Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario – The R in the Golf family is the ultimate version, like the Z06 for the Chevrolet Corvette, the Shelby 500 for the Ford Mustang, and so on. And this year, with 315 horsepower under the hood, the word “ultimate” is more meaningful than ever, as is the presence of four-wheel drive.
The Golf R is getting a makeover for 2022, all as part of the birth of the eighth generation of Volkswagen’s popular compact car. Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to see the base variants on this side of the world anymore. You can look at the glass as half full or half empty; let’s be satisfied with the fact that we’re left with the two performance versions (along with the GTI).
And is this the last lap for the R? It’s hard to say, given the car’s descent into the SUV world. But it’s mainly because of the electric shift that we’re raising this possibility; the next Golf could well be all-electric.
We’ll see what’s in store for us, but all this makes the transition to this new model all the more special, precisely because we don’t know what the future holds.
Let’s savour the moment. Here’s what’s in store for the new R that we went to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, to test drive last week.
Design: the tradition continues
The Golf has that kind of design where you can’t take too many liberties. Much like with a Porsche 911, you have to respect tradition; respect for a model that is the third best-selling model in history.
The style of the R version of the Golf has evolved, but it’s still familiar territory. New headlights, lights, rims and logos, but the same cool, easily recognizable face. And this distinction includes the presence of bumpers unique to the model, four exhaust tips, a spoiler perched at the rear and unique 19-inch wheels.
Only one version
The Golf R is available in one way only, as an all-inclusive package. As a result, the interior gets heated and ventilated front seats, three-zone climate control, Harman/Kardon audio system, wireless cell phone charging, navigation, heated steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, 30-color ambient lighting and head-up display, among others.
What’s less appealing, at least when you first get to know the model, is the abundance of touch controls. The approach is as fashionable as it is polarizing, as younger people tend to embrace it, older people reject it. The author of these lines is somewhere in between…
Pricing is set at $44,995 for the manual transmission version, $46,395 for the DSG automatic. Funny thing is, Canada keeps the manual transmission while our neighbors to the south won’t have it. We have to salute the work of the Volkswagen Canada team, because as a rule, we are often forced to follow the parade.
Another fun fact is that the torque of the 2.0-litre turbo 4-cylinder with the manual transmission remains at 280 lb-ft, just like with the previous generation. The reason is that the transmission of the previous generation was simply used. That was the price to pay and since the transmission is calibrated to get 280 lb-ft, that’s what you get.
With the DSG, torque is 295 lb-ft, again to match the 315 horsepower.
The Golf R that’s being replaced was, without reservation, quite a machine. The one that replaces it is a lot better in every respect, but since the performance was already top-notch, the newcomer is a little sharper.
To better manage its new capabilities, which include a Drift Mode and Launch Control, a number of chassis improvements have been made. A new dynamic control system, 1.2 degrees more negative camber, 10% firmer springs and anti-roll bar, more massive brake discs and master cylinder, as well as increased use of aluminum for the subframe and brake hubs.
Perhaps the most important feature is the R’s torque vectoring system. Basically, 50 percent of the torque can be sent to the rear, but the split can be completely right or completely left, depending on the need. This means you get maximum grip at all times, whether you’re accelerating in a straight line or going sideways because you’re pushing the machine so hard.
All this translates into an exhilarating experience behind the wheel. As explained in the introduction, the all-around traction is a great ally when the throttle is violated, because the R will run like a rabbit. The slightest slip is quickly corrected by the electronic aids, which will reassure less experienced drivers.
The steering is precise and surgical. The braking is obviously biting. You don’t drive the R; you dance with it. The only irritant is that you quickly have to set limits, because illegality awaits you at every acceleration.
In fact, during my test drives of the model (both transmissions), as well as the GTI variant (see other text), I couldn’t help but think that as a buyer, I would opt for the latter, unless I had access to a track. Honestly, to operate the R, this is the only place worthy of receiving it.
The Golf R, which was launched in 2004 elsewhere in the world, will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary. In our country, we saw the first version 10 years ago (2012-2013), then the one that was offered from 2016 to 2019.
The new one is destined for a great career, but for how long? The public’s response will have an impact on it, but so will the electric shift that is turning the established order upside down.
If it’s on your list, consider acting sooner rather than later.