Auto123 reviews the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R.
It seems like just a few months ago – because it was just a few months ago - that I headed to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a pretty positive first contact with the new 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R. One of my goals at the time was to determine which one I should most recommend to buyers. I’ve tried to do that before, mind you, and never got a clear answer I have to admit. These are two pretty exceptional variants of an exceptional model.
This time, I was going to be on much more slippery ground. Literally, because as fate would have I was getting a week with the new Golf R when conditions were cold and icy.
Not that that was a problem, because a few snowflakes, some icy patches and plunging temperatures weren’t going to get between me and this car, the third edition of the R model (if we exclude the R32 that preceded it). In fact, I've always preferred the R in winter and the GTI when the weather is fine, not because the two-wheel drive version is unpleasant in winter, but because the Golf R is a monster when the conditions are right. And right they were for this second contact.
I won't beat around the bush - the main purpose of this winter test drive was to put to work the car’s Drift mode, the settings that make the car more playful when you push hard in the corners.
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The magic of electronics
While this has been a trend for several years now, let's just say that now we’re in a universe of deep customization like never before. The Golf R offers no fewer than six different drive modes (Comfort, Sport, Race, Special, Drift and Custom). But the one I was particularly interested in was Drift, since we hadn't really had a chance to try it out on the dry streets and roads around Niagara-on-the-Lake. This time, I was not going to miss my chance!
I put the car in Drift mode and took off, making sure to turn the steering wheel to get the rear end to stall. The car instantly started to skid without me losing control. In truth, despite the fact that the traction control system was disconnected, the car was not completely free of its on-board safety systems, as Volkswagen has kept a “safety net” just in case. That meant that no matter how hard I pushed, the Golf refused to skid harder or at a greater angle.
Mind you, the Drift mode is already very well balanced, retaining a modicum of restraint for the benefit of less experienced drivers. In fact, I would recommend that the average driver take an advanced driving course before taking themselves for himself a professional drift driver. And, it would be wise to save this kind of behavior for closed courses.
That said, I was able to push the Golf R a little further by turning off traction control and stability control completely. For that, all I had to do was find the right menu in the infotainment system. Once I did that, the Golf R became much harder difficult to control, though it was still quite drivable. The heavier steering, the firmer suspension and the more permissive torque vectoring transform the Golf R into a race car for the road... at a comfort level that has little to do with what you suffer through in a track car, believe you me!
Once again, I had to concede that the sound of the R’s engine at high revs is not as enticing to me as that of the new GTI. But hey, that’s just me. In any case, this little detail could easily be reworked with a less restrictive, and throatier, exhaust system.
Manual or dual clutch?
Our tester was equipped with the excellent 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Purists will of course tell you nothing beats a manual transmission for maximum driving pleasure, and they're right, but the DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) unit is very, very competent in many driving situations, whether it's at high speeds or just to get through the last traffic jam. I admit I'd like to see a good old-fashioned shifter instead of the tiny lever included here, which no longer offers manual mode (only the paddles behind the steering wheel allow for manual gear changes).
Note also that the Golf R equipped with the DSG transmission is more generous in terms of torque, with 295 lb-ft compared to only 280 for the manual transmission version (the 315 hp is identical between the two models). Personally, I would still go with the manual option and sacrifice the extra 15 lb-ft of torque!
The last word
The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is probably the last of the line... in this form at least! It's a safe bet that the shift to electric power will change the plans of the VW brain trust... and those of Golf fans as well.
There's no doubt that this third R is the most accomplished on all levels... or just about! Fun to drive, the Golf R is also well put-together and remains a formidable car for everyday driving. But one element spoils the experience. And it’s something driven home to me once again recently when I drove the Volkswagen ID.4, the company’s new EV that uses the same touchscreen infotainment system. The screen in this system is well-designed and responsive, but those touch-sensitive buttons throughout the cabin make life difficult for the driver. And drivers of the Golf R or GTI may not be as excited about wading into the tech part of the vehicle’s dashboard as those of the ID.4. Just sayin’.
Will that in itself be enough to scare off some potential buyers? Maybe - we'll see how North American consumers respond after the R’s been on the market for a year. In any event, that point aside, the new R remains one of the best in its niche, which is sadly getting smaller and smaller, following Subaru's announcement that it will be removing the WRX STI from its lineup after this generation.
The Golf R's understated design
The fast powertrain
The overall comfort level
The Drift mode
We like less
Some cheap plastics in the cabin
The dashboard is touchy as touch can be!
The fact that this is probably the last Golf R in this form (sad face)
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