top of page
  • Writer's pictureMitchell Weitzman

2022 Volkswagen Golf R Review: More is less

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

A recipe for greatness that comes up short.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R review

2022 VW Golf Mk8 R review with The Road Beat.

Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman.

A compact hatchback with over 300 horsepower, all-wheel drive, a fancy dual-clutch transmission, and one that's been honed and tested on the Nurburgring - Should be a recipe for greatness, right? Or perhaps a curse, brewed in the same cauldron by the witches of Macbeth. There is greatness destined here, but at what cost? There sure is a tangible cost, yes, to the tune of a staggering $45,885...for a VW Golf. The specs are exciting, though, so how it could possibly be anything short of ludicrously entertaining?

The Golf R is the result of being so competent that it becomes, well, boring. An exciting machine this should be, but the emotions of what drives enthusiasts is where the Golf R does not fully deliver. Similar to laboratory boffins designing the most beautiful man or woman and then forgetting to give them a personality, VW has indulged ability, but removed involvement and the notion of fun. My tester was a dual-clutch car, and I have no doubt the manual that is available would improve interaction, but I'm afraid a manual won't save this car, especially when I enjoyed the cheaper Golf GTI so much and that also had the same dual-clutch. So where does the new Mk8 R go wrong?

2022 Volkswagen Golf R exterior rear

One of the headlining figures for the Golf R is the 315-horsepower that its 2-liter turbocharged engine produces. Paired to AWD and the potent dual-clutch 'box with launch control, prospects ought to be alluring. I've seen other magazines report 0-60 MPH runs below four seconds, a time that matches $200,000 supercars from 15 years ago - ballistically quick in other words. However, I never found the speed of the Golf R to be anywhere near that. With launch control working, I never saw a 0-60 MPH under four and half seconds, and after that benchmark speed, acceleration waned considerably. With a couple friends in the car, not a single one of them thought the car felt fast. Perhaps my R I tested had bad gasoline? But even after adding additional gallons later, it wasn't like that set the genie free either.

Now, I'm not calling the Golf R slow, but it certainly isn't nearly as quick as others have reported or have led you to believe. The biggest tell is that the Golf GTI I tested a few weeks prior, which has some 70 less horsepower on the spec sheet, felt just as quick at any point in its rev range. Maybe one day I'll get to try another R to see if mine was indeed lacking, but the tester I was sent did not impress on the speed front at all.

Mk8 VW Golf R interior

You might have heard about the publicized 'drift mode' that the Golf R has, so that must be good, yeah? True, you can turn your AWD Golf R into a pseudo RWD car for a so-called drift mode (it sends only half the power to the rear, but it can direct it all to the outside tire to easily 'overwhelm' the rubber). Does it work? Yes, it'll drift and power oversteer pretty authentically for a hatchback, but there's a catch, of course. At speeds over 30 MPH, the drift mode is less usable and best recommended to be left off. Leaving a corner with the power pinned and flicking upshifts at the redline through the first few gears, I was met with a wag from the rear at each upshift, like a dog's tail when excited, leading me to countersteer while going straight. This greasy weasel of a rear axle is not for the faint of heart and you need to be prepared. If you thought torquesteer in a front-drive car was bad, wait until you feel torquesteer from the rear! So yes, it can drift, but don't use drift mode anywhere else.

So what about attacking back roads? Surely a car with an 'R' badge attached to it ought to be at home in this setting. And it is, but just not in the way you would hope. With its firm, sporting intent, and all-wheel drive security and grip, the R can be devastatingly effective on b-roads; If you know what you're doing, you can easily embarrass the casual Sunday-supercar-owner. Yet, there was little joy in backroad barnstorming, being a boring affair, free from passion; I found it akin to an old arcade style racing game, button smashing on a PlayStation 2 controller if you will. Furthermore, the car's electronic safety measures were far too intrusive, often limiting power before any slip had even occurred. Okay, so let's switch this hatch into the special 'Nurburgring mode' via the center display, that ought to do the trick. This is a car, after all, famous for a quick 'Ring time, so this mode must be exceptional. Except it isn't. Responses are heightened, but again even in this track mode, the aggression exhibited by the safety nannies was beyond aggravating, not letting any freedom before intervention. I seriously doubt this was the mode that was used to set a fast lap at the Nurburgring...

