It’s an age-old question — no, we’re not talking about “to be or not to be?”, or even “what do you want for dinner?” It’s a question for which there’s no clear-cut answer, because it depends on so many factors. It’s a question we’ve pondered many times before, so we’ve enlisted the help of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R in hopes of putting this matter to bed.
The question is simple: DSG or manual? The answer, not so much.
It’s hard to believe we’ve only had access to the raciest of Golfs for a measly decade now — well, measly in comparison to the GTI’s 40-plus years on the scene — but in that comparatively short time frame, the Golf R quickly cemented a reputation of being one of the most accessible and well-rounded performance bargains out there. This latest, freshly redesigned R is more of the same — emphasis on more. There’s more bark, more bite, more tech; you name it, there’s more of it.
Of course, this isn’t the only top story here. For 2022, as the Golf heads into its eighth generation across the globe, the GTI and R are now the only way we Canadians can have a Golf — the base hatch is no more in Canada and the U.S., replaced by the jacked-up Taos. We can’t really blame ‘em: one look at the grocery store parking lot ought to make VW’s reasoning crystal clear. Hey, at least we enthusiasts get something.
Pop the hood and you’ll find zero surprises. Power comes from an updated version of Volkswagen’s familiar 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, now massaged to pump out 315 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque — a healthy bump from the 288 hp and 280 lb.-ft. in the outgoing R. Throttle response is sharp, turbo lag is pretty much non-existent, and it pulls strongly all throughout the rev range. There’s even more bark from the exhaust, too!
And should you decide to not drive like a hooligan, you’d never guess this is the “fast” Golf: it’s docile when you’re puttering around town, and reasonably frugal, to boot. We averaged just over 9.6L/100 kilometres in our time with the new R — impressive for an AWD performance car in the middle of winter — and we didn’t exactly go easy on the throttle. Of course, while GTIs happily take 87-octane gas, the R requires 91.
Beyond the engine, the 2022 Golf R sees a number of enhancements. The good stuff carries over — it’s still all-wheel-drive, launch control makes the most of putting that power down off the line, and there’s so much grip that the R may as well be riding on velcro. But now, you get larger brakes up front and a number of additional drive modes, allowing for various degrees of hooliganism through adjustments to the powertrain, drivetrain, and safety nanny intervention.
The AWD system sees one massive improvement, too: the new R now has a torque-vectoring rear differential, which can send varying degrees of kick to either rear wheel. Translation? Yada yada yada, it puts the power down so much better and allows for some pretty wicked tail-wagging antics in the snow.
Of course, there’s a pretty big caveat: how it all comes together very much depends on the transmission you pick. Let’s start with the stick, shall we?
While Golf Rs everywhere else are DSG-only, Volkswagen has decided to bless us North Americans with a second transmission choice: a six-speed manual. Frankly, it leaves us conflicted: we’re thrilled that VW still lets enthusiasts row their own gears in their performance cars, but the stick just doesn’t seem well-matched to the R. It’s a good manual — it can’t quite match the Civic Type R’s shift feel, but it feels more precise than before — but at the end of the day, human brains simply aren’t as fast as computers. You never quite fully realize that performance potential when the human is in charge of shifting.
The Golf R is a vastly different animal with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (or DSG, for those fluent in VW-ese). The DSG almost always seems to be in the correct gear, and when it isn’t, it kicks down almost instantaneously. Cruising on a two-lane highway in seventh and need to pass a semi? No sweat! Just clipped an apex on the track and it’s time to power out? Let’s go!
Shifts are snappy when you want them to be, and nearly invisible when you don’t. The Golf R is a rocket with the DSG; most buff books peg the zero-to-100 km/h time in the low four-second range. For context, that’s about as quick as a Ferrari 550 Maranello.
The rest of the 2022 Golf R is mostly evolutionary. From the outside, the look is familiar and instantly recognizable as a Golf, but naturally, it’s freshened up with restyled front and rear fascias, new wheels, and other bits and pieces. If you know what you’re looking for, you can tell it’s a little more special than the GTI, but it’s also far more subtle than the Civic Type R, or even the Veloster N.
As for the interior, well, it’s quite possibly the most polarizing aspect of the Golf R’s rework. The good? Visibility all around is excellent, the all-digital instrument cluster is sharp, and most importantly, the seats — they’re supportive and well-bolstered, and not only are they now both heated and cooled, but they also have memory settings! Oh, and that meaty steering wheel is heated, too. What’s not to love?!
Turns out, a fair bit. We can give the hilariously dinky shifter a pass, but the reworked infotainment system takes a lot of getting used-to. Whatever isn’t done through the 10.25-inch touchscreen and its maze of menus is handled by capacitive touch-sensitive panels and voice controls; it’s infuriating at first, but eventually, you’ll suck it up and get used to it. The shortcuts help: for instance, rather than tapping the touchscreen three times to adjust the toastiness of your seat, you can tap the hot and cold temperature controls simultaneously. Clever, but it’d be even better if the panel was illuminated so you can see what you’re poking at night.
All told, Volkswagen asks $45,995 for the three-pedal R, while the DSG adds another $1,400 to the bottom line. Beyond that, your only option is a $1,250 panoramic sunroof — otherwise, the R is fully loaded off the factory floor. It’s a hefty chunk of change, but it’s in line with the previous-gen R, and a bargain compared to the Mercedes-AMG A 35.
As for the million-dollar question at hand: DSG or automatic? Well, that depends on what you value more: engagement or performance. If it’s the former, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R, equipped with the six-speed manual, is a damn near perfect daily driver that makes you want to take the long way to the grocery store. But if it’s the latter, the DSG is the way to go; the seven-speed does a formidable job at eking every bit of performance out of VW’s hot hatch for grown-ups. Now, what’s for dinner?