Even though we’d contend that a Volkswagen Golf GTI is enough car for anyone who loves driving, needs something practical, and wants to spend normal-car money, there is a subset of the enthusiast population for whom the just-right turbocharged GTI hatchback is just a little too tame. For those few who couldn’t possibly settle for one of the best cars on sale, Volkswagen has supplied the more powerful, more expensive, all-wheel-drive Golf R. Now, nipping at the all-new GTI’s heels (and fresh off a brief hiatus in the U.S. ) comes a new Golf R, and it better justifies its extra cost and weight with a new boast: It is the most powerful production Golf ever, edging out the new Golf GTI Clubsport.
Wait, the New Golf R Has How Much Power?!
As you might expect, the 2022 Golf R is packing a modified version of the now-common EA888 turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that also powers the eighth-generation Golf GTI. The R’s boosted inline-four makes 315 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque from just 2,100 rpm; that’s 27 more horsepower and 30 more lb-ft of torque than the last Golf R had and 74 more ponies more than you get in the 2021 Golf GTI. It also just outguns the 306-hp Honda Civic Type R.
There are other deliciously nerdy details about this engine, too, like the fact that it features variable valve timing on both the exhaust and intake cams and a fully-electronic coolant regulator that shortens engine warm up times and reduces fuel consumption. It also can be paired with a manual transmission at launch, unlike the previous-generation Golf R.
Yes, you read that right. The manual isn’t dead just yet. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission will be available for those who prefer not to row their own gears. As with all R-badged VW machines—and the key differentiator between the Golf R and the GTI—the new Golf R sends engine torque to all four wheels via all-wheel drive. Put all that together and the Golf R should sprint from zero to 60 mph in as little as 4.7 seconds (with the quick-shifting DSG automatic) and a hit top speed of 155 mph (top speed is the same with either transmission).
Beyond the Updated Engine, More Good News
The Golf R’s 4Motion AWD system has been overhauled and now incorporates a torque-vectoring rear differential, meaning up to 100 percent of engine torque sent to the rear axle can be sent to a single wheel if traction needs dictate. That means that if you’re exiting, say, a tight right-hand bend, the outside left rear wheel will get more power than the inner one to help vector the Golf R through the bend and scoot it out the other side as quickly as possible.
As expected, the R’s suspension is beefed up relative to its humbler Golf brethren. The car sits 0.8-inch lower than the standard Golf and is even lower than the MkVIII GTI. Spring rates front and rear are both up 10 percent compared to the old R, and the anti-roll bar is 10-percent stiffer, too. An aluminum front subframe shaves about 7 pounds off the nose, and there are new wheel hubs and rear transverse link mounts and hub carriers. The suspension layout retains a strut design up front with a multi-link setup in the rear.
VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control (or DCC, VW-speak for electronically adjustable suspension dampers) has also been updated and now works in conjunction with the Vehicle Dynamics Manager that was introduced in the new GTI. That central brain works with the steering, traction control, and all-wheel-drive systems to set the R up for various handling feats.
Hopefully, the DCC tuning helps eliminate some of the understeer we noted when we tested the MkVII R (the fancy rear differential should help, too). The opposite of understeer is drifting, however, and, guess what, the new Golf R has its very own “Drift Mode” to really put a pin in any understeer—at least while that drive mode is selected. You see, in drift mode, engine power is sent to the rear axle more aggressively, very similar to how the (also-AWD) Ford Focus RS could when it came out back in 2015 with its own similar slide-promoting programming. Drivers can access this hooligan mode via the “R” button on the steering wheel, which also cycles the DCC’s mood between Comfort, Sport, Race, Individual, and Special modes in addition to Drift.
It’s Still Low-Key Chill
The new R’s cabin is mostly standard GTI fare, but with a number of R badges strewn about the place so there’s no mistaking which Golf you’re in. Volkswagen’s digital driver’s display has been R-ified and has a special digital rev counter that blinks at you when it’s nearing time to upshift. It can also show other information such as turbo boost pressure, gearbox temperature, torque output, horsepower, and a G-meter.
Every Golf R includes a 10.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system to compliment the fully digital gauge cluster display, and while the bucket seats are similar to the ones in the GTI, they’re lined in Nappa leather instead of tartan cloth or regular leather. There also is a carbon-look dash treatment, stainless steel pedals, and 30 ambient lighting color options. As ever, the Golf R’s interior is subtly upscale, handsome, and unpretentious—at least compared to, say, the Honda Civic Type R’s, which has brick-red front seats that don’t match the rears and other flashy touches.
That same, more mature persona is mirrored on the exterior. While arguably tame parked next to the winged, vented, bristled-hedgehog-holding-its-breath Civic Type R, this new Golf R is without doubt the most aggressive-looking of the breed to date. The front bumper with larger intakes, the door sills, rear diffuser, taller rear wing, and large quad exhaust outlets all give the new car a certain menace that was missing from the old car. It’s safe to say no one is going to mistake this for a GTI, but the non-car-obsessed might still mistake it for a regular Golf hatch. The Golf R also gets 19-inch wheels wrapped in summer tires—VW hasn’t said exactly which tires the R will run, however; expect something from either Michelin or Continental.
In all, the MkVIII Golf-based R represents the biggest step up from the GTI in the model’s 18-year history (going back to the MkIV R32). As a result, you can expect the gap in pricing between the two performance-minded Golfs to grow in lockstep. Expect to fork over something north of $40,000 when this bad boy finally makes its way to the states in the second half of 2021 as a 2022 model-year offering.