Volkswagen’s outgoing ‘Mark 7′ GTI, and Golf R were, to me and to many others, near perfection. Over decades, VW refined and refined the hot (and hotter) hatchbacks to where they were formulaically fantastic drivers’ cars, just as happy to bumble around a city as they were to be ripped around a racetrack. My hope, then, was that the new Mk8 2022 Volkswagen Golf R would continue that trend of being so spot on, but slightly more modern.
After spending a week in one, I’d still rather have a Mk7.5. Sorry, VW. Let’s talk about why.
The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is the hottest Golf variant, now in its fifth iteration if you count the 2004 Volkswagen R32 as the first “Golf R” in spirit. And what makes a Golf R? In this case, start with a GTI and add all wheel drive, a torque-vectoring rear differential and adaptive dampers. Crank up the boost on the 2.0-liter turbo four so it produces 315 horsepower and pair it to your choice of a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic. Torque output of the juiced-up EA888 varies by transmission, either 280 lb-ft with the manual or 295 lb-ft with the DSG.
Every Mk8 Golf R (and GTI) is on VW’s updated MQB platform, which brings with it new electronics and greater chassis rigidity over the Mk7.5 Golf R. Stiffer spring rates and sway bars combine with extra negative camber to, theoretically, help handling. There’s a variable-ratio steering rack, and brakes are upsized, with 14.1″ front rotors and 12.2″ rears.
On paper, then, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is ‘better’ than its predecessor in every way. It’s faster, stiffer, sharper, and smarter, with VW’s latest IQ.Drive driver assistance tech standard. It’s still one of the best Jekyll-and-Hyde cars on the market, presenting “grown up” enough to take to a suit-and-tie client meeting on Friday, yet sporty enough to hit back roads in a t-shirt and shorts the following morning. It’s practical, too, as hatchbacks are. Throw in its overall size, and the Golf R appears to be the perfect one-car solution for an enthusiast.
Unfortunately, VW chose the same style of HMI – Human/Machine Interaction – as they did on their ID.4 electric crossover. Nearly every control in the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is touch-based. The sound system and HVAC controls? Touch. The headlights? Touch. The sunroof? Swipe the touch sensor. The steering wheel controls? Touch panels with haptic feedback. At least the window switches and mirror controls are real.
The new Golf R drives well. At 3,481 pounds, it’s nearly 200 pounds heavier than the Mk7.5 R and feels less flingable, but it’s still willing to be hustled. And hustle it I did, taking it for a final “test run” of our Hot Girl Summer road rally drive route, sending it up and down mountain roads with varying degrees of intensity.
Aside from a typical-VW bit of vagueness in the manual transmission’s shifter, the 94-mile route was a great time. Adaptive suspension is comfortable on the highway and precise when things get twisty. VW offers some typical preset suspension options (Comfort, Sport, that sort of thing) and a wildly-detailed option to fine-tune the whole thing on the center touchscreen. Neat, but not something I felt like I could tune better than their engineers.
Steering and rotation? Also good. Understeer is basically nonexistent, between the all-wheel drive and the rear diff moving power left to right. Power is made throughout the engine’s rev range, and boost comes in low with minimal lag. The Golf R is a fun, enjoyable car when your focus is narrowed, intent on making it through the corner and setting up for the next.
Zoom out a bit once you leave the twisties, though, and the way you interact with the Golf R is unpleasant. Touch controls are distracting and require you to take your eyes off the road. Positioning of some controls means I turned up the heat when I meant to pause my music on CarPlay. Operating the sunroof took multiple swipes – what was so wrong with a button?
Certain vehicle settings – notably, those for drive modes and driver assistance – can be accessed using two different buttons, but only one of the two methods of access allows you to change settings if you are moving. It’s all, as I said in my ID.4 review, a bit of innovation for innovation’s sake – and perhaps a bit cheaper to build instead of physical, clicky buttons. But behind the wheel, I don’t understand what benefits come with the changes VW made.
For the die-hard VW fans, the Mk8 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is still a good car to drive. I’m glad it exists and I’m glad Volkswagen continues to offer a manual transmission alongside their fabulous DSG. But as an overall package, it’s a bit of a miss for me.