the drive mode you want to be in on track day. No actual drifting required, but it really loosens things up and, along with the revamped all-wheel-drive system, goes a long way towards ditching understeer.
It gets down Roebling’s long front stretch much faster than we expected, too, and despite the more mature nature, it’s still a very fun little car. Yet, at the same time it feels like more of a driver’s car; most noticeably with how hard you can stuff it into corners without upsetting it.
Brakes are strong and plenty track-worthy; with good feel and not much noticeable fade during our track days. Spring rates on the strut-type front suspension are stiffened by 10%, bump-stops and bushings optimized; and it’s all housed in an aluminum sub-frame that’s 7-lbs. lighter than last year.
Inside the sporty but spacious cabin, is a standard 10-inch digital cockpit pro gauge panel. It looks great, and has more configurations than ever. R-logoed sport seats are quite pleasant, and there are some nice-looking carbon-fiber-like materials. Rear seat space is typically tight, but crossover-like utility remains with 19.9 cubic-ft. of cargo space in back, expanding to 34.5 with rear seatbacks folded.
Plus, there are lots of small details like illuminated door handles, puddle projection lights, Nappa leather seats, heated rear seats, a “light and sight” digital control panel on the left side of the dash, and 30-color ambient lighting that just make it feel a lot more grown up.
Outside, the hatchback shape with pronounced C-pillar is familiar, and the wheelbase remains the same; but overall length grows slightly, and there’s a little more rake to the hood. 19-inch black alloy wheels wear Bridgestone summer performance tires, with customary blue brake calipers just behind. While in back, a diffuser houses the quad exhaust tips down low and up top there’s an extended wing.
Having also spent some time in the GTI recently, ride is noticeably firmer here; steering also both heavier and quicker. Government Fuel Economy Ratings with automatic are 23-City, 30-Highway, and 26-Combined. That’s an average Energy Impact Score consuming 12.7-barrels of oil annually, with CO2 emissions of 5.7-tons.
Golf R comes ready to rock for $44,640, just $800 more if you want the DSG. But, if you’re looking for more of an incredibly fun to drive bargain, you might want to check out its somewhat less track-focused sibling GTI.
True, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R now clearly lives more in the realm of serious performance cars But, it’s still one that happens to have all of the amazing practicality, and personality of every Golf hatchback.
Engine: 2.0L Turbo I4
Torque: 295 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 4.1 seconds
1/4 Mile: 12.5 seconds at 111 mph
EPA: 23 City / 30 Highway / 26 Combined