Driven: 2022 Volkswagen Golf R 2.0T – Fun Needlessly Complicated

If you wanted to characterize the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R as a Facebook relationship, you’d have to say it’s complicated. This spirited hot hatch is undeniably fun to drive, but unfortunately, VW’s heavy reliance on touch controls distracts from the joy of motoring.
2022 Volkswagen Golf R 2.0T 9 photos
Photo: Matt DeLorenzo/autoevolution
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VW has the mechanical parts down pat. The Golf R and its less expensive GTI sibling have a long history of providing responsive handling and performance in a compact footprint with a high utility quotient.

The look of this hatchback continues to be refined from generation to generation. The design is timeless, fresh and understated. Form follows function here and there is little in the way that distracts from this car’s mission to provide road-going thrills in a practical package.

Power for the Golf R comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter EA888 4-cylinder engine that’s been tweaked to produce 27 more horsepower than the previous model. The Golf R now makes 315 horsepower ad 295 lb-ft of torque delivered to all four wheels. Buyers can opt for either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, though stick shift models have engines that produce only 280 lb-ft of torque.

VW has also upgraded the all-wheel drive system using a new rear electronic rear differential with two multi-plate clutches. The setup allows up to 100 percent of the rear torque to one of the wheels for maximum grip in cornering. A new feature is a track-oriented drift mode that will also send all the torque to the outside rear wheel as well as a “Special” setting designed to maximize torque vectoring. The parameters for this mode were developed on Germany’s famed Nordschleife circuit at the Nürburgring.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R 2\.0T
Photo: Matt DeLorenzo/autoevolution
Teamed with adaptive suspension, the Golf R is as comfortable as it’s surefooted. That’s not to say the ride is soft, rather, it’s taut so you are aware of uneven surfaces, but it’s not as bone jarring as other German sport sedans. Further adding to the engaging nature of the Golf R is the smooth-shifting 6-speed manual. While the 7-speed DSG provides faster shifts, it’s satisfying to be able to row through gears manually.

Of note is the steering, which uses a progressive variable rate rack-and-pinion setup that provides excellent feedback and a quick action that keeps up with the car’s fine-tuned suspension. All these elements--the slick manual gearbox, ample power and torque, eager handling, powerful brakes, and almost telepathic steering response—combine to make the driver one with the car. Vehicles this engaging are few and far between.

Where the relationship begins to get complicated with the VW Golf R is in the interface between the driver and machine. The layout is conventional with a 10.25-inch instrument display in front of the driver and a center-mounted 10-inch screen. However, VW relies almost exclusively on capacitive touch buttons and surfaces to access vehicle systems. Further complicating matters is the screen itself can be figured in three different views with 21 options for things like navigation, car status, driving data and phone info.

Granted, our test drives were for a limited time, and we didn’t go through all the necessary steps an owner would go through to set up all the displays and options to his or her liking. And after doing that heavy lift, perhaps operation of many of the controls would become more intuitive.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R 2\.0T
Photo: Matt DeLorenzo/autoevolution
But in a car that promises so much in term of an enjoyable driving experience, perhaps a little less high-tech approach and more easy-to-use buttons and knobs would complement rather than distract from the Golf R’s athleticism. Adding to the irritation factor of trying to find and master the touch on the various controls are the little suggestions that flash up in the instrument cluster. Like when in Comfort mode (you can select from Comfort, Sport, Race, Drift, Special and Custom), the car gives a hint not to declutch above 1,300 rpm or a little reminder to check what gear you’re in. If you know how to drive a manual, additional tutoring isn’t that necessary, thank you very much.

With its enhanced power, standard all-wheel drive and full complement of high-tech driver assists and features ranging from adaptive cruise control to lane-keeping assist, the Golf R has become the flagship of the Golf family. It comes with a long list of standard features including a panoramic sunroof, tri-zone climate control, Nappa leather upholstery, heated/ventilated front seats and heated outboard positions in the rear. The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R comes fully equipped and it’s priced that way with a sticker of $44,090 plus $1,095 delivery.

That price is half again what you’d pay for the front-drive 241-horsepower GTI. The digital control complications aside, the Golf R’s performance is well worth the price.
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