2022 Volkswagen Golf R at Lightning Lap 2022

Its superb athleticism more than makes up for its boxy looks and economy-car roots.

2022 volkswagen golf r
Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

Lap Time: 3:04.3

Class: LL2 | Base: $45,440 | As Tested: $45,440
Power and Weight:
315 hp • 3357 lb • 10.7 lb/hp
Hankook Ventus S1 Evo3, 235/35R-19 91Y

A racetrack doesn't care if a car looks like a decommissioned fighter jet or a box with windows. The only thing that matters at Lightning Lap is how quickly a vehicle can wend its way through the circuit. Golf Rs might be boxy machines with economy-car roots, but they're also imbued with the power and handling to make your fast-driving aspirations a reality, at least most of the time.

2022 volkswagen golf r
Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

Though the new R has all-wheel drive and 74 horsepower more than the front-drive GTI, it manages to move with the same assuredness, finely honed balance, and near absence of understeer as its lesser sibling. That athleticism enabled the new R to smoke its predecessor through not just one of VIR's sectors, but all five; its 137.4 mph straightaway speed topped the old 292-hp R's by 12.8 mph. Over the 4.1-mile lap, that trouncing equates to a massive 8.0-second advantage over the last Golf R, matching the time set by a 450-hp Audi RS5 back in 2013.

Recording a clean lap was a struggle, though. Your hands need to be at nine and three to reach the dual-clutch automatic's shift paddles, but that causes your palms to contact various spoke-mounted buttons, creating all manner of havoc. We'd leave the pits in the most aggressive chassis setting with the car in manual-shift mode and, halfway through a lap, find ourselves in a different mode with the steering-wheel heat on and the car shifting itself. In desperation, we shut off stability control, tapped the drive-mode selector into sport, and somehow put together a cohesive lap. If you're serious about tracking an R, get the six-speed manual or learn to drive with your hands at ten and two. Do that and the Golf R's sports-car soul will quickly overshadow any thoughts about its exterior design.

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