Watching the leaves change color never gets old, especially for this Florida boy. And arguably one of the best places to do that in the US is on the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway. The snaking stretch of pavement extends 469 miles from North Carolina into Virginia, and beyond the absolutely stunning scenery, it's one of the best driving roads you'll find east of the Mississippi.
You can enjoy the twisty tarmac and changing colors of the Parkway in any vehicle really, but the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R makes the hues just a little more vivid. With a powerful engine, impressive dynamics, and handsome looks, this hot hatchback has all the right pieces to make a standout impression – particularly in a straight line.
|Quick Stats||2022 Volkswagen Golf R|
|Engine:||Turbocharged 2.0-liter I4|
|Output:||315 Horsepower / 295 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH:||4.7 Seconds|
|Base Price:||$43,645 + $995 Destination|
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Power That Impresses
The Golf R's turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four lays down power better than any car in the class, delivering 315 horsepower and 295 pound-feet directly to your right foot. Those figures represent a big bump over last year's 288 horses and 280 pound-feet, and they make the new Golf R more powerful than the Honda Civic Type R and the Hyundai Veloster N by a good margin. Maximum twist arrives at a generous 1,900 RPM with the manual transmission (2,000 RPM with the DSG), while 60 miles per hour happens in just 4.7 seconds.
The Golf R blasts off the line with impressive enthusiasm, its 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and summer tires (235/35) easily clutching the cold, damp pavement of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The initial jolt of power is awesome, and it will forcibly shove you and all four passengers into their seatbacks. But what's even better is how well the Golf R maintains that pull all the way up to redline – it never runs out of steam.
That powertrain comes with your choice of two fine (but not great) transmissions: a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG. The row-your-own option has long throws and a mushy catch point, which makes it far less appealing than Honda's near-perfect shifter in the Civic Type R. And the Golf's dual-clutch option doesn't feel as crisp or precise as what the Veloster N offers.
More disappointingly, the Golf R doesn't have the same dynamic allure as the Civic Type R or Veloster N when the going gets twisty. The progressive variable-ratio steering, as with most setups, adds more or less heft depending on the drive mode, with Race mode being the heaviest setting. The difference, though, is that the electric steering motor also adjusts the rate depending on how slow or fast the car is moving, or how much you're torquing the wheel.
So when puttering around the hotel parking lot in Normal mode, for example, the steering felt extremely light, responding to the car's low-speed movements with limited interference and allowing me to turn the wheel with one finger. Once on the Parkway and with Race mode activated, the variable setup added more weight to the steering to account for the more aggressive driving style.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Volkswagen Golf R
The problem was the additional weightiness didn't result in more road feel; the hard leather-wrapped steering wheel only provided a preview of what the tires were doing. The electronic nannies within the rack clearly handled most of the hard work, while I felt like I was flinging the Golf R around in a Forza video game, longing for the tactility of the Civic or Veloster at every turn.
That’s not to say the Golf R doesn’t still handle with exceptional composure – it does. VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control (or DCC) and adaptive dampers come standard on this model for 2022, which means the Golf R corners with pinpoint accuracy.
The Golf R doesn't have the same dynamic allure as the Civic Type R or Veloster N when the going gets twisty.
The control arms and roll bar are both 10-percent stiffer than they were last year, which means the ride is occasionally harsh, but it also yields perfect body control and flat cornering in even the trickiest, tightest roads North Carolina has to offer. And although the Golf R is all-wheel drive, the new-for-2022 rear differential can send up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels, and then transfer 100 percent of that from one side to the other, for a more balanced driving feel.
Fine Design, Touchy Tech
Visually, this car is still very much a Golf. Volkswagen does its best Porsche impression by keeping this car’s iconic styling alive for the new generation, while adding features like new light fixtures with a fancy light bar within the grille, a rear spoiler, and a few different wheel options – including the awesome 19-inch shoes pictured here. By and large, though, the Golf R remains recognizable, and VW's decision to keep it simple is a smart one.
The cabin design is classic VW, too, with good materials like leather and metal, two supportive Nappa sport bucket seats, and fun features like 30-way ambient lighting. Nearly everything within reach feels premium, which can't be said of some of the Golf R's nearest competitors (I’m looking at you, Hyundai Veloster N).
Where the Golf R does surpass its competitors – easily – is in the comfort department.
VW's new IQ.Drive active safety equipment comes standard with the automatic transmission, which includes Travel Assist – essentially adaptive cruise control for long-distance driving – automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert, and more. And it all works exceptionally well on the highway, keeping the Golf R centered in the lane and at a steady pace behind the vehicle in front of it.
But some of the other tech falls short. Adopting the ID.4's needlessly complicated user interface, the Golf R uses a 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a 10.0-inch touchscreen, and an entire suite of touch-capacitive buttons that are difficult to use. They rarely respond at first input and are difficult to parse while driving, while the shiny black plastic that dons the wheel and center stack is prone to fingerprints.
On top of that, simple functions like activating the heated seats or digging into the climate controls require at minimum three on-screen clicks. At least wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, which means you can avoid some elements of that fussy interface if you so choose.
Where the Golf R does surpass its competitors – easily – is in the comfort department. Ticking the drive mode dial over to Normal softens the suspension to genuinely cushy levels, lightens up the steering, and refines the engine to a docile hum. Plus those Nappa buckets are sublime, with standard heating and ventilation, perfect bolstering for corner carving, and ample support for long-distance driving. This is the most livable of all the hot hatchbacks.
At $43,645 to start with a six-speed manual (plus $995 destination fees), the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is the among the priciest hatchback of the bunch – the Civic Type R costs $37,895, the Mini Cooper John Cooper Works GP is $45,750, and the Veloster N asks $32,500. But it's also the most powerful and comes loaded with standard features like the DCC adaptive dampers, heated Nappa leather seats, a digital cockpit, and IQ.Drive.
For me, the Civic Type R and Veloster N are still unbeatable from a dynamic standpoint – and on these same roads, in these same conditions, both would undoubtedly feel more fun to drive. One could even argue that a base Volkswagen GTI (Motor1.com's Best Performance Vehicle Star Award winner), with no bells and whistles for under $30,000, would be just as enjoyable.
But that's not to say the Golf R doesn't stand on its own merit. It’s impressively dynamic, stylish without being too shouty, and a supremely comfortable ride in its most docile mode. As it always has been, the new Volkswagen Golf R remains the grown-up hatchback of the group – warts and all.
Golf R Competitor Reviews:
2022 Volkswagen Golf R