The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is ready to overthrow the hottest hatchbacks that have been hogging headlines during its absence from our shores. Spawned from the improvements made to the upcoming Mk8 Golf GTI, the R-rated model has a more powerful 315-hp turbo-four and an all-wheel-drive system with a drift mode. We even named it to our 2022 Editors’ Choice list. While VW’s latest and greatest high-performance hatch still isn’t as showy as rivals like the Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai Veloster N, its more sophisticated appearance should only help catch its opponents off guard while attracting buyers who want a fast small car with low-key looks. A slew of exclusive equipment and subtle design details also work to separate it from the GTI, with which it shares a modern interior and myriad technology.
What’s New for 2022?
After being on hiatus since the 2019 model year, the Golf R returns for 2022. Its resurrection follows the release of the eighth-generation Golf GTI. With VW planning to stop selling the regular Golf hatchback and station wagons here, that leaves the GTI and the R as the only versions America will get. Thankfully, both are favorites of ours.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
Under the Golf R’s hood is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four-cylinder that makes 315 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque—up from 288 hp and 280 lb-ft in the last generation R. The engine pairs with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The standard 4Motion all-wheel-drive system features a rear differential that can actively distribute torque between the left and right rear wheels for improved handling. The Golf R’s selectable drive modes (Comfort, Sport, Race, Special, Drift, and Individual) can be activated by pressing an “R” button on the steering wheel. We’ve sampled the hatch’s Drift mode, which proved entertaining on slick surfaces, but it won’t replace a rear-drive muscle car’s fun-factor. Every model comes with a sport exhaust system, variable-ratio steering, and larger front disc brakes than before. It also rides on a set of 19-inch wheels shod with summer performance tires. During our first drive in Germany, the Golf R showed off the quickness and relentlessness of its strong engine, reactive dual-clutch automatic, and intelligent all-wheel-drive system. The version we drove was also equipped with the optional Performance package that adds two more drive modes, including an entertaining Drift mode that allows some tail-sliding antics. At our test track, our Golf R test car with the seven-speed automatic transmission blasted to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds, beating the 2021 Honda Civic Type R by 0.9 seconds.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA has estimated the most efficient version of the Golf R is the one with the automatic transmission, which earned ratings of 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Going with the manual transmission drops those numbers to 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, a worthy tradeoff in our opinion for the more engaging six-speed stick. We haven’t had a chance to run it on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy route, which is part of our extensive testing regimen, but when we do we’ll update this story with details. For more information about the Golf R’s fuel economy, visit the EPA’s website.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The Golf R mimics the GTI’s new cabin design, which provides a sportier aesthetic than the last-generation Golf. Both have a thick-rimmed steering wheel with touch-sensitive controls that operate a 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster with configurable layouts. Unlike the GTI, the Golf R isn’t available with plaid seat inserts, but it does boast bolstered front seats wrapped in nappa leather. These exclusive buckets have blue and carbon-look accents in the side sections as well as a blue “R” logo in the backrest. The other interior features include ambient lighting with 30 colors, stainless-steel pedals, and more carbon-look trim on the dashboard. The new Golf R also has impressive cargo space and a comfortable back seat.
Infotainment and Connectivity
As seen on the new GTI, the Golf R’s infotainment system will run through a 10.0-inch touchscreen situated in the center of the dashboard. Its secondary controls include touch-sensitive sliders versus physical knobs and buttons. Along with the obligatory charging ports, the system should be available with a Harman/Kardon premium stereo. We also expect popular content such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The new Golf R offers more driver-assistance technology than its predecessor, including blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist. For more information about the Golf R’s crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
- Standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking
- Standard lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
- Standard adaptive cruise control with semi-autonomous driving mode