VW’s Golf R is back with a more powerful engine and racetrack-tuned suspension


The Golf R (European model)


VW’s top performance model, the Golf R, has been on hiatus since 2019. But for the 2022 model year, it’s back and delivering more power, more technology, and a revised chassis tuned to excel on the racetrack. In other words, this Golf R should be a lot of fun to drive. How much better is this new one than the old? Well VW

says, this new Golf R will complete a lap of the Nürburgring racetrack in Germany, a high-performance benchmark test site, in just 7 minutes and 51 seconds. That’s a full 17 seconds quicker than the last one.

Muscular engine

The all-new VW Golf R doesn’t stray too far from its predecessor when it comes to the drivetrain. Like before, there will only be one engine choice, but it’s a good one. VW has upgraded the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder to deliver 315 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. The old Golf R made do with just 288 horsepower.

Driving purists will be thrilled to know that the newfound power can be routed through either a traditional 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed automated dual-clutch DSG. VW says that both enthusiasts and engineers that worked on the program pressed hard to keep that manual. And we’re glad they did.

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The new Golf with the DSG takes just 4.7 seconds to hit 100 km/h (62 mph) and on to a top speed of 155 mph. And slowing the hot hatch are huge 14.1-inch front disc brakes that are both lighter and backed by a new ABS braking system calibrated to provide improved pedal feel.

All-wheel traction

VW’s top-of-the-range Golf once again uses the all-wheel-drive system VW calls 4Motion. It’s a system that the automaker says can split the power equally from front to rear as needed to boost traction. But the big news is what happens when that torque reaches the rear axle. Instead of a conventional open or limited-slip differential, the new Golf R has a sophisticated torque-vectoring diff. Two electronically controlled clutches in that diff can open or close within milliseconds and transfer torque to each of the rear wheels in varying amounts to boost handling, traction, or both. It’s a feature that normally comes on performance cars costing much more. And speaking of traction, every Golf R will wear sticky 235/35R19 tires.

VW’s Golf R (European model)

Racetrack-tuned suspension

The new Golf R promises to handle twisty mountain roads and racetracks alike with more poise and capability than any Golf R before. Although this new one rides on the same corporate “MQB” vehicle architecture as the last one, there are serious upgrades to the suspension. The new springs lower Golf R by about an inch compared with the base Golf. And the springs and anti-roll bars at each end of the car are about 10% stiffer than the outgoing Golf R.

Engineers altered the camber of the MacPherson strut front suspension, so there’s increased cornering grip. And the dampers have been heavily modified over the ones used in the last Golf R. The car is better controlled when you turn the wheel quickly, says VW’s engineers.

A huge part of the new Golf R’s goodness should come from its upgraded steering system. Yes, the steering system is similar to that of the previous car, with a quick 2.2 steering turns to lock. But the engineers re-mapped the software that controls how it feels. They say the revision delivers more feedback with a more linear response.

Six performance modes

The 2022 VW Golf R gives the driver a good deal of flexibility in terms of dialing-in the personality of the car. VW has created six modes: Sport, Comfort, Race, Individual, Special, and Drift. And they are all controlled by the Vehicle Dynamics Manager (VDM), which is essentially the brains of the operation.

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The VDM can alter nearly every performance parameter, including the dampers, throttle, engine mapping, all-wheel-drive system, and the torque-vectoring rear differential. The car defaults to Sport mode, which VW says provides the best balance of performance and comfort for everyday use. But the two coolest profiles are Special and Drift.

Special, might as well be called “Nürburgring Mode” because that’s what it’s for. It’s a track mode that’s been designed specifically to excel on the famed German racetrack. VW says the damper settings here are a bit softer than in race mode, so help compensate for the undulating tarmac of the ‘Ring.

“It’s a weapon, says Benjamin Leuchter, VW’s Golf R development driver of the Special mode. “It makes it a lot of fun to drive on the track.”

Drift mode is another fun one that, just as the name suggests, should allow for YouTube-worthy power slides. But VW is quick to point out that it’s not for use on public roads.

Control at your fingertips

The Golf R has a new steering wheel too, with an “R” buttons to control all the driving modes. Most are accessed with one gentle push. Race mode requires a second squeeze. Unlike most of the other modes, Special and Drift modes keeps the Golf R in the gear you’ve chosen (if you’re using the DSG in manual mode) and won’t upshift when the engine hits redline.

The new Golf R’s interior is fully modern and screen-heavy with VW’s Digital Cockpit. The gauge cluster is fully reconfigurable. For example, the tach can become a linear bar that blinks as the driver gets close to redline, reminding you when it’s time to pull the paddle just like a real race machine. And the Digital Cockpit can also display tech like boost pressure, gearbox temperature, and torque distributions. And yes, there’s even a lap timer.

A year away

The new 5-door Golf R arrives here in the fall of 2021, fully loaded with options, including a sunroof. Color (there are only three: blue, white, and black) and transmission options are probably the only decisions a new Golf R buyer will ever have to make. We expect the 2022 VW Golf R to start at a price close to that of the last one, likely a bit above $41,000.

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VW says that for the very first time, it will launch the new GTI at the same time as the Golf R. So even though some Golf models may not make it to our shores, at least we’ll have two fun performance cars to choose from.

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