2022 Volkswagen Golf R

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2022 Volkswagen Golf R First Drive Review: The Real Sports Utility Vehicle

by Jake Lingeman

The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R might be the newest, hottest Golf on the market, but it comes from a long line of legendary hatchbacks, starting with the late-1970s Rabbit as it was known in the US. It eventually became the Golf, which spawned the GTI. Then VW added more power and AWD (something the brand dabbled with in the 1985 Golf Synchro) and introduced the R badge. That was the Golf R32 - saddled with Haldex AWD and a 3.2-liter VR6 - which introduced the world to the dual-clutch gearbox. But despite only boasting 238 horsepower, it became an instant legend.

Fast-forward nearly two decades and the Golf R uses the fourth evolution of the 2.0-liter turbocharged EA888 engine making 315 hp (up 27 hp over the Mk 7) and 295 lb-ft of torque. The seven-speed DSG returns, but you can have a six-speed manual in the US and Canada if you're willing to sacrifice 15 lb-ft. VW retuned the dynamics settings, AWD system, and standard adaptive suspension. Furthermore, the marque gave the hot hatch a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, a 10-inch touchscreen, and more safety than ever. This isn't just a hot hatch; it's a sport utility vehicle.

Is the 2022 Volkswagen Golf a good car?

  • Exterior Design 9 /10
  • Performance 10 /10
  • Fuel Economy 7 /10
  • Interior & Cargo 10 /10
  • Infotainment & Features 9 /10
  • Reliability 8 /10
  • Safety 9 /10
  • Value For Money 10 /10
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2022 Volkswagen Golf R Models

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive

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Engine and Performance: Sport

Now, most cars that call themselves sport utility vehicles are not even vaguely sporty. Conversely, the Golf R is all about spirited driving. The engine is obviously a sweetheart; VW's been refining the 2.0-liter turbo EA888 for more than a decade. Max torque (295 lb-ft) comes at 2,000 rpm in the automatic model and even below that we didn't detect a lot of turbo lag. Once you're in the higher gears the Golf R stays in the sweet spot and feels extremely high-strung.

Between the electronic locking differential, the adaptive damping, and the new torque vectoring system, the Golf R dives into turns quicker than we expected. With two multi-plate clutches in back, the R can send 100% of its rear power to one side, making corner exit preternaturally quick. There was zero understeer to speak of on North Carolina's epic mountain roads, and the blue-caliper brakes were rock solid all day.

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The new R gets two new drive modes in addition to Comfort, Sport, Race and Individual. Drift mode sends all the power to the rear to get slidey around the turns, and Special is all about one racetrack. VW is from Germany, hence the mode is made for the Nurburgring. Like Detroit, the 13-mile circuit needs full power, but a soft suspension. A little track icon even comes up in the digital cluster.

We only drove the US-bound six-speed manual. Unfortunately, the throws were longer than we'd like, especially in this type of vehicle. It doesn't feel as… mechanical, as analog as we'd like either. There's no problem finding the gates and gears, but we'd like a little less refinement. If that makes sense.

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Interior: Family-Friendly Utility

Don't laugh. The Golf R sits on VW's MQB platform, but it's longer than the previous model and swallows 19.9 cubic feet of cargo with five passengers and 34.5 cubic feet with the seats folded almost flat. The trunk floor can be raised or lowered and the seats fold down 60:40 with a pass-through for longer cargo.

On the ergonomic side, which certainly counts as utility, there are perfectly contoured, comfortable, and bolstered leather seats. Some of us would like them even narrower, but VW is designing for the masses here. There are large storage spaces in the doors, a couple of cupholders, and a big space for your phone to charge or store other stuff. It's probably a half cubic foot by itself.

The back seat features 35 inches of legroom and 46 inches of hip room, which is right on par with other hatches. Those guests all get their own climate control, phone chargers, and storage spaces, in addition to the fold-down armrest. We didn't have child seats on the trip, but the latches looked easy to access and there seems to be enough room for the kids' legs to kick freely.

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Technology: The Latest And Greatest

Here's where our main gripe comes into play. The new infotainment has zero knobs. You know we like knobs for volume and tuning. We also like them for climate control as they're easy to grab while driving. VW has a new climate control system that works on sliders. That didn't annoy us the first time we saw it, but with the combination of no knobs for climate, and a panel that almost faces the sky, we had to concentrate on it for several seconds to turn the heat up (or volume, which is on the same panel). The fan? You can't change the fan speed from there or the home screen. You need to press the climate button (one of four below the screen), or the seat heat button on the screen, which doesn't change the seat heat level for some reason, but does bring up the climate screen.

We accept that within a few weeks, customers will probably be whipping through this navigation-equipped MIB3 Discover Pro unit without problems. But good UX (user experience) design shouldn't even take that long. This system is deep and useful, but expect a learning curve.

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Pricing And Verdict

We still maintain that the Golf R is the ideal combination of sport and utility, making this a proper SUV. But this low, tiny SUV doesn't come cheap. It will set you back $43,645 with the manual gearbox. You can get a three-row Subaru Ascent for that. You can get a Ford Mustang GT or a small Audi SUV. But those real SUVs don't offer the sport of the Golf R, and the Mustang doesn't offer the utility. Put this car on taller snow tires and it's a full-on Subaru WRX competitor.

The real problem comes from within VW. The Golf GTI, a potent performer in its own right, is still so good. Prices have gone up. It now costs just over 30K with destination. But it's one of the best deals in all autodom, hands down. It's a four-season car with the right tires and like the Golf R, it has a ton of utility. If you want the rally car/daily driver combo get the R. If you want to save some cash and have 87% of the fun, the GTI is as far as you need to go.

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