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2022 Volkswagen Golf R First Drive Review: The Hot Hatch For Adults

Watching the leaves change color never gets old, especially for this Florida boy. And arguably one of the best places to do that in the US is on the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway. The snaking stretch of pavement extends 469 miles from North Carolina into Virginia, and beyond the absolutely stunning scenery, it’s one of the best driving roads you’ll find east of the Mississippi.

You can enjoy the twisty tarmac and changing colors of the Parkway in any vehicle really, but the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R makes the hues just a little more vivid. With a powerful engine, impressive dynamics, and handsome looks, this hot hatchback has all the right pieces to make a standout impression – particularly in a straight line.

Quick Stats2022 Volkswagen Golf R
Engine:Turbocharged 2.0-liter I4
Output:315 Horsepower / 295 Pound-Feet
0-60 MPH:4.7 Seconds
Base Price:$43,645 + $995 Destination
As-Tested Price:$45,440

2022 Volkswagen Golf R First Drive Review2022 Volkswagen Golf R First Drive Review

Power That Impresses

The Golf R’s turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four lays down power better than any car in the class, delivering 315 horsepower and 295 pound-feet directly to your right foot. Those figures represent a big bump over last year’s 288 horses and 280 pound-feet, and they make the new Golf R more powerful than the Honda Civic Type R and the Hyundai Veloster N by a good margin. Maximum twist arrives at a generous 1,900 RPM with the manual transmission (2,000 RPM with the DSG), while 60 miles per hour happens in just 4.7 seconds.

The Golf R blasts off the line with impressive enthusiasm, its 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and summer tires (235/35) easily clutching the cold, damp pavement of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The initial jolt of power is awesome, and it will forcibly shove you and all four passengers into their seatbacks. But what’s even better is how well the Golf R maintains that pull all the way up to redline – it never runs out of steam.

That powertrain comes with your choice of two fine (but not great) transmissions: a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG. The row-your-own option has long throws and a mushy catch point, which makes it far less appealing than Honda’s near-perfect shifter in the Civic Type R. And the Golf’s dual-clutch option doesn’t feel as crisp or precise as what the Veloster N offers.2022 Volkswagen Golf R First Drive Review2022 Volkswagen Golf R First Drive Review2022 Volkswagen Golf R First Drive Review

Dynamic Dilution

More disappointingly, the Golf R doesn’t have the same dynamic allure as the Civic Type R or Veloster N when the going gets twisty. The progressive variable-ratio steering, as with most setups, adds more or less heft depending on the drive mode, with Race mode being the heaviest setting. The difference, though, is that the electric steering motor also adjusts the rate depending on how slow or fast the car is moving, or how much you’re torquing the wheel.

So when puttering around the hotel parking lot in Normal mode, for example, the steering felt extremely light, responding to the car’s low-speed movements with limited interference and allowing me to turn the wheel with one finger. Once on the Parkway and with Race mode activated, the variable setup added more weight to the steering to account for the more aggressive driving style.

The problem was the additional weightiness didn’t result in more road feel; the hard leather-wrapped steering wheel only provided a preview of what the tires were doing. The electronic nannies within the rack clearly handled most of the hard work, while I felt like I was flinging the Golf R around in a Forza video game, longing for the tactility of the Civic or Veloster at every turn.

That’s not to say the Golf R doesn’t still handle with exceptional composure – it does. VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control (or DCC) and adaptive dampers come standard on this model for 2022, which means the Golf R corners with pinpoint accuracy.

The Golf R doesn’t have the same dynamic allure as the Civic Type R or Veloster N when the going gets twisty.

The control arms and roll bar are both 10-percent stiffer than they were last year, which means the ride is occasionally harsh, but it also yields perfect body control and flat cornering in even the trickiest, tightest roads North Carolina has to offer. And although the Golf R is all-wheel drive, the new-for-2022 rear differential can send up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels, and then transfer 100 percent of that from one side to the other, for a more balanced driving feel.

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