The 2022 VW Golf R Is One Mean Drifting Machine

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Drifting a Volkswagen Golf is weird. Like, really weird. The Golf has stood through seven previous generations as a beacon of front-wheel-drive—and FWD-based all-wheel drive—excellence, but getting its rear end to swing way out wide typically meant yanking a handbrake or getting hit by a dump truck. But now the hottest version of the MkVIII Golf, the 2022 VW Golf R, will do proper power-on tank slappers, happily drift in a circle, and sashay its way through a slalom. And it’s still a front-driver at its core. Huh?

Credit the new 4Motion all-wheel-drive setup standard on the R, which cans its predecessor’s Haldex center differential in favor of a 50/50 torque-splitting power takeoff and a torque-vectoring electromechanical rear axle. The latter employs clutch packs on the axle shafts to send up to 100 percent of the incoming torque to the outside rear wheel. Also key in the Golf R’s newfound ability is the software activated by a fun little button marked “Drift.” A sub-selection of the carryover Race mode, Drift commands the stability control and differential algorithm to allow for the kind of lurid sideways action we happily provoked at a winter testing facility in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Our drive of the new VW Golf R was supposed to take place on packed snow and ice, but a classic Michigan false spring brought rain and temperatures that reduced the frozen stuff to a slushy mixture wherever it hadn’t been outright eliminated. We still came away with a good understanding of the R’s capabilities. The trick rear end isn’t just for low-mu surfaces, of course—it mitigates understeer and helps the car hold your intended line on pavement, too.

Time spent hammering the Golf R on a wet but high-grip concrete skidpad confirmed the differential’s aptitude; it gives the car a mash-it-and-forget-it ability that lets you apply huge gobs of power early when exiting corners with no ill effects.

The previous Comfort, Sport, and Individual chassis modes are also present, but a new program dubbed “Special” is a second addition under Race. It puts the car into the ideal configuration to tackle the Nürburgring Nordschleife and turns the Golf R’s screen accents green. (Green Hell, get it?) While the setting sounds a bit contrived—and not particularly relevant to anyone not near the famed track—the MkVIII R turned a lap of 7 minutes, 51 seconds at the ‘Ring, 19 seconds quicker than the previous Golf R, so we’ll let VW thump its chest here. We pressed the button and can confirm it activates, but an investigation of its effects will need to occur at a location not awash in a cold slurry.

The front brake discs are cross-drilled and an inch larger than before, and they’re pinched by two-piston calipers. They feel strong, and VW’s promise of a confident pedal with a short, easily modulated stroke held up to scrutiny. Cycling through the Golf R’s chassis modes gives a noticeable differentiation in steering weight, with the same moderate amount of tactility coming through in each step. The engine is the familiar EA888 turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder from before, but it now makes a stout 315 hp at 6,500 rpm and 310 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. It feels eager and will power the 2022 Golf R to 60 mph somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.7 seconds, according to VW.

The North American 2022 Golf R will come just one way when it arrives in the fourth quarter of this year: fully loaded with leather, a heated steering wheel, and more. At an estimated price of $41,000, it’s essentially identical to a top-spec European model down to its silver mirror caps, save for 15 fewer lb-ft of torque (blame our fuel quality), the fitment of orange reflectors, no matrix ability for the LED headlamps, and slightly different LED taillamps. We won’t be offered the €3,800 ($4,500) titanium Akropovič exhaust that was on the R we drove, which is for the moment reserved for Continental customers. Maybe see if you have a long-lost Slovenian cousin to hook you up—the exhaust is maniacal, serving up fat blats on overrun and a shredding buzzsaw note under power, a perfect accompaniment to the new R’s more aggressive visuals.

North Americans will, however, be offered one feature denied to the rest of the world: a standard six-speed manual transmission, which is highly welcome even if it comes with a further drop in torque, to 280 lb-ft. A whip-quick seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic is optional, and exterior color will be the only other choice facing potential R recruits.

We didn’t have enough time with the new Golf R to split too many hairs, but we weren’t enamored with the touch-sensitive audio volume and HVAC temperature sliders, or the haptic capacitive controls on the steering wheel. Such controls look future-cool, but regular buttons are more reliably responsive and easier to operate, so they remain our preference. The infotainment screen was a bit slow in responding to some commands, too, a longtime VW problem that seemingly persists. On the plus side, the R’s interior is handsome and of a high quality, its well-bolstered sport seats are comfortable and supportive, and the graphics on the vast amount of digital real estate are crisp and easy to read.

As the Volkswagen faithful know, we won’t be getting the regular eighth-generation Golf in America, only this hellacious R and its GTI stablemate. While we’re thankful to get VW’s best hot hatches once again, this early experience in the 2022 VW Golf R proves the excellence baked into the basic MkVIII Golf bones, making its absence from our shores all the more unfortunate. If you need us, we’ll be looking for more time in the Golf R so we can work through our disappointment in the middle of a wicked drift.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R Specifications
BASE PRICE $41,000 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
ENGINE 2.0L/315-hp/280-310-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 24-valve I-4
TRANSMISSIONS 6-speed manual, 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
CURB WEIGHT 3,100 lb (MT est)
WHEELBASE 103.5 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 168.9 x 70.4 x 57.4 in
0-60 MPH 4.7 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON Not yet rated
ON SALE IN U.S. October (est)



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