2022 Volkswagen Golf R review: Australian launch

  • Doors and Seats


    5 doors, 5 seats

  • Engine


    2.0T, 4 cyl.

  • Engine Power


    235kW, 400Nm

  • Fuel


    Petrol (98) 7.8L/100KM

  • Manufacturer



  • Transmission


    7 Spd Auto (DCT)

  • Warranty


    5 Yr, Unltd KMs

  • Ancap Safety




To whet your appetite, we head to Sydney Motorsport Park to try drift mode in the Golf R. Did we crash?

  • Fun and new personality
  • VW listening to the fans by offering a ‘pure’ engine mode and large paddle shifters
  • As always, it’s the best-looking of the hot hatch set

  • It’s well over $80,000 as a wagon on the road
  • Trick rear diff best felt at speed
  • The Audi S3 is a couple of grand more and may suit daily use better

Personally speaking, I wasn’t a fan of the outgoing Volkswagen Golf R.

That’s said after spending $50,000 of my hard-earned on one six years ago. And worse yet, not for myself either. Objectively I thought it was an utterly fantastic car, and it remains one my partner still reminisces about.

And since we’re being honest, I was far faster on a good road in her 2016 Volkswagen Golf R than my own personal 2010 Ford Focus RS, which I still fail to acknowledge today it seems.

Everyone I tell this story to thinks I’m mad, but once they understand I prefer my hot hatch laden with emotion and a side of ability – instead of the other way around – I’m usually forgiven.

While in awe of the capability and sure-footedness of our previous-generation Golf R, I always feel like it lacked some zhoosh. I use that word because it’s hard to explain what it’s missing, because the outgoing car certainly looked great, went hard, and sounded the part too.

Although, it never looked as racy as the performance suggested, and its handling on the limit often left die-hard thrillseekers feeling cold. The old car wouldn’t let you ride the engine’s rev limiter into a corner (instead needlessly changing up for you), baulked at the idea of using its inertia for no good, and somewhat capitulated to computer gizmos and someone called Haldex – who lived in the car and apparently disliked any fun.

However that’s all changed, and I can’t wait to tell you more, but first the formalities of the range, the cabin and infotainment, safety, then value for money.

The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is priced from $65,990 before on-road costs. For the money you receive a fourth evolution of the EA888 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo with 235kW/400Nm, 4Motion all-wheel-drive system with trick new torque-vectoring rear diff, and R Performance package fitted as standard.

The R Performance package is a nice touch for Australian cars, as it means every one comes with Drift and Nürburgring driving modes, 19-inch lightweight wheels, and a huge rear spoiler – that I personally love to bits.

It also comes as a wagon for $69,990, or $4000 more, before on-road costs. The 2022 Golf R wagon has a slightly different powertrain – complete with petrol particulate filter – which means it makes the same 235kW as the hatch but over a longer RPM period, and 20Nm more, or 420Nm in total.

Options for the range include an opening panoramic sunroof costing $1900/$2000 for the hatch and wagon respectively, and a Harman Kardon premium audio system for $1000.

Key details 2022 Volkswagen Golf R hatch
Price (MSRP) $65,990 plus on-road costs
Colour of test car Lapiz Blue
Options Panoramic sunroof – $1900 hatch/$2000 wagon

Harman Kardon stereo – $1000
Price as tested $68,890 plus on-road costs
Rivals Audi S3 | BMW M135i | Mercedes-AMG A35

My favourite part of the cabin has to be the seats.

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They’re trimmed in nappa leather – a high-end hide made from young cows that was previously reserved for limited-edition Golf Rs – which means they greet your nose first before your anything else.

Opening the door wafts the expensive leather smell around, and once you’ve indulged, you notice they’re also nice to look at. The material is stamped with perforations that have been coloured in blue, which means the seats sort of change colour depending on the angle you view them.

When looked at straight on, they appear black, but from a sharp angle almost blue. They’re wonderfully sculpted, too, and offer plenty of comfort for the road, and just enough support for some time on the track.

Both front seats feature four-way lumbar adjustment, heating, and ventilation too. The rest of the cabin is a minimalist’s paradise, featuring little to no switchgear anywhere and, if any, surface-mounted capacitive touch switches instead – like the steering wheel.

These buttons can be fiddly, as they function more like a touchscreen than a clicky and tactile button. It means that if you have bigger than average hands and maybe roll the base of your thumb over during some dynamic driving, you may find yourself turning on the heated steering wheel and skipping tracks accidentally too.

It actually became a joke on the day, as everyone was quick to say “I didn’t turn the heated wheel on, wasn’t me” as we swapped cars on-track. Still, what they do offer is an aesthetic uplift, as their surface-mounting and bright backlighting make the Golf R’s cabin feel futuristic.

Other than a pair of cupholders, a wonderfully thin open-air storage spot perfect for sunglasses, and a Porsche 911-inspired gearshifter, it’s rather plain. A keen eye will notice the extra-large and new paddle shifters behind the wheel, too, which shows VW listens to its customers and notices what goes on in the aftermarket sector.

