A couple weeks back, Volkswagen invited me up to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to drive the all-new 2022 VW Golf R in what the carmaker was calling "an ice drive." Needless to say, I was excited.
Alas, March weather in Michigan can be the ultimate crapshoot. The car thermometer read 72ºF when I left my home near Detroit, and even when I arrived at my destination four and a half hours due north, the pristine winter test course hadturned into apocalyptic slush.
Nonetheless, I did get behind the wheel of the Euro-spec version of the all-new 2022 Golf R for a bit. And even just weaving through a few cones was enough to tell that it’s a seriously impressive vehicle.
The Golf R is the top-spec apex predator of Volkswagen Golfs. It does not completely lose its practical, everyday Golf-ness, but “R” stands for racing, so the Golf R packs about 70 more horsepower, sharper tuning, sophisticated track technology and more aggressive styling — think bigger air intake and diffusers and a two-piece rear spoiler — than the relatively low-key GTI.
This new 2022 model is the fifth generation of the car, dating back to the legendary Golf R32 from 2004. It will be the first Golf R in the VW lineup since the Mk7 version departed in 2009, and it’s the fancier of the two versions of the Mk8 Golf Americans will have to choose from.
The new Golf R's major improvement is adding rear axle torque vectoring to the Golf R’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive. The standard 4Motion can send 50 percent of the torque to the rear wheels and splits it 50/50 between them; torque vectoring now lets the Golf R send up to 100 percent of the aftward torque to either wheel. The main upshot of that? Much tighter cornering.
Affirmative. With the above improvements, plus its bump of 27 hp to 315 hp and a special drive mode (included with the car) for the Nordschleife at the Nürburgring, the new Golf R lapped that famous test track in 7:51 in VW's internal testing. That’s a full 19 seconds faster than the last Golf R.
The rear axle torque vectoring enables the Golf R to offer a drift mode, which is new to the traditionally front-wheel-drive Golf. You’re not supposed to use it on public roads (and you have to confirm to the car that you’re not on them when you activate it).
Drift mode activated, the car kept its composure well going sideways — a bit better than my stomach did, certainly, while I was trying to drift repeatedly in circle repeatedly. (The massive brisket breakfast sandwich was a sub-optimal choice.)
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Many sports cars dispense with interior luxuries in the name of cutting weight, but VW doesn’t short-change the folks who are willing to pay nearly $50,000 for a fancy Golf which will probably be used as a daily driver. The sport seats are heated, ventilated and offer a special R-specific Nappa leather; you also get a heated steering wheel and a standard sunroof, which VW says customers demanded.
You'll need to be careful with your thumbs when driving. The Golf R boasts VW’s digital cockpit, which now includes haptic buttons on the steering wheel. If you aren’t an absolute surgeon with your hand placement, it can be quite easy to inadvertently turn things on and off when hustling the car (or even just driving around).
To ease distribution, VW is keeping Golf R ordering simple. You choose the color, and whether you want the six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG automatic transmission. Fin. All the other features are included.
VW says the Golf R should arrive in the U.S. during Q4 2021, about the same time as we get the Mk8 GTI.
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