EXPERT REVIEW

2022 Volkswagen Golf R Review: Practical Performance — for a Price

volkswagen-golf-r-2-0t-2022-01-blue-compact-exterior-front-angle 2022 Volkswagen Golf R | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry
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Senior Editor Mike Hanley is a father of three boys; he reviews new cars, admires classic cars and has embraced the minivan lifestyle. Email Mike Hanley

The verdict: The redesigned 2022 Volkswagen Golf R hatchback is a refined, entertaining and versatile performance car. Its well-roundedness doesn’t come cheap, however, and some shoppers might not appreciate VW’s newfound love of touch-sensitive controls.

Versus the competition: Competitors like the Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Veloster N and Subaru WRX STI have racier styling, but none offer the blend of refinement and performance you get with the Golf R.

Last offered in the U.S. for the 2019 model year, the 2022 Golf R is based on the redesigned, eighth-generation Golf platform, which also underpins the 2022 Golf GTI. The regular Golf hatchback is no longer offered in the U.S.

Related: 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI, Golf R: Quick Spin

While the Golf R and Golf GTI share a platform, there are some significant differences between them. The Golf R has standard all-wheel drive, while the Golf GTI is front-drive only. Also, the Golf R’s 315-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 74 hp more than the Golf GTI’s turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder. For more details, check out a side-by-side specs comparison of the two hatchbacks.

The Golf R is offered in one well-equipped trim level with a standard six-speed manual transmission; the lone option is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which costs $800. Our test car had the manual, and its as-tested price was $44,640 (including a $995 destination charge). In consideration of our December test drive, the car’s standard summer performance tires had been swapped for Pirelli Sottozero 3 winter tires.

Great to Drive

Everything about the Golf R driving experience is light and slick. It steers with a light touch, the clutch pedal depresses easily, and the shifter flicks easily between gears whether you’re shifting up or down. The shifter is on the taller side for a performance car, but it works well nonetheless.

Gas-pedal response is gradual in the car’s Comfort drive mode, but the smooth-revving turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder provides swift acceleration once boost levels build. The all-wheel-drive system can send up to 50% of engine torque to the rear wheels, and some or all of that torque can be apportioned to either rear wheel to improve handling. This torque-vectoring capability is new to the Golf R, and it improves how the car feels when accelerating out of turns.

One of the Golf R’s most impressive attributes is how forgiving its standard adaptive suspension is when in the Comfort setting, especially considering its low-profile 35-series tires. Our test car’s winter tires may have helped matters a bit thanks to their soft rubber compound, but the suspension soaks up bumps well. Selecting the car’s Race mode changes the experience by offering a firmer ride, weightier steering and a louder exhaust sound.

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Comfortable, Minimalist Interior

The Golf R’s cabin has a sleek, minimalist aesthetic that includes many touch-sensitive controls, though not as many as the brand’s all-electric ID.4 compact SUV. The touch controls worked surprisingly well with gloved hands even without touchscreen-compatible material on some fingertips. Still, the touch-sensitive climate-control bar is difficult to use at night because it’s not backlit, and I occasionally hit the wrong steering-wheel control by mistake.

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The Golf R’s dashboard and upper portion of the front doors are finished in soft-touch material, and the front doors have large bottleholders. A large bin in front of the shifter includes a wireless charging pad, but the storage bin under the front center armrest is small. The armrest is adjustable for height and length — a nice touch.

The standard 10-inch dashboard touchscreen includes controls for the climate system and heated and ventilated front seats, as well as the navigation and multimedia systems. The screen is intuitive, and it was easy to set up wireless Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity. The multimedia system also includes wireless Android Auto.

The standard front sport seats have substantial side bolsters, but a wide seating area means they don’t press against your sides too much. The fixed head restraints are integrated with the backrest, but they felt close enough to control head movement in a rear-end collision, which is their purpose. A low hood and thin front roof pillars contribute to very good forward visibility. Over-shoulder views are decent and rear visibility is also good. The side mirror housings have helpful blind spot warning indicators that are easy to see in your peripheral vision.

The rear seat is a bit upright, but overall space for adult passengers is adequate. The outboard rear seats have seat heaters, and the 60/40-split backrest folds nearly flat with the cargo floor. There’s a center pass-through to the cargo area, and the Golf R has 19.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the backseat up and 34.5 cubic feet with it down, according to Volkswagen’s measurements. (We didn’t get the opportunity to apply Cars.com’s methods to this vehicle.)

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Safety and Driver-Assist Features

As of publication, the Golf R hadn’t been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Standard active-safety features include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, lane-keeping assist, rear automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights and Travel Assist, the latter of which works from 0-95 mph and uses the lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control systems to center the car in its lane and manage vehicle speed.

Should You Buy the Golf R?

If you need one car to do it all — carry people, carry stuff and take on a winding back road — the Golf R could very well be that car. It’s rewarding to drive and has a measure of practicality you won’t find in many high-performance cars. However, the R’s price premium over a Golf GTI — $14,100 over the base version and $5,650 more than the GTI’s well-equipped Autobahn trim level — is steep. This will give some shoppers pause, but those who take the plunge will be happy they did.

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