The dashboard does feature some unique faux-brushed plastic printed trim and the ambient lighting is fully customisable, so maybe wait until after-hours before you try to impress your friends.

The second row is big enough for a young family, but seating taller occupants in the front will make it squashy. With an average sized person in the first row, guests in the back will be left with just enough room for their knees, elbows, and everything else.

The lower seat base is deep enough to support a long-legged frame however, and its seat back is sculpted enough to support your hips and prevent fatigue. A point worth mentioning is that you will definitely have to turn off the front electric driver’s seat’s convenience entry-and-exit function if you plan to use the second row frequently.

If your kids try to get in the back before you do with this function on, they’ll be unable to. If you’re a tall driver who naturally sits further back, convenience entry-and-exit mode will push the front driver’s seat slid all the way back when the car is turned off, making half the second row useless.

Other fancy things include a third zone of climate control with temp and fan speed switches, air vents, USB-C charging, some flocked bottle holders in the doors, and a pair of cupholders in the fold-down armrest.

Boot space for the hatch is 374L and 611L for the wagon, but most will find the former about right. The hatchback has a wide enough load area and both have 60/40-split rear seats too. The wagon would be handy if you travel heavy frequently or own a four-legged friend.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R hatch
Seats Five
Boot volume 374L seats up, 1230L seats folded
Length 4290mm
Width 1789mm
Height 1458mm
Wheelbase 2631mm

Infotainment and Connectivity

Infotainment is managed by a 10.0-inch touchscreen with unique Volkswagen R software.

On top of performance gauges and access to different drive modes (comfort, sport, drift, Nürburgring, individual), the overall look and feel of the software help differentiate it from others in the family.

There’s both wired and wireless connectivity for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but we found hardwiring via one of two fast-charging USB-C ports to be more reliable.

Our car was also fitted with the Harman Kardon 480-watt 10-speaker system (eight regular speakers, one centre speaker, one subwoofer) and 12-channel amplifier.

It’s a pretty powerful sound system, with stacks of finite processing and surround tuning allowed to be carried out by the user. I always set my fancy audio systems to stereo (not surround or processed), scoop the mids a touch, and then dial them back in as far as clarity will allow.

Calibrated traditionally in this way, Massive Attack’s Angel sounded huge, with drummer Damon Reece’s hard snare hits punching through the mix as you’d like.

The spoken word from A Tribe Called Quest’s 8 Million Stories sounded crisp and punchy, too, with the backing track separated enough from the vocals to create the desired studio effect.

In other words, I recommend you spend $1000 on the optional stereo.

The 2022 Volkswagen Golf 8 range is covered by a five-star ANCAP safety rating and was tested in 2019.

Overall, it scored highly in terms of adult occupant protection (95 per cent) and child occupant protection (89 per cent), but fell down slightly in terms of safety assist systems (80 per cent).

That latter point is irrelevant for the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R, however, as being a range flagship it is equipped with more safety features than other models.

Standard gear includes adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, autonomous emergency braking both forward and reserve, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot detection.

The parking camera is detailed and sharp, plus there are parking sensors at both ends for tight situations.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R hatch
ANCAP rating Five stars (tested 2019)
Safety report ANCAP report

As a quick recap, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R starts from $65,990 before on-roads, or $68,890 fully optioned with the sound system and sunroof.

A 2022 Audi S3 – with premium audio as standard – costs $70,700 before on-roads. Despite looking and smelling the same, the pair are very different from each other, so read the conclusion if you’re considering between this set.

Another choice could be the 2022 BMW M135i, which starts from $66,900 before on-roads in entry-level Pure guise.

At a glance 2022 Volkswagen Golf R hatch
Warranty Five years / unlimited km
Service intervals 12 months or 15,000km
Servicing costs $1700 (3 years), $3100 (5 years)

Servicing the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is a simple affair via prepaid and transferable service packs. A three-year package costs $1700 and a five-year package $3100.

The price is steep, but there are more fluids underneath a 2022 Volkswagen Golf R than what’s usual (600ml to be precise) given the complex rear differential set-up, and it does require more maintenance.

Fuel Useage Fuel Stats
Fuel cons. (claimed) 7.8L/100km
Fuel cons. (on test) 9.0L/100km
Fuel type 98-octane premium unleaded
Fuel tank size 50L

Praise the lord, the Golf R now has a personality.

I mentioned earlier how I felt the (my) old car felt clinical and maybe too sterile for my liking. This new one, however, has a really clever rear end that pretty much acts as the limited-slip differential you always wanted.

As you’d expect, coming out of the rear differential are a pair of half shafts feeding the left and right wheels. With this new Golf R, these ones are now interjected by a few clutches on either side.

That means drive to the left and right rear wheels can be manipulated independently and actuated based on electronics, but with a mechanical link being those oil-bathed clutches.

