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Auto review: 2022 VW Golf R, hot hatchback for connoisseurs, keeps the compact performance flag flying

Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

If you like traditional cars, there’s one upside to the boom in SUV sales. In a market where SUVs are most buyers’ first, second and third option, plain old sedans and hatchbacks have to offer something special or face extinction.

A day driving a European-spec 2022 VW Golf R high-performance compact on an icy test track is evidence of just how much better that pressure can make vehicles.

The 2022 Golf R won’t be for everybody when U.S. sales begin in the fourth quarter of this year. No circa-$45,000 compact hatchback is.

But it’s the best enthusiast version yet of one of the world’s favorite compact cars, honed to a razor’s edge with advanced all-wheel drive and a performance-tuned chassis.

I drove a 2022 Golf R with the standard 315-horsepower turbocharged 2.0L engine and optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission on an icy and rutted test track in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, hours north of the highway sign declaring you’re now closer to the North Pole than the equator.

Pushed hard, turned fast and foot to the floor, the Golf R’s polished chassis and handling should make enthusiasts pause before ordering performance compacts like the BMW M240ixDrive, Honda Civic R, Mercedes-AMG A 35 and Subaru WRX.

 

Meet the Golf Mark VIII

VW has pared the U.S. Golf lineup way down from the multimodel family that tried to offer something for everyone.

If you want vanilla, go to another ice cream stand. The Golf ice cream stand no longer offers vanilla. Starting later this year with 2022 models, the goal is attracting buyers willing to pay a premium for performance, dynamics and exclusivity.

For 2022, VW will sell just two Golf models in the U.S.: the top-of-the-line all-wheel-drive R and the less expensive, but still performance-oriented, front-wheel-drive GTI.

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