Conclusion: Volkswagen’s 2022 Golf R is a refined gem, even if VW ditches base Golfs for SUVs

Volkswagen Golf R 2022.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Diamonds are the glittering result of hot carbon atoms under pressure. The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is also a brilliant result of the push, as the automaker narrows its car lineup in favor of SUVs.

The Mark 8 Golf R is a polished, accomplished and refined version of the manufacturer’s hallowed hot sedan. Like a well-cut jewel, the R is now sleeker than its predecessors, faster and more capable.

For VW performance driving enthusiasts, that’s good news, but the automaker is eliminating the base Golf TSI from the North American lineup. According to the company, the decision is strictly commercial.

Sales of the Golf have been declining since 2010, when the Jetta Mark 6 arrived cheaper than the Golf and began stealing buyers, said Thomas Tetzlaff, director of media relations for VW Canada. And now, with the company’s new focus on meeting market demand for SUVs, a choice had to be made.

Manufacturing capacity in Mexico is focused on building the new Taos compact SUV, meaning there was no longer a line available to build Golfs for the North American market.

“With demand for the Golf declining and Taos being a viable alternative for these customers, it made perfect sense to discontinue production of the Golf in favor of our all-new compact SUV,” Tetzlaff said.

Unlike the regular Golf, demand for the performance Golf R and its companion, the GTI, remains high. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $44,995 means the 2022 R requires some serious commitment. That’s a pretty significant price for a hot hatch – a segment that traditionally appeals to younger, less affluent buyers.

But the R appeals to a more mature and well-heeled set. These are pilots who grew up with pocket rockets, perhaps, and still feel the need for speed, but with a few added refinements.

This is where the R shines. He has a split personality. On the one hand, it can be your comfortable, travel-ready grand tourer with semi-autonomous driving features and modern conveniences like auto-dimming high beams, windshield wipers automatic, directional headlights and a well-designed and comfortable interior.

But his other personality is unleashed with a few touches. Activate Race Mode or engage Drift Mode and your tram transforms into a torquey rocket sled with kart driving. It makes people laugh and just begs to be driven on a race track.

Our tester’s manual transmission is near perfect, beautifully smooth and quick to shift. Even with winter tires, cornering is precise and you can accelerate out of corners much faster than expected. The car’s driving dynamics are superb, thanks in part to a new torque-vectoring system that will direct all the power to a single rear wheel when needed.

There really isn’t a competitor that rivals the Golf R. The Mercedes AMG A 35 has a similar engine with a bit less power, but doesn’t offer a manual transmission and is a bit less refined, even at a price suggested over $50,000.

As a happy driver of a 2012 Mark 6 Golf R, I took a look at both side-by-side. The Mark 8 has almost 60 more horsepower and the driving dynamics are remarkably similar. But if you don’t need advanced security systems and modern technology to make you happy, buying a used R might be the way to go.

The driver’s seat is electrically adjustable, but does not offer a high degree of comfort or support, with a short seating area and insufficient support.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

There’s a lot to be said for the simplicity of older models. In particular, they win hands down on 2022’s buttonless controls and all-digital cluster. This is the only place VW has to go back to the drawing board.

Trying to use the controls while driving is like playing touchscreen roulette. Aim your finger at an icon and hope it’s the one you hit as vibrations and bumps in the road are translated by the car’s stiff suspension in wide movements of centimeters, not millimeters. It is a frustrating game and not recommended while driving.

No such issues affect the 2012 analog. A recent search found them priced between $15,000 and $25,000 on the used market. However, one might be harder to secure than a new Mark 8. There are very few for sale.

And if you find one, it will likely have been driven hard, with potential maintenance issues.

My car, with 150,000 miles on it, costs about $500 a year for age-related issues like broken springs and oxygen sensors. On the other hand, I got VW’s old 12-year surface rust warranty, with new doors all around.

Opting for a new Golf R is the most sensible option. You get a new car, full warranty, no surprises, more power and better safety. Plus, you can choose which of the two personalities you want to drive on any given day.

Technical specifications

Volkswagen Golf R 2022

  • Base price: $44,995
  • Price as tested: $46,245
  • Motor: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo
  • Transmission: six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed direct transmission
  • Fuel consumption (litres/100 kilometres, city and highway combined): 10.2
  • Alternatives: Mercedes AMG A35 4Matic, Subaru WRX STi

Regards

More elegant and more sculpted, the Golf R 2022 still echoes the distinctive shape of its ancestors. The New Edition’s roof slopes slightly downward at the rear, removing some of its predecessor’s build, while retaining the spoiler and rear window vertically. It feels faster now and more aerodynamic.

Interior

Distinctly VW, the Golf R is austere, clean and visually quiet inside. Colorful and customizable ambient lighting allows for an injection of personality that can range from wild to wise. The driver’s seat is electrically adjustable, but does not offer a high degree of comfort or support, with a short seating area and insufficient support.

Distinctly VW, the Golf R is austere, clean and visually quiet inside.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Performance

The small EA888 two-liter engine in the Mark 8 has been further tweaked to deliver 315 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That’s a considerable increase over the Mark 6, with its 256 horsepower, and the Mark 7 with 296. But what matters is whether you can feel it, and the answer is yes. The car is still remarkably smooth and refined, but when you push the throttle it responds vigorously.

Technology

The 2022 Golf R comes with advanced safety systems and semi-autonomous driving features such as automatic cruise control, lane keeping and autonomous braking. Fortunately, these can be restricted to make the driving experience more direct, as they can be intrusive. Digital connectivity includes Apple and Android hands-free, although both refused to continue playing music after a call.

Cargo

Cargo capacity remains limited, although with the seats folded down there’s plenty of room for a bike or two more gear. As always, this small car is suitable for an active single person or a couple, but will be perfect for a family.

Cargo capacity remains limited, although with the seats folded down there’s plenty of room for a bike or two more gear.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

The verdict

The 2022 Golf R surpasses its predecessors with a refined look, improved power and technology. These benefits outweigh the minor design flaws and leave no doubt that this is a superior hot hatch and well worth it.

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