A car’s greatness can be measured in large part by how thrilling it is to drive. While entertainment isn’t tied to horsepower alone, the 315-hp Volkswagen Golf R is among the best at filling stomachs with butterflies. At a higher tier of performance than the already fun Golf GTI, reviewed separately, the R adds all-wheel drive with a Drift mode that allows the Golf to hang it all out by distributing torque to one side of the rear axle. While this dance feels more natural in totally rear-biased cars such as the Ford Mustang or the Chevrolet Camaro, the fact that it’s possible in a package so similar to the Honda Civic Type R is inherently righteous. The Golf R is a hotter hatch than the GTI in part because of bigger brakes and acceleration to 60 mph that’s more than a full second quicker. However, the R’s heavier price tag puts it in Toyota Supra sports-car territory.
What’s New for 2023?
While the Golf R doesn’t change much for 2023, Volkswagen has added a 20th Anniversary Edition model with visual changes including 20th-anniversary badging, blue “R” logos inside and out, and special puddle lights that illuminate a “20R” graphic on the ground. Black 19-inch wheels are standard, and the 20th Anniversary R is offered in blue, black, or white. Only 1800 special editions will be made.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
Since the Golf R is mainly offered as one fully loaded model, the biggest decision to make when buying one is whether you want to trade the standard six-speed manual for the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Choosing the latter increases its base price by just $800. However, we prefer the stick shift.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
Under the Golf R’s hood is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four-cylinder that makes 315 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque—up from 288 hp and 280 pound-feet in the last-generation R. The engine pairs with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The standard 4Motion all-wheel-drive system features a rear differential that can actively distribute torque between the left and right rear wheels for improved handling. The Golf R’s selectable drive modes (Comfort, Sport, Race, Special, Drift, and Individual) can be activated by pressing an “R” button on the steering wheel. We’ve sampled the hatch’s Drift mode, which proved entertaining on slick surfaces, but it won’t replace a rear-drive muscle car’s fun factor. Every model comes with a sport exhaust system, variable-ratio steering, and larger front disc brakes than before. It also rides on a set of 19-inch wheels shod with summer performance tires. During our first drive in Germany, the Golf R showed off the quickness and relentlessness of its strong engine, reactive dual-clutch automatic, and intelligent all-wheel-drive system. The version we drove was also equipped with the optional Performance package that adds two more drive modes, including an entertaining Drift mode that allows some tail-sliding antics. At our test track, our Golf R test car with the seven-speed automatic transmission blasted to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds, beating the 2021 Honda Civic Type R by 0.9 second.
More on the Golf R Hatchback
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA has estimated the most efficient version of the Golf R is the one with the automatic transmission, which earned ratings of 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Going with the manual transmission drops those numbers to 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, a worthy tradeoff in our opinion for the more engaging six-speed stick. We haven’t had a chance to run it on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy route, which is part of our extensive testing regimen, but when we do we’ll update this story with details. For more information about the Golf R’s fuel economy, visit the EPA’s website.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The Golf R mimics the GTI’s new cabin design, which provides a sportier aesthetic than the last-generation Golf. Both have a thick-rimmed steering wheel with touch-sensitive controls that operate a 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster with configurable layouts. Unlike the GTI, the Golf R isn’t available with plaid seat inserts, but it does boast bolstered front seats wrapped in nappa leather. These exclusive buckets have blue and carbon-look accents in the side sections as well as a blue “R” logo in the backrest. The other interior features include ambient lighting with 30 colors, stainless-steel pedals, and more carbon-look trim on the dashboard. The new Golf R also has impressive cargo space and a comfortable back seat.
The Car and Driver Difference
Infotainment and Connectivity
As seen on the new GTI, the Golf R’s infotainment system will run through a 10.0-inch touchscreen situated in the center of the dashboard. Its secondary controls include touch-sensitive sliders versus physical knobs and buttons. Along with the obligatory charging ports, the system should be available with a Harman/Kardon premium stereo. We also expect popular content such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a Wi-Fi hotspot.
How to Buy and Maintain a Car
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The new Golf R offers more driver-assistance technology than its predecessor, including blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist. For more information about the Golf R’s crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
Standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking Standard lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist Standard adaptive cruise control with semi-autonomous driving mode
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Although VW’s powertrain warranty isn’t tops among classmates, both its limited warranty and complimentary scheduled maintenance are among the best.
Limited warranty covers four years or 50,000 miles Powertrain warranty covers four years or 50,000 miles Complimentary maintenance is covered for 2 years or 20,000 miles
2022 Volkswagen Golf R
Vehicle Type: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
Base/As Tested: $44,640/$45,440
Options: seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, $800
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 121 in3, 1984 cm3
Power: 315 hp @ 5900 rpm
Torque: 310 lb-ft @ 1900 rpm
7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Suspension, F/R: struts/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 14.1-in vented, cross-drilled disc/12.1-in vented disc
Tires: Pirelli P Zero PZ4
235/35R-19 91Y R02
Wheelbase: 103.5 in
Length: 168.9 in
Width: 70.4 in
Height: 57.7 in
Passenger Volume: 92 ft3
Cargo Volume: 20 ft3
Curb Weight: 3360 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 3.9 sec
100 mph: 10.0 sec
1/4-Mile: 12.5 sec @ 111 mph
130 mph: 18.4 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.2 sec.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 5.2 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 2.7 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 3.6 sec
Top Speed (C/D est): 155 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 151 ft
Braking, 100–0 mph: 304 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.99 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 23 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 26/23/30 mpg
C/D TESTING EXPLAINED
More Features and Specs