It can’t be that bad, can it? How wrong could VW have gotten it? Countless reviews said the center screen and HVAC situation was abysmal, but that must have been an exaggeration for entertainment’s sake, right? These were the questions swirling in my mind prior to taking delivery of the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R press car seen here. Being a big fan of the outgoing Mk7 Golf R, naturally I was hoping these issues were overblown and the new Mk8’s driving experience overshadowed the supposed missteps in usability. Were my worries unfounded?
The packaging seems to be worse. Cubbies are smaller, and the front seats appear to have gotten even thicker with no increase in comfort. Back seat space feels worse than before, even if the legroom is identical to the Mk7’s 35.6 inches. Meanwhile, the material quality has worsened significantly. The outgoing R (and GTI) felt premium and luxurious. No longer; there’s blatant cost-cutting everywhere in the Mk8. From the center console to the dashboard to the rear doors, hard plastic is everywhere. Overall, it’s a step down from the prior car.
The interior’s worst offender in my book is the shifter. I’m perpetually baffled by push-button or small electronic shifters that take up as much space as a manual’s gear lever or traditional PRDN gear changer. The new R’s little nubby electric razor of a thing is meant to emulate that of the 992 Porsche 911’s, but in practice it’s just no better than what we used to have. It’s a gimmick, and though I’m hyper-critical, it undeniably doesn’t improve the Golf R experience. I miss even the small fragment of satisfaction that came from the last gen’s traditional shifter for DSG-equipped cars.
The new stereo is also somewhat of a letdown. I’m a big music lover– not an audiophile– and the sound from the Harman Kardon stereo was disappointing even after playing around with it. Easy enough to tweak with the aftermarket, but still a shame considering the last car’s Fender unit was better. And we have to address the elephant in the room: The infotainment system that controls the stereo. The decision to omit knobs and dials was asinine. Not lighting the touch and slide controls for the volume and HVAC inputs wasn’t just foolish, it was borderline dangerous. There’s no way around this: You have to take your eyes off the road to do anything except drive the car. It’s an almost unforgivable sin.
Unfortunately the press car was delivered to me at the tail end of May on snow tires. Not just all-seasons or all-weathers, but chunky, aggressive snows. Worse, the temperatures were in the high-80s and dipping into the 90s. It was disappointing to say the least. One quick drive told me everything I needed to know about these tires’ limits when the mercury was showing triple what they’re meant for. For the sake of this review, I’m leaving thoughts about the Golf R’s behavior in sporty driving off the table. It simply wouldn’t be appropriate, like discussing how the C8 Corvette is better on snow tires. Oops. Still, the Golf R is properly quick and corners quite well even on the wrong shoes.
Without being able to really drive the Golf R the way it’s intended to be driven, it’s hard to analyze the Golf R in its entirety. As a daily driver and road-tripper, the Golf R is still excellent. We did a few long highway stints and the ride and comfort is excellent, as is visibility. It’s quiet, calm, and controlled inside the R. We could see driving it daily or road tripping it without complaint. Regardless, our advice is to avoid interacting with anything but the gear selector, steering wheel, and pedals. Plug in your phone for CarPlay, use the steering wheel to control the audio, and don’t touch anything you don’t have to touch. Just drive the car and it’s a perfectly good as-is, albeit not the fire-breather we once hoped it might be. Save that expectation for the new Civic Type R. Or a Golf R on the right tires.
Needless to say, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R was underwhelming. I had high hopes for it and was crossing my fingers that the reviews were overblown for the sake of sensationalism, but I can’t argue other writers’ criticisms. It’s still a totally solid car: Safe, comfortable, efficient, and attractive. But the Mk7’s magic is gone, launched off the side of a very sharp technological cliff. Maybe the engagement of a manual transmission example on tires suited to the car’s intent would make me feeling differently. I’ll have to sample one to find out.
VW’s choices for the Mk8 GTI and Golf R’s interior was the automotive shot heard ‘round the world, but instead of a good thing it’s a case of “shot themselves in the foot.” While prior Golfs were marvels of packaging and usability, everything you interact with on a normal basis in the newest Golf R’s is every bit as bad as the reviewers before me have said. It’s troubling considering how great the Golf used to be. Here’s to hoping the mid-cycle refresh undoes these missteps.