First drive: 2022 Volkswagen Golf R in the UAE

First drive: 2022 Volkswagen Golf R in the UAE

We were quite eager to test drive the new Volkswagen Golf R. After all, it did leave quite an impression when we first drove the first generation Golf R back in 2011, after the demise of the R32. It almost felt as special as the Nissan GT-R with its all-wheel-drive handling capabilities, and being a practical everyday car at the same time. So how does the latest generation of the most powerful Golf ever feel?

Pretty darn good! Looking at the exterior, we already warmed up to the design when we saw the Golf GTI. There is no denying, the Golf R looks similar to the GTI and at first glance its hard to tell the difference. A closer look reveals the front has a more aggressive bumper, prominent side skirts and a rear diffuser to accommodate the quad exhausts. It also gets different 19-inch alloy rims.

Inside, things are pretty much the same, except maybe for the R badges on the seats. The modern setup of the cockpit is a nice place to be in, but like the GTI, the controls are a bit odd to use, with the touch a/c and volume controls located right under the screen. Also, the heated steering button is placed too close to the 3 o’clock position of the steering wheel, so my right hand would sometimes accidently switch it on during spirited driving.

Speaking of driving, it is safe to say that the Golf R is still one of the best hot hatches out there, if not the benchmark. Fitted with an updated 2.0-litre turbocharged engine now delivering 315 hp and 433 Nm of torque coupled with their DSG 7-speed automatic, the most powerful Golf can do the 0-100 kph run in less than 5 seconds.

Just like previous generations, the real winner has to be the handling. It sits 20 mm lower than the GTI and the front suspension has more negative camber to improve cornering speeds.

The most important addition has been the all-new torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system with a new rear differential. The two rear wheels can split torque according to the road, and helps increase cornering agility. Up to 100 percent of torque can be directed to the wheel on the outside of a corner, which in turn decreases understeer.

We felt the torque-vectoring working when we had a go at the autocross track setup at the Dubai Autodrome. The car responds to your steering inputs instantaneously and we kept pushing it further as confidence grew with each run. The “Race” drive mode increases steering sharpness and weight, stiffens the dampers and recalibrates the diff-lock behaviour, gearshifts, throttle mapping and stability control. It allows the car to oversteer just a touch but still very much in control. Push it too far and you do start understeering, the excellent brakes making sure you slow down quickly and get back in shape.

We also had a chance to test the Golf R’s capabilities on the race track where you can really experience how much faster it is. While straight line speed does not feel much different from the GTI, it is at the corners where the magic happens. Higher corner-exit speeds are evident, and you get on the accelerator pedal much earlier than the front-wheel drive GTI when coming out of a turn.

The Golf R responds with aplomb, taking turns at speeds that would give some sports cars a run for their money, as the torque-vectoring system does its thing in keeping understeer to a minimum. Also, the big brakes — now featuring cross-drilled rotors — keep you in check, responding well as you brake hard to slow down from speeds of 230 kph.

Interestingly, the Golf R now has a “Drift” mode. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to experience this.

The Volkswagen Golf R lives up to its reputation of being a handling marvel and its no slacker at straight-line speeds either. You get the added advantage of practicality and it looks pretty good as well. Prices start at Dhs 190,000 and if you get all the bells and whistles, you are looking at numbers closer to Dhs 250,000. This does sound a bit on the higher side, encroaching into luxury territory, although it’s still the best performance you can get at its price-point.

For prices and specs, visit the Volkswagen buyer guide.

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