First drive: 2022 VW Golf R

Volkswagen’s Mark 8 2022 Golf R has once again upped the ante in the hot hatch game. The pint-sized powerhouse is a near perfect example of what small sports cars can be.

As the happy owner of a Mark 6 Golf R, I was keen to see how VW’s halo AWD sportscar has changed. And I am absolutely delighted. The 2022 R is pure joy to drive.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

It’s thoroughly modern, still very German, but has relaxed enough to make hooning part of its personality. Seriously, it’s got drift mode!

This is a huge improvement over the previous generations. The Mark 8 Golf R has split personalities – it’s a refined, elegant daily driver and a barely contained track car in one. You get to choose which one you drive.

VW has brought the R to market in Canada with just one option – a sunroof – which adds $1,250 to the base price of $44,995. At the moment, its arrival date in Canadian dealerships is still TBD.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

Powertrain: The R is available with a six-speed manual or 7-speed DSG transmission. They are paired with an updated version of the EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, producing 315 horsepower.

Drive: The Golf R stands head and shoulders above its stablemate, the GTI, in driving performance. The small premium you pay in dollars gets you better acceleration, better handling, and the benefits of all-wheel drive.

The Golf R is willing, compliant and eager to please. It achieves this not just with 315 horsepower (27 more than before) and 295 pound-feet of torque, although those alone are giggle inducing in a straight line.

It’s in the curves, however, that the clever new rear-axle torque vectoring system really makes the R shine. It will put 100 percent of the rear wheel power to one side or the other, depending on what you are trying to do.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

According to VW, “in a typical corner, the system can direct more power to “over drive” the wheel on the outside of the curve in a matter of milliseconds, reducing the cornering radius.” According to the seat of my pants, it creates kart-like turn in and allows for throttle steer and much quicker cornering.

The R comes with 5 drive programs, plus the ability to build your own. In addition to Race and Drift, the special Nürburgring tuning is designed to suck up the bumps and twists of the famed ‘Green Hell’ track in Germany, while still providing quick power and torque. When you select it, the display screen changes to green, a cute touch, and the idle rpm climbs by 500. Likewise the exhaust becomes more vocal, letting off satisfying snorts and burps.

Volkswagen Canada product planning director Patrick Danielson says the Nürburgring tune is ideal for driving bumpier Canadian roads. In our test drive it was the most entertaining, yet comfortable mode to use.

Exterior: The changes in appearance for the Mark 8 car are incremental. It has retained its familiar lines and shape, but has become sleeker and sportier looking.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

The R boasts a blue grille line and blue calipers and more aggressive front and rear bumper diffusers. It’s also got a distinctive rear end with a two-piece spoiler and four exhaust tips. Sadly, it is only available in black, white and blue.

Interior: Dropping into the driver’s seat of the R feels like coming home. It’s instantly comfortable, with an easy driving position, chunky but sleek steering wheel, and the shifter in the right place.

A couple quibbles – the cup holder in the manual is quite useless except for maybe an espresso cup. Anything taller will be in the way of your elbow when shifting. Likewise, the selector in the DSG versions is weird. It’s a like a little thumb poking up out of the console.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

And, where’s the handbrake? Still feels funny to be driving a hot hatch that doesn’t have an analog one, especially on the R, with its drift mode.

Infotainment: The knob-free interior of the R may require adaptation for some drivers. It’s not yet instinctive to reach for the touch screen instead of a button to adjust the cabin temperature, for example. However, the nearly infinite customization possibilities for both the touchscreen infotainment display and the instrument cluster zone mean that after a bit of tweaking you can have exactly the setup you like, with shortcuts to all your commonly used functions at a touch.

Conclusion: The Golf R will not disappoint drivers looking for a fast, amenable and attractive ride. It will eagerly take you to the track, spend all day delighting you with its drift or race antics, and then get you home again in comfort.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R
Price as tested: $46,245.00
Freight: $1,750.00
Configuration: Front engine/All-wheel drive;
Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder; 6-speed manual or 7-speed DSG
Power/torque: 315 horsepower/ 295 lb-ft of torque
Fuel (capacity): Premium (55L)
Combined fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): 10.2
Warranties: 4yr/80,000km comprehensive, 5yr/100,000km powertrain
Competitors: Mercedes AMG A35 4Matic, Subaru WRX STi

Link: Volkswagen Canada

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