Review: 2022 Volkswagen Golf R hot hatch

For 2022, the Volkswagen Golf R enters its third generation as the all-wheel drive hot hatch in the Golf family. Much like the GTI it was born from, the Golf R aims towards exhilarating fun behind the wheel combined with the practicality of a small hatchback car. It mainly hits those points, but feels a little uninspired in this new rendition.

New for this generation VW Golf R is a more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a torque-vectoring AWD system tuned towards better handling, and some new interior upgrades in technology. These go with the re-styling changes all over the car, inside and out.

At a Glance

  • More engine power and both a manual and automatic transmission
  • Improved interior with better noise abatement and comfort
  • Oddly positioned in price point amid competitive options
  • Fun drive quality and good dynamics, but not “exciting” as with past renditions
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the 2022 VW Golf R outputs a whopping 315 horsepower to all four wheels
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the 2022 VW Golf R outputs a whopping 315 horsepower to all four wheels

Aaron Turpen / New Atlas

Currently, the Volkswagen Golf GTI and R are the only two Golf models available in the United States. While Europe and other markets get to see the eighth-generation Golf roll out for the masses, here in the US we get only the performance variants. Which, given today’s market, is probably not that bad. The Golf R gets an added 27 horsepower to its turbo-four, still comes with either an automatic or manual transmission, and is slightly larger in its interior space than before.

The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that’s turbocharged to produce 315 horsepower (235 kW). The turbo works overtime to get that power out quickly, so the Golf R has a tendency to rush to the redline on the regular. In the manual transmission version we drove, that meant when pushed, the lever had to be manipulated quickly to keep up. Which, to be honest, is the point of a car like this. It’s supposed to be quick and keep the driver on the heel-toe.

The VW Golf R is, above all else, a fun scoot. The transmission is a bit lackluster for our taste, however, being a little mushy at the left pedal and long at the lever throw. Other, similar cars like the Subaru WRX (or less powerful BRZ) offer more fun for the three-pedal driver. The Honda Civic Si is similarly more interesting, but not as quick to evoke the driver’s grin when pushed into action. Going to slightly pricier luxury options, though, both the Audi S3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA in its AMG 35 variant are equally as fun.

The 2022 Golf R is easy to get into and out of and, thankfully, still comes with a manual transmission option
The 2022 Golf R is easy to get into and out of and, thankfully, still comes with a manual transmission option

Aaron Turpen / New Atlas

That’s where the confusion begins to creep in. The 2022 VW Golf R is not as luxurious as the other German options we’ve mentioned, and is priced accordingly, but is still more upscale than any of the Japanese options it’s more often compared to. So finding something to compare it to directly is difficult. For our money, however, we’d pit it against the Subaru WRX as the closest fruit-to-fruit matchup and would find it hard to pick a favorite. That comes down to driving style. Those who like more dirt would probably be happier in the Suby while those who run pavement might like the VW instead. Not to mention the WRX doesn’t have a hatchback option anymore. Which is probably that car’s biggest downer, if we’re being honest.

The Golf R achieved 4.6-second 0-60 mph (92 km/h) sprints under our tutelage. That’s without a rolling start or the benefit of a private course for testing. Most competent drivers should be able to get sub-5 second launches. That sprint speed is due almost entirely to the R’s all-wheel drive system, which grips the pavement very well, reducing skips and chirps on launch. The same cannot be said of the slightly slower GTI model.

Other good improvements (and a few let downs) for the car come from the interior experience. The 2022 model feels roomier than the previous-generation did. Up front, it’s about the same on paper, but feels a little better because the seats aren’t as aggressively bolstered and the dashboard is more open and flowy by comparison. Most of the size changes to the Golf R are visible in the rear seats, which now have a little more legroom and better headroom than before. The big and tall will still struggle with some cramps, but most adults will be more than fine in the outboard positions of the back bench. Cargo room also seems bigger, though it’s not really changed from before overall. The main difference is that the hatch opening has been squared off slightly and the rear window flattened for easier access, and to improve the total cargo space with the 60/40 split rear seats down.

The 2022 Golf R also sports a new infotainment and switchgear setup. Most of the buttons found in the previous-gen Golf are gone, being replaced with “touch-sensitive” controls or having been removed outright in favor of infotainment screen menus. This is, to say the least, not an improvement. We’re not fans of the tedious button pushing required to change the temperature or audio volume. The latter can at least be done on the steering wheel instead, making that less bothersome, but the lack of physical controls is annoying. What used to be a simple knob turn is now a bunch of “button” taps instead.

The new interior design and layout of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is less cluttered and roomier than beg
The new interior design and layout of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is less cluttered and roomier than before, but at the price of nixing most of the expected buttons and controls

Aaron Turpen / New Atlas

On the whole, however, the Golf R hasn’t changed too much. It’s still a square-bodied, large-windowed hatchback with loads of practicality built in. It’s quick, fun to drive, and generally engaging. While the added power is nice, fuel economy is still not terribly good at 23 mpg (10.2 l/100km) combined with the manual transmission option. And to be frank, the downers balance out the gains with this car, making it kind of a coast from old to new.

With a starting price of US$44,000 or so, we just expected more out of the 2022 VW Golf R than it delivered. It’s a great little car, of course, but it’s not greater than it was before.

Product Page: 2022 Volkswagen Golf R

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