April 24, 2024

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For Glorious Car

Better Without the Manual Transmission


  • Unfazed by high speeds, DSG transmission makes the car more fun, still a solid hot hatch.



  • Doesn’t really thrill you, less engaging than the previous model, aggravating capacitive controls.

Volkswagen’s new Golf R faced an uphill battle heading into this Performance Vehicle of the Year showdown. After all, we previously evaluated both it and the new GTI as part of the 2022 MotorTrend Car of the Year contest, and despite the car generating some enthusiasm among our judges, we uncovered a few major issues.

For one, there’s too much understeer in the all-wheel-drive Golf R’s handling repertoire, and we also disliked that the six-speed manual version’s clutch engagement point was difficult to locate. But the car’s multitude of capacitive controls irked us even more, making for aggravating interactions and at times causing us to trigger some of the controls on the steering wheel while driving hard. Simply put, the unnecessarily added “technofluff,” as we called it in our COTY report, greatly annoyed just about every judge who drove the R.

In bringing the Golf R back for PVOTY, there was no way to avoid the irritating controls. But from a mechanical standpoint, this time we tested the seven-speed DSG automatic model with paddle shifters. Would eliminating the finicky clutch pedal make the Golf R feel even more eager and nimble and move it closer to the front of the field in the context of the year’s best performance car?

Features editor Scott Evans, who wasn’t among this year’s COTY judges but was on the PVOTY panel, observed that the Golf R needs to be driven like a FWD-only car. “Get all your braking done ahead of the corner, be delicate going to the throttle to balance, then lay the hammer down after the apex,” he said. “Then it gets some of its AWD mojo going and shoots out of the corner—but, again, don’t floor it too soon. Get the throttle timing wrong and you’ll get mild understeer through the exit.

“It still seems like a pretty good car to me, but I must agree this Golf R just doesn’t feel special like the old version,” he continued. “It’s more mature and more composed, but a bit stuffy. It’s lost all its raucous character. Instead, it’s very smooth and confident when driving fast on the winding road course [at Hyundai’s proving ground], and it really feels like a grown-up sports car. VW engineered all the sloppiness out, which is good—but also all the personality. But this car’s biggest problem is that the faster, more fun-to-drive Hyundai Veloster N is here.”

Our judges found the DSG gearbox indeed makes the car a bit better, as ditching the imperfectly tuned clutch pedal allows you to apply maximum braking while downshifting far more easily. And those of us who left-foot brake found we could manipulate the car’s weight more precisely than we could with the manual, mitigating the understeer via chassis rotation. This made the R more satisfying to drive than its manual sibling, but none of our evaluators came anywhere close to describing it as stupefyingly fun. And when we’re talking about performance vehicles, there’s no advancing to our finalist round if big grins aren’t an inherent part of the package.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R Specifications

Base Price/As tested $44,640/$45,440
Power (SAE net) 315 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 295 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
Accel, 0-60 mph 4.2 sec
Quarter-mile 12.8 sec @ 108.7 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 109 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.94 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 24.8 sec @ 0.77 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb 23/30/26 mpg
Vehicle Layout Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
Engine, Transmission 2.0L Turbo direct-injected DOHC 16-valve I-4, 7-speed twin-clutch auto
Curb Weight (F/R DIST) 3,445 lb (61/39{7b5a5d0e414f5ae9befbbfe0565391237b22ed5a572478ce6579290fab1e7f91})
Wheelbase 103.5 in
Length x Width x Height 168.9 x 70.4 x 57.7 in