Review: The 2022 Golf R may be racing toward extinction

Review: The 2022 Golf R may be racing toward extinction

The Volkswagen Golf is running out of strokes.

The compact hatchback that was launched in 1974 to succeed the Beetle, and was once known as the Rabbit in the U.S., has entered its eighth generation. But a ninth is not guaranteed.

Volkswagen Passenger Cars CEO Thomas Schäfe recently told Germany’s Welt that the company will decide next year whether it will develop a new one to debut later in the decade, or discontinue the model as the automaker shifts toward electric vehicles.

It’s already trimmed the Golf lineup in the United States down to a pair of sporty enthusiast versions, the GTI and Golf R, while allowing the Taos SUV to fill the economy car role.


The front-wheel-drive GTI has been a mainstay since the Golf’s early days, while the top of the line all-wheel-drive Golf R line is celebrating its 20th anniversary, but has only been available in the U.S. since 2008.

The Golf R stormed into 2022 with a 315 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, making it the most powerful Golf ever sold in the U.S. Volkswagen is offering the German-built car as a fully-loaded model that starts at $45,385, but can only be ordered in white, black or blue.

It comes with a six-speed manual transmission and the only mechanical option is a seven-speed automatic for $800, while a 20th Anniversary Edition appearance package can be added to blue cars for $700. A computer controlled suspension system is standard along with a set of low-profile performance tires mounted to 19-inch wheels, upgraded brakes and deep front bucket seats.

The Golf R is otherwise very much a Golf with a practical four-door hatchback body. There’s plenty of room for tall drivers and a spacious cargo area, but the legs of rear seat passengers are at the mercy of those who are sitting in front of them. It’s not terribly luxurious for the price, but very techy. The Golf has followed the lead of VW’s electric cars by eliminating most knobs and buttons in favor of a touchscreen and capacitive touch-sensitve pads and sliders on the dashboard.

This isn’t necessarily for the better, as the sliders beneath the screen for volume and temperature aren’t that responsive and some features, including the climate controls, require dives into on-screen menus to operate. The steering wheel also has a collection of touch pads and sliders, although they double as buttons. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Smartphone integration are included, as is a full suite of electronic driver aids including lane-centering adaptive cruise control.

That’s all just a distraction from the Golf R’s mission, which is to be driven enthusiastically. It will accelerate to 60 mph in well under five seconds with the quick shifts of the dual-clutch automatic in our test car. It also has one of the quickest steering systems of any car today, the wheel requiring less than to turns to go from full left to full right.

The experience is also fully customizable, with adjustments available for the firmness of the shocks, responsive of the drivetrain and the heaviness of the steering feel. An R button on the steering wheel throws them all into a pre-configured race mode with the most aggressive settings.


It’s sharp as a tack like this and would be a demon at an autocross or track day, but is a bit harsh on a bumpy road. For that, there’s a setting inspired Germany’s Nurburgring track, which is a nearly 13-mile-long ribbon of pavement that’s more like a winding, heaving mountain road than a racing circuit. It mixes the racy drivetrain with soft shocks and is best for the real world most of the time.

VW also programmed a Drift mode that’s only meant for track use. It reduces the stability control’s intervention while sending more power to the rear wheels and distributing it in a way that makes it easier to perform smoky power slides. Slamming on the gas pedal in this setting literally kicks the tail out and is very much a kick.

It’s all accompanied by a gravelly, digitally enhanced engine and exhaust soundtrack that changes volume depending on the mode you’re in. The normal Harmon-Kardon audio system is excellent and backed up by a round subwoofer that fits under the cargo bay floor where the spare would normally be found.

You may find yourself wanting one some day, because the rubber band-thin tires are punishing on potholes and ruts and ripe for a flat, minor ones of which can be repaired with the included flat kit and pump. Too bad, because its size and outward visibility makes it a great city car.

Pricey, very hot hatchbacks like the Golf R cater to a specific and relatively small audience, but come with one major advantage over more dedicated sports cars. Efficiency. Despite all the speed on tap, it is rated at 30 mpg highway and often exceeds that.

It may not be an economy car, but its more economical with fuel than some are, just perhaps not enough to outrun the future.


2022 Volkswagen Golf R

Base price: $45,385

As tested: $46,185

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door all-wheel-drive hatcbhack

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

Power: 315 hp, 295 lb-ft

MPG: 23 city/30 hwy

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