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In a vacuum, the Volkswagen Golf R is a good performance hatchback, carrying a punchy turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and a snickety-snack six-speed manual transmission while trumping its front-drive rivals with standard all-wheel drive. And yet, it still fails to resonate.
See, the Golf R and the R32s before it were never the performance-to-value case that the Golf GTI was. But the R32s, with their 3.2-liter V6 engines, were distinct. They felt like a different car, and that made forgiving the fact that it was a worse value much easier. But the turbocharged Golf R, now in its third generation carrying an uptuned version of VW’s ubiquitous EA888 engine, feels more like a GTI Plus.
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|Quick Stats||2022 Volkswagen Golf R|
|Engine:||Turbocharged 2.0-liter I4|
|Output:||315 Horsepower / 280 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH:||4.7 Seconds|
|Top Speed:||155 MPH|
|Base Price:||$44,090 + $1,095 Destination|
Gallery: 2022 Volkswagen Golf R: Review
- Exterior Color: Lapiz Blue Metallic
- Interior Color: Titan Black
- Wheel Size: 19 Inches
In Volkswagen's defense, it's tried increasingly hard to give the Golf R a distinct visual personality. Blue accents and unique badging inside and out, silver mirror caps, R-specific graphics in the digital instrument cluster/touchscreen, and more practical considerations like larger wheels, bigger brake calipers, and quad-tipped exhausts set a purposeful tone. The Golf R is a handsome vehicle both inside and out.
But VW could go even further. Look no further than the Hyundai Veloster Turbo (RIP) and Veloster N, Honda Civic Si and Type R, or Mini John Cooper Works and GP. Distinct visual personalities, both inside and out, set the highest-performance versions of those cars apart from the standard hi-po variants. Give us that, VW.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Volkswagen Golf R
- Seating Capacity: 5
- Seating Configuration: 2 / 3
- Cargo Capacity: 19.9 / 34.5 Cubic Feet
The Golf (may it rest in peace) was always the most comfortable car in the class, and that's true of the Golf R, too. The ride quality afforded by standard DCC adaptive dampers isolates the cabin well, despite the rubberband–thin 35-series tires and 19-inch wheels. The cabin has excellent sound control too, with little wind or tire noise reach the interior.
And of course, the hatchback body affords plenty of room in the cabin, too. While the last-gen Civic Type R bested the Golf in a few major segments, it's no longer in production (and it was over 10 inches longer and four inches wider to boot). As it stands, the Golf R is on par or slightly ahead of the Veloster N in every measure except maximum cargo volume.
|Interior Dimensions||Legroom, Front/Rear:||Headroom, Front/Rear:||Cargo Volume:|
|Volkswagen Golf R||41.2 / 35.0 Inches||37.8 / 38.2 Inches||19.9 / 34.5 Cubic Feet|
|Honda Civic Type R (Previous Gen)||42.3 / 35.9 Inches||39.3 / 37.4 Inches||25.7 / 46.2 Cubic Feet|
|Hyundai Veloster N||42.6 / 34.1 Inches||38.1 / 35.9 Inches||19.9 / 44.5 Cubic Feet|
- Center Display: 10.0-inch Touchscreen
- Instrument Cluster Display: 10.3-inch
- Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto: Yes
My colleagues have spilled plenty of ink on the misery that is VW's new touch-focused control setup and latest infotainment suite. It's lousy, and we tell you why here, here, and here.
But weird software decisions caused me greater frustration than the poor controls. VW links the digital cluster's appearance to the drive mode but doesn't give drivers the option to lock in one layout. So every time I changed the drive mode, I'd have to press, press, press the stupid touch-capacitive buttons on the steering wheel to get back to my preferred arrangement. I can forgive bad decisions made for a reason, but this is not that. It's simply bad.
- Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter I4
- Output: 315 Horsepower / 280 Pound-Feet
- Transmission: Six-Speed Manual
A Hyundai Veloster N is bombastic, exploding off the line. A Honda Civic Type R is shrill and exciting, requiring commitment to extract maximum performance. The Golf R, though, is none of those things. It's effortless and relentless, delivering a huge wave of torque from a standstill that seems to never run out. The powertrain here is a peach, even with the weight of an all-wheel-drive system reigning it in somewhat.
That standard 4Motion system does make for some performance fun if you're in the right place. The Drift mode is a kitschy good time if you're looking to obliterate a set of tires, but there's little practical use in the real world. Still, the Golf R's ability to put the power down exiting turns is entertaining, even if a little throttle discipline would yield a similar response in a GTI.
You can get the Golf R with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, but I'm a sucker for VW's six-speed manuals. The clutch is light, but the catch point and throttle response are super predictable, so starting to roll is a cinch. The gear lever slots into each gate with a mechanical clunkiness and little of the rubberiness some other German automakers offer in their sticks.
Where the Golf R falls short is in the handling department. It's agile and fun, but it lacks the sharpness or outright poise of competitors, with greater lateral body motions. And it's hard to ignore the feeling of mass this 3,400-pound hot hatch produces. Still, the steering's weight is appropriate, and the Golf R can change directions quickly when asked.
- Driver Assistance Level: SAE Level 2 Hands-On
- NHTSA Rating: Not Rated
- IIHS Rating: Top Safety Pick Plus
Every Golf R comes standard with IQ. Drive, Volkswagen's, all-encompassing active safety suite. It includes Travel Assist (VW's level 2 driver assistance system), full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and rear cross-traffic alert. Active safety isn't always something to think of as a “must-have” on a hot hatchback like the Golf R, but that doesn't make its standard inclusion any less significant.
- City: 20 MPG
- Highway: 28 MPG
- Combined: 23 MPG
The Golf R with the manual transmission lags the competition, although going for the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox improves efficiency substantially.
|Volkswagen Golf R 6MT||20 MPG||28 MPG||23 MPG|
|Volkswagen Golf R 7DCT||23 MPG||30 MPG||28 MPG|
|Honda Civic Type R (Previous Gen)||22 MPG||28 MPG||25 MPG|
|Hyundai Veloster N 6MT||22 MPG||28 MPG||25 MPG|
- Base Price: $44,090 + $1,095 Destination
- Trim Base Price: $45,185
- As-Tested Price: $45,185
Prices for the Golf R start at $45,185 for the six-speed manual (including a $1,095 destination charge). The seven-speed dual-clutch ups the ante to $45,985. The good news is that the price will never exceed those figures, because VW doesn't offer any factory options. Even the three color options come at no additional charge (although blue, black, and white are boring as hell).
Unfortunately, the Golf R is far and away the most expensive car in this segment, including the last-generation Honda Civic Type R. I could forgive that if the VW were a good value, but it's really not. You'll find similar straight-line performance and more engaging handling for around $10,000 less in the Veloster N. At the same time, VW's own GTI exists and offers 80 percent of what makes the Golf R great for substantially less. VW's hottest hatch is a fine partner, but in the broader market, there are dramatically better values.
|Pricing:||Base Price + Destination:||Trim Base Price:|
|Volkswagen Golf R 6MT||$44,090 + $1,095 Destination||$45,185|
|Honda Civic Type R (Previous Gen)||$37,895 + $1,015||$38,910|
|Hyundai Veloster N 6MT||$32,500 + $1,095||$33,595|
Model Competitor Reviews:
2022 Volkswagen Golf R