Review: 2022 VW Golf R proves whatever the weather, it's a car that can still thrill

2022 VW Golf R
Every now and then, a car comes along that not only does what it says on the tin, but simply blows it out of the water. Quite frankly, the new VW (Mk 8) Golf R is just such a car. Photo credit: Tarmac Life

By Dave McLeod of Tarmac Life

Every now and then, a car comes along that not only does what it says on the tin, but simply blows it out of the water. Quite frankly, the new VW (Mk 8) Golf R is just such a car. 

It's technologically advanced, extremely fun to drive and cements itself as THE go-to hot hatch. Around a month ago, I attended the local launch, but VW New Zealand felt I should spend a little more time with this hypnotic hatch - oh, go on then.

The launch itself had us whizzing around Pukekohe racetrack, dancing between slalom cones, drag racing and for some (as I was particularly bad), drifting too. But is the new Golf R as much fun away from closed roads, in the middle of winter and with the rain a constant companion? Spoiler alert - yes!

The Golf R sits in the middle of Vdub's new R trio, resting snugly between the Tiguan and the T-Roc. With its increased performance and playful attitude, it undoubtedly seeks to steal the hearts of the R's historical cult following and woo the 'Wookies' (a global fan club to do with the R's exhaust note, sounding like Chewy from Star Wars).

My review model came in Lapiz Blue; it's a hero colour for the R and contrasts well with the chrome and piano black accents. Its silhouette is still classic Golf, but the lower stance looks more planted than a regular Mk 8, with its 19-inch Estoril alloy wheels boasting an aggressive negative camber and quad tailpipes at the rear.

2022 VW Golf R
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

The new Golf R's 'racing-refined' exterior has been extended to the cabin with Nappa leather front seats with blue R insignias and a leather-wrapped, multifunction sports steering wheel; again with hints of blue (there are blue highlights throughout). The 10-inch infotainment screen/10.25-inch instrument cluster combo come with a plethora of VW driving and safety features, and there are a number of R-specific performance gauges and driving information available should you wish to know what the likes of g's, torque and temp is going on.

As I said, Auckland weather decided to only lay on rain while I had the keys to the new Golf R, but that simply added to the fun. When not in Sport, Race or Drift mode, the Golf R acts like a firmish riding hatch and with its R trim, could be mistaken for an R-Line Golf; but all gloves are off when the driving modes head north.

2022 VW Golf R
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Behind the scenes, the Golf R has had extensive ride and handling upgrades, all designed to work hand-in-hand with its powerful 2.0L TSI petrol engine (235kW of power/400 Nm of torque). Even on sodden (or is that sodding) Auckland tarmac, the 4MOTION AWD with R-Performance Torque Vectoring ensures that sub five seconds 0-100km/h is achievable and corners can be met with the aggression of a rottweiler.

With numerous sports or performance cars, the thought of engaging 'Race' on a wet day would be borderline insanity, but with the Golf R, it's just a more involved and thrilling drive (obviously within the laws of physics).

Heated seat on and wipers on medium, I ventured out of the house and headed north. What started out as a hour's test turned into a three-hour endorphin-filled marathon as I tested the R-Performance Torque Vectoring (a clever system that delivers up to 100 percent of the possible torque to the wheel on the outside of the bend, "enabling an exhilarating drive with maximum grip and stability").

The steering offered plenty of feedback, allowing me to 'feel' the road below, while the seven-speed DSG rapidly nipped up and down the box, allowing additional pops through the quad trumpets at the rear when downshifting. I seriously did not want to go home.

2022 VW Golf R
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

With just one more demon to exorcise, I found a deserted soggy outdoor car park on the way back, took a deep breath and pushed the Drift mode button. Even at low speeds, a sharp steering twist (and sharper stamp on the accelerator) had my tail wagging like an excited puppy. It's a genius system that proves the Germans do have a sense of humour!

Mindful of watchful eyes, I didn't spend too long on my makeshift skidpan, but with my 'drift-god' status reinstated, the return trip home had me smiling gleefully as my pulse returned to normal.

My working week with the new Golf R proved that whatever the weather, it's a car that can still thrill. It's built for performance and yet has a giant sense of fun and ridiculousness about it. A practical hatch that will make you smile and roar like a Wookie.

2022 VW Golf R
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Why you should: All the joys of the benchmark hot-hatch VW has made it more premium and more fun. It's a car that begs you to drive it.

Why you shouldn't: Visually it looks like an R-Line car, so maybe not dramatically different looking enough. Also, the haptic touch buttons are 'jumpy' for those with big fingers.

What else to consider: The Audi RS3 is the closest rival, but hot hatches can be found in other German brands, AMG A-Class and BMW M, but take a look at the Hyundai i30N, Toyota GR Yaris or Renault Megane RS.

Tarmac Life