Volkswagen Golf R exterior photo

These big brother antics are made worse by noticeable turbo lag when shifting manually. At a decent pace, I found myself turning in and eager to get on the throttle and utilize the all-wheel drive to whizz me along. Instead, power is restricted by traction control (even in track mode), and then you're left having no idea when it will come because once the nannies release you, the turbo has stopped spooling and now needs to rebuild boost pressure. The only caveat I could think that might help is that my tester did wear Hankook summer tires, which I've had good experiences with in other cars, but I would recommend getting Michelins on yours instead for added tactility and grip.

The only real solution for some fun in this car then, is to disable traction and stability controls completely, but how many are going to be comfortable doing that in the real world where variables are endless and without gravel traps to protect you? I did try it in this way, and it is improved, yet the R is still not as malleable as the front-wheel drive GTI when you get aggressive with the wheel, lacking flickability and overall fun factor of its junior. I'm sorry to say it, but the Golf R is just not nearly as fun as it could and should have been. Clinical might be the best term for it, and I don't want clinical in a performance car. But maybe this is exactly what you're looking for in a vehicle; easy and accessible speed, albeit up to a limited point. Fast, but never entirely fun.

There are some good points to mention, like seats that do a great job holding you in place and the fuel economy. During my time with the Golf R, I averaged a decent 26 MPG and saw about 32 on the highway. These are not bad numbers for a car with this much claimed horsepower, though a new Toyota Supra 3.0 gets even better with more power. The other nicety is the practicality that a squared-off hatchback brings, with plenty of cargo and back seat space for a vehicle that is only 170" long.

MK8 VW golf r interior rear seats

Ready for more negatives, though? For a vehicle over $45,000, the interior just doesn't cut it, sharing many materials with the now discontinued $25,000 base Golf; This simply is not a cabin worthy of the price tag. Also, I wrote about this is in detail with the also-new MK8 Golf GTI, but the center display/infotainment system is terrible. I believe it was a system designed by programmers who then never tried actually using it themselves. It's slow, disorganized, and with too much stuffed into it (note the lack of physical buttons on the dash). Just abysmal.

Then there's the touch-sensitive steering wheel buttons that work only half the time you want them to, and many times that you don't want them to. Ergh. And why is the switch for the climate control shortened to a dumb 'clima' instead of climate? The center console storage also makes a nasty sound, and, you have to raise it all the way up before it can close. Not even holding the lever as a clutch defeats this, which would make sense, but perhaps sense doesn’t translate well in German.

Wow, it sounds like I really hate this car, but it's more that it could have been so good. Instead, it's overpriced, not as fast as advertised in the real world, and not all that fun on the roads where it should be. I enjoyed driving the cheaper GTI more and found it just as fast when it comes to power despite the lower horsepower. I'd much rather point a buyer in the direction of a GTI and save them nearly $10,000 while doing so. As a reasonably quick, small AWD car, however, it doesn't have much in competition. You could look at a base Audi S3 or Mercedes CLA35 AMG, and there's also the BMW 230xi (a 2 door coupe) instead. The only way I can see this as being recommended is if you absolutely require an AWD vehicle based on your climate and don’t want a Subaru. Viewed as a performance car, though, there are definitely better and more involving cars for the money (and for even less - looking at you, Hyundai Elantra N). Perhaps the biggest threat is yet to come, with Toyota's highly praised AWD Corolla GR-Four now imminent, and also don't discount the new Civic Type R.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

As-tested price: $45,885

mk8 volkswagen golf r exterior


bottom of page