Mitsubishi used a similar system called Active Yaw Control (AYC) in its cars 20 years ago with the same oil-bathed clutches as a mechanical link, but used old-school hydraulic pressure to actuate or offer limited slip across the back axle.

Because it was plagued with slow reaction times, the old Japanese cult-hero always felt alien. Like the Evo, however, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R’s clutch packs are also bathed in oil, so you know the hardware is bloody serious.

VW’s 21st century incarnation of the same idea is light-years ahead, using so many more sensors and electric actuation to get the party started. On top of the high-tech weaponry underneath, it’s also clearly been calibrated by people with great senses of humour, as the Golf R will now happily power oversteer in the wet without the need for overt provocation.

It doesn’t matter if you’re looping around sideways at slow speeds in first gear, or absolutely banging the rev limiter in second pulling massive ones, the car will quite literally go sideways on the throttle with no skill required.

What actually makes the system good, however, is how it makes the car more engaging to drive seriously. For the launch, we spent the day hooning around Sydney Motorsport Park’s wet skidpan and its fast and flowing North Circuit, with both disciplines revealing an engaging car underneath.

When attacking the clock, the Golf R is still a wonderfully fast and fun car to drive. While it still lacks the sheer clarity and focus of a 2022 Hyundai i30 N on the limit, it does so much more everywhere else to make such a point moot.

It’s also far more approachable than the Hyundai on fast circuits, too, with its all-wheel drive and torque-vectoring differential helping pull the car out of corners on the throttle and reminding you to use more momentum next time.

I quite like how the car works with you now, or feels better suited out on-track. The progressive steering is handy for the fast laps, too, and the brakes kept up for short but impactful stints behind the wheel.

Out on the road, the powertrain begins to become the differentiating point to the old car, not the handling. I honestly think you’ll find it hard to feel the diff in action at ‘around the legal limits’ on the road given how large its performance envelope is.

However, the extra spice gets you. The powertrain feels faster and sharper, too, meaning it just feels broad-shouldered regardless of the situation. The launch control gets the power down better than before, and response during on-the-roll kickdown moments is swifter too.

The thing that got me most was the Nürburgring tune, which I honestly rubbished and scoffed at when I first saw it. Plenty of us car guys joke about how tuning cars for the Nürburgring is actually bad for Australia because Australian roads are probably the antithesis of the Green Hell.

Many fancy cars that apparently owe their existence to the German racetrack – which I have also driven – have often felt stiff and rattled by Australia’s bushy B-roads.

So, what relevance would it have? Well, ironically, probably most on the street. I was intrigued at how supple the suspension was in this mode, and how clearly it differed from race mode.

After enjoying the mode on my usual haunt through Dural, Arcadia and the Berowra regions of Sydney, I stopped and read the press material.

Buried deep in the newsroom you’ll find mention that in the Golf R’s Nürburgring mode, the “shock absorbers are set to Comfort – for optimum road contact – because of the enormous strain that occurs during peak performance on this type of natural track”.

Interesting. Funnily enough, I was most impressed by this driving mode, and I admit that my scoffs were premature. Regardless of the driving mode, the ride quality is fantastic in the softest setting, and still tolerable on the day-to-day in sport mode if you must persist.

Road noise doesn’t interfere much despite the decent amount of grip on offer, which is nice to see. It’s essentially the same fast luxury car it always was, just now with some driving instincts and undertones of mischief and recklessness. 

One last point is how VW clearly listens to its customers. In the individual settings, you can set the engine sound to ‘pure’, which turns off all the fake plumbed-in and acoustically augmented nonsense and gives you raw ICE. How good!

Key details 2022 Volkswagen Golf R hatch
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Power 235kW @ 5600–6500rpm
Torque 400Nm @ 2000–5600rpm
Drive type All-wheel drive
Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Power to weight ratio 156.6kW/t
Weight (tare) 1501kg
Turning circle 11.0m

The price will shock you, and the Audi S3 will honeypot, but if you’re here for the drive, resist both temptations.

The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is a better driver’s car than the 2022 Audi S3, so the choice is clear if you’re a keen steerer.

The choice comes at the sacrifice of potentially appearing more successful and wealthy than you really are, so for me the trade-off is a no-brainer. But if you’re on the road facing clients, or in a line of work where first impressions count, you’re better off in the Audi.

Besides, people may think you’re a hoon in the Volkswagen Golf R given its massive rear wing. In all seriousness, it actually comes down to the brief for your next car, and if it’s one that involves fun road trips with your family, the odd cycling getaway, or maybe the odd driving holiday with your mates, I reckon you’ll prefer the Volkswagen.

It’s my pick of the pair, and I really quite like this one.

Ratings Breakdown

2022 Volkswagen Golf R Hatchback

8.6/ 10

Interior Comfort & Packaging

Infotainment & Connectivity

After more than a decade working in the product planning and marketing departments of brands like Kia, Subaru and Peugeot, Justin Narayan returned to being a motoring writer – the very first job he held in the industry.

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