The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R has supercharged a capable all-round formula for the track.
Volkswagen’s various developments to the MQB platform have shifted the Golf R into another echelon of performance category and cemented its place as one of the best-value performance cars on the market.
VW haven’t rested on its laurels, working on the weaknesses and pushing forward with its strengths.
This is a car that anyone can drive fast, plus it has the comfort and features to make it a user friendly, everyday package.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine has taken a good step forward, now with 235kW of power and 400Nm of torque – up 10 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.
Peak power is still up at 6500rpm and the torque curve has been pushed slightly forward, but still offers enviable punch from below 2000rpm.
Power to weight, which is really the number we are after on the track, jumps by 10kW per ton. This is impressive, especially with the ever-increasing weight penalty in modern cars being minimised, with a gain of only 50kg over the previous generation.
This engine is so effortless and always there when you need it, it would be easy to mistake it for being 50 per cent bigger in capacity than it is. This really shows the engineering development effort VW have put into this powerplant.
It’s so driveable and super responsive at the same time, making gear selection a secondary thought. Throttle modulation is very smooth and controlled, in turn helping acceleration and traction out of the corners.
Once again, the Golf R’s 0-100 time was impressive and easy to achieve. Attempting it only twice, both runs were 4.7s, which is actually quicker the brand’s claim of 4.8s, and two-tenths quicker than what I achieved in the Mk7.5 Golf R Final Edition.
It takes a little bit of work to be in the correct settings, but then it’s a piece of cake to launch.
The braking performance and feel of the Golf R is also a great step forward over the previous generation, and it’ actually now one of the quickest stopping cars we have ever had on the CarExpert test track.
100-0 in 2.70 seconds and only 34m – an insane result and up there with the Porsche 911 GT2 RS.
The early reliance on ABS under heavy braking has gone and therefore the ability to manage the car on braking and then corner entry has improved dramatically.
I also had no issue with fade and the feedback from the pedal, and overall it’s much more encouraging.
With the electronic interference of the brakes being one of my biggest complaints previously with most VW products on track, it’s fantastic to see this be addressed and VW now trusting its vehicles’ ability to stop more naturally, which actually ends up being quicker on the circuit.
The chassis was so impressive, and I once again feel like Volkswagen have unlocked the potential of the previous generation and allowed the platform’s true capabilities to shine.
Improved damper control allows you to live much closer to the edge of grip more consistently. Not once was I worried about the car getting away from me or a massive imbalance of grip destroying a lap.
The energy was distributed more evenly across the four tyres, creating improved tyre life, cornering speed and driver confidence.
Now you can really start to manipulate the car into balances to suit the situation, rather than the car dictating the outcome and the driver having to deal with it as best as possible.
It starts to feel more like a four-wheel drive car should, whilst maintaining a nimbleness that you would expect from a Golf.
The Golf R always feels very planted on track and does this while remaining reactive and sharp, which is a great outcome.
The Golf R’s dual-clutch gearbox was never at the front of my mind while I was on the track, which is a great sign.
It reacted how I wanted and when I wanted, something that couldn’t be said about the previous generation. The shifts felt faster and more in line with my commands, while the gear ratios fitted well on track and were no issues due to the flexibility of the engine.
Differential wise, it looks like Volkswagen have really made some leaps forward with this Mk8 generation. Incredibly driveable and free whilst carrying immense speed through the corners, then locking smoothly and more in balance as you apply more throttle.
Everything is much more in sync and the new twin-clutch rear differential is a big reason for this. Gone is that constant front-wheel drive feeling, that was more than just a feeling, replaced with an impressive package that manages to do an insanely good job across all spectrums of speed, acceleration and deceleration.
Some slight mid-corner rotation on early throttle was the first sign something had changed. This didn’t exist previously, but is a very welcome addition to the Golf R.
The stability and freedom at high speed is almost more impressive, with no sense of interference yet the underlying knowledge the Vehicle Dynamics Manager (VDM) is frantically managing the complex situation very well.
Another area that I thought Volkswagen may have let slip through with little or no change. Once again, I am pleasantly surprised by the thought and effort that has gone into almost every part this new Golf R.
Damper control on the bump side is a big improvement and translates to a more confidence-inspiring platform.
It had a nice amount of initial movement, then was able to support that and not collapse through like the previous generation.
This is exactly what I was after and it gives you the ability to attack bumps, curbs and changing surfaces, knowing the car will be there for you.
This is big part in improving the overall lap time and actually a pretty easy change for VW to make that subsequently has unlocked a huge amount of potential.
Despite being very precise and reactive, the steering in the VW Golf R just lacks the feedback I would like from a car like this.
Because of the improved suspension, it still feels like an improvement, especially in terms of reaction, but it seems like it’s been dulled for everyday use.
Sitting on the same size wheels as previously, we do see a change in tyres to Bridgestone Potenza S005 235/35 R19 rubber.
I was impressed with the consistency of grip and the ability to deal with changing grip levels. It was a cool day, so we were unlikely to see massive drop off over just a handful of laps.
The launch control on this car was amazing once again and it is nice to see it beat the claimed time.
I did all laps with everything in Race mode, DCC in the hardest setting and ESC off. It was a bit complicated to try and turn off the ESC, which was interfering quite a bit on my warm-up lap – it had to go.
I really liked the steering wheel; the size and shape are perfect and it’s great to finally have that R button on the wheel, although I somehow managed to bump the steering wheel heater on a hot lap, which made it even hotter…
I thought the seating position was very comfortable and supportive, which felt lower and better than the previous generation’s.
The instrument cluster could have a more exciting configuration for Race mode and some of the controls a bit easier to activate, but overall it’s a good layout.
After almost being a little disappointed with the time I achieved in the Mk7.5 Golf R Final Edition, VW have really come out swinging with the Mk8.
The number of improvements the company has made and the thought that has gone into this car is so impressive.
VW have ticked so many boxes and pushed this car to a whole new level. It would have been so easy for VW to leave things only few people are going to complain about, but the company has looked at every angle and made the Golf R what it should be.
When I looked and saw a 59-second time, I thought it might be a 59.9 – but it was a 59.15s.
That’s a huge improvement and somehow only just behind the Audi RS3 on the CarExpert leaderboard. The crazy part was how easy it was to achieve this time and how calm it was in doing it.
Volkswagen have really raised the benchmark in this class and I hope it motivates other brands to do the same.
- Attack with confidence, the car is your friend
- Don’t worry as much about rotation, it will still pull out of the corner thanks to the diffs
- Send some launches, it is so easy and fun.
Click the images for the full gallery