2022 Volkswagen Golf R Review Update

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Nov 21, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

Last sold in the United States in 2019, the Volkswagen Golf R offers the best hardware set available for the Golf chassis. In many ways, the Golf R is the ultimate GTI, the car that established the hot hatchback segment more than 40 years ago. While a bit of a sleeper on the outside, the understated-looking hot hatch packs the most potent version of Volkswagen's EA888 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo under its hood, now producing 315 horsepower and as much as 295 pound-feet of torque. It's the only performance Golf that sends its power to all four wheels, and it's the only Golf model with standard adaptive suspension damping.

The Golf R is also the most luxuriously appointed version of the hot hatch featuring:

  • Standard perforated Napa leather coverings for its well-bolstered, heated, and ventilated front bucket seats
  • Power driver's seat with 3-position memory
  • Black headliner
  • Stainless-steel pedal covers
  • Heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel
  • Customizable ambient lighting
  • Dark gray accent trim
  • Heated outboard rear seat positions

Compared to the last Golf R sold on these shores in 2019, the 2022 version gets:

  • 27 more horsepower and up to 15 pound-feet more torque
  • A new rear-axle torque-vectoring feature for the 4Matic all-wheel-drive (AWD) system
  • Standard, meaty 235/35R19 summer tires versus the previous 225/40R18 ones
  • New front brakes with larger 14.1-inch cross-drilled and vented front disc brake rotors and weight-saving aluminum hats
  • 10-percent stiffer front and rear springs
  • Increased front camber
  • 10-percent stiffer front anti-roll bar
  • Revised, less-compliant suspension links for improved steering precision

As with the Volkswagen GTI, the 2022 Golf R also gets:

  • New digital-touch control interfaces
  • Upgraded MIB 3 infotainment
  • Standard IQ.Drive advanced driving assistance system (ADAS) package

The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R comes in a single, well-equipped trim level. Including the $995 destination charge, the suggested manufacturer's retail price is $44,640. The only option is a 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT), an $800 upcharge over the standard 6-speed manual gearbox.

Major competitors include the Honda Civic Type RHyundai Veloster N, and Subaru WRX.

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI. This review focuses on the Golf R's equipment upgrades over the GTI and the Golf R's updates for 2022 and how they potentially impact its overall appeal to consumers.

What Owners Say About the Volkswagen Golf - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

2022 Volkswagen Golf R Blue Front Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

The Volkswagen Golf* competes in the Compact Car market segment. According to data collected from verified new-vehicle buyers for the J.D. Power 2021 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL)Study, 80 percent of previous-generation (Mark 7) Volkswagen Golf buyers are male (vs. 55 percent for the segment), and the median age of a Golf buyer is 49 years (vs. 50).

As part of the APEAL Study, owners rated the previous-generation Golf in 10 primary categories. Listed below in descending order, you'll find their preferences from their most favorite thing about the vehicle to their least favorite:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Powertrain
  • Feeling of safety
  • Interior design
  • Setting up and starting
  • Getting in and out
  • Driving comfort
  • Infotainment system
  • Fuel economy

In the 2021 APEAL Study, the previous-generation Golf ranks seventh out of 11 Compact Car models.

*APEAL scores are reported at the model level and include all variants of that model (i.e., 2021 Volkswagen Golf includes Golf, Golf GTI, and Golf R)

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Volkswagen Golf R - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

In the following sections, our independent expert analyzes a 2022 Golf R equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission.

The price of the test vehicle came to $44,640, including the $995 destination charge.

It's the Most Powerful Golf

2022 Volkswagen Golf R Interior Dashboard 6-speed Manual Transmission

Photo: Ron Sessions

Pumping 315 hp (31 percent more than in the GTI) and up to 295 pound-feet of torque, the Golf R has the most potent version of Volkswagen's EA888 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo in the engine bay. In the relatively light (3,400-3,500 pounds) AWD Golf R, that means zero-to-60 mph squirts in the mid-to-high 4-second range. With all four meaty 235/35R19 summer tires gripping the pavement, there's no drama. The Golf R just hooks up and goes like it is spring-loaded.

It's to Volkswagen's credit that they still offer a manual gearbox in the Golf R. The 7-speed DSG automatic with its new shorty gear selector is quicker in a straight line, and its steering wheel paddle shifters offer rapier-quick manual control if needed for steep mountain downgrades or surprise, decreasing-radius turns. But the 6-speed manual gearbox keeps a wonderful analog component to the driving experience that's so rewarding when done right. There's something pure about how the Golf R's manual gearbox keeps the driver at the center of the human/machine interface. The manual shifter works with the same precision as the rest of the car, with reasonably short throws and just-right effort—ditto for the clutch, which offers silken take-up and a forgiving, wide engagement band.

The Golf R's drive modes expand this year to include Comfort, Sport, Race, Drift, Special, and Custom. The Race, Drift, and Special drive modes are exclusively for off-highway or private-road applications. They de-activate elements of the Golf R's stability control system for tail-out driving and maximizing the car's new torque-vectoring feature of its AWD system.

With standard adaptive dampers that can adjust their stiffness up to 200 times a second, the Golf R can handle bumps and dips by tailoring the compression and rebound strokes at each corner of the suspension in real time—taking the edge off sharp impacts and firming up for great road-holding.

It's the Only Golf with Standard All-Wheel Drive

The Golf R is not just equipped with 4Motion AWD that apportions drive torque to the front and rear axles from a baseline of 100 percent front under static or coasting conditions up to a 50 percent front/50 percent rear split as needed to maintain traction. It also includes a torque-vectoring feature for the rear-drive axles. With torque vectoring, the Golf R's rear differential can apportion the rear axle drive torque to the rear wheel where it's needed most. This can be a significant aid in sharp corners where the system can direct all the rear axle torque to the outside wheel in a corner, helping to reduce understeer and the car's cornering radius, tightening its line through the curve.

The Golf R is the only version of VW's compact hot hatch that does this.

It Adopts a New Electronic Architecture

2022 Volkswagen Golf R Infotainment Touchscreen

Photo: Ron Sessions

The new Golf R's electronic architecture adopts some of the features of VW's new electric vehicles, like the ID.4. As with the higher trims of the GTI, the Golf R gets a new 10.25-inch configurable driver display and a 10-inch Discover Pro infotainment display, both with brilliant colors and bright graphics. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring capability is standard in this application, as is embedded navigation.

The infotainment screen features smartphone-like pinch, zoom, and swipe functionality, and it can display multiple windows simultaneously, such as navigation, audio system, phone, and vehicle settings. When the driver opens their door, both the digital driver cluster and center infotainment screen light up, and the pushbutton start button pulses red until the driver starts the engine.

VW also digitized most of the Golf R's switchgear, removing the physical knobs and switches for things like audio volume and tuning, climate control, and lights. Here's a case where Volkswagen changed something that worked just fine previously and made it worse. The former physical knobs and buttons could be operated in a vehicle moving down the road at speed, in traffic, and over bumps and rough pavement by memory and feel, using a thumb and forefinger. Aside from being much smaller, the new digital switches require some eyes-off-the-road time to find and often require repeated taps (and glances) to get the result you want.

It's not a deal-killer in an otherwise standout performance vehicle. With familiarity, the Golf R's audio system and switchgear will become somewhat easier to use, but the tiny capacitive switches don't advance the driving art.

IQ.Drive ADAS is Standard

The Golf R features IQ.Drive, Volkswagen’s suite of ADAS. What distinguishes the Golf R from products from many competing European brands is that this technology comes as standard equipment. Equipped with a front camera, front and rear radar sensors, and an array of ultrasonic sensors, the components of IQ.Drive are as follows:

  • Pre-collision warning system with pedestrian and cyclist detection and forward automatic emergency braking (Front Assist)
  • Lane-keeping assistance (Lane Assist)
  • Active blind-spot warning (Active Side Assist)
  • Active rear cross-traffic alert (Rear Traffic Alert)
  • Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability
  • Travel Assist (adaptive cruise control with lane-centering)
  • Emergency Assist (automatic transmission only)
  • Front and rear park distance control (uses ultrasonic sensors to detect nearby obstacles)
  • Park assist (semi-automated steering control for parallel and perpendicular parking)
  • Dynamic road sign display
  • Automatic high-beam headlight control

Compared to the systems in some other vehicles that only monitor and warn of threats, the Golf R's blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection systems will actively intervene if the driver doesn't respond to a threat. This includes a blind-spot warning system with countersteering and a rear cross-traffic alert system with active braking to avoid a collision.

As with the systems offered by many other carmakers, the 2022 Golf R has Travel Assist, which combines the speed-setting and vehicle-spacing functions of adaptive cruise control with the active steering assist of lane-keeping. Automatic transmission models are also equipped with Emergency Assist, which uses capacitive sensors in the steering wheel rim to detect if the driver's hands are on the wheel.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

2022 Volkswagen Golf R Blue Rear Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

With more than 70 percent of Volkswagen's current sales now derived from SUVs and crossovers and an overt drive to expand its catalog of battery-electric offerings in the U.S., it would be easy for the company to cast aside the dedicated fans who have been faithfully buying gas-powered performance variants of VW's compact hatchback for nearly a half-century.

The 2022 Golf R is proof Volkswagen knows where the passion lies and is bringing back the top-performing version of its compact 4-door hatchback after a three-year hiatus. With an understated exterior that leaves few clues to its exceptional performance, the 2022 Golf R offers near supercar performance in a practical hatchback configuration.

Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive and consumer websites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals, and newspapers.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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