We seemed to have had months of hot hatch tests and launches here in New Zealand. After trying out the new Hyundai i20N at Hampton Downs last week, this week it’s off to Auckland again to learn about – and drive – the Volkswagen Golf 8 R.

Well, it’s not all hot hatches this time. As well as the Golf 8 R, VW NZ would be giving us the low-down on the new Tiguan R, and we’d be driving that model too.

After recently sampling the Renault Megane RS 300 Trophy and the updated Honda Civic Type R, it seems the Golf R doesn’t have the hot hatch market cornered like it used to. It was time to see if the new Golf has enough tricks up its sleeve to fend off the rest of the pack.

2022 Golf 8 R ready to hit the track

In Auckland, Kevin Richards – General Manager for VW Commercial in New Zealand – gave us the run-down on the new models. “The R range represents accessible performance,” he says, “and it’s fully engineered for all-around driving excellence.” A pretty bold claim, but the Mk7 Golf R certainly has a great reputation.

The R range has been around so long they have their own fan base called Wookies in the Wild. DriveLife’s own Rob Clubley is a member of this, and regularly goes to their events. Dedicated fan base? Totally.

Kevin goes on to say that there are two main types of Golf R buyers:

  1. Those Golf R enthusiasts who would own nothing else
  2. Older VW buyers who just want the most expensive Golf

Jordan Haynes, National Sales Manager, took over at this point stating that demand for R models is high, and with global semiconductor supply issues and the war in Ukraine affecting the supply of wiring harnesses for VW vehicles, those supply issues would remain for some time yet.

In saying that, apparently 2021’s VW passenger car sales in New Zealand were the highest ever and this led to their highest-ever market share. To support those sales, VW NZ has hired extra staff at the New Zealand Head Office to support customers better. Perhaps this has paid off, as Jordan states that VW NZ achieved 2nd place in the MTA Dealer Survey in 2021.

“We want to be the most-loved vehicle brand,” says Jordan, and the Golf R and Tiguan R are a big part of that love.

Tiguan R

Volkswagen New Zealand and 2022

A big focus for the company is the R range, especially at the moment Tiguan and Golf. Last month, VW NZ delivered 123 R models across both Golf and Tiguan, or impressively half of all VW NZ sales. While they’ve struggled to get enough T-Rocs to sell, the T-Roc R will come in 2022, with the Touareg R coming in Q1 of 2023.

2022 saw brand-new dealerships open in Rotorua and Pukekohe, giving VW NZ 21 dealers nationwide. One bit of sad news for the day was that the much-loved Polo would cease to be sold here, likely in the next two months. SUVs are taking over.

2022 Golf 8 R interior

Volkswagen New Zealand: The R Brand

“R stands for racing,” says Jordan. It’s been the racing division for VW globally for 20 years, and models starting with the Golf 4 R32 in 2002, Golf 5 R32 in 2005, Golf 6 R in 2009, and the Golf 7 R in 2013.

Accessibility for the R brand in New Zealand includes the global premium car mobility company, Sixt. Through Sixt, you can rent a Golf, Tiguan, Allspace and Touareg. They have two options; rental or monthly subscription (6, 9 or 12 month periods), and this includes insurance. The Rent an R programme has started, so customers can rent either R model, as a sort of try-before-you-buy scenario, or long-term.

Golf 8 R & Tiguan R

Volkswagen New Zealand: R Brand Product Highlights

Sang Jeon – Product Manager for VW NZ – says that most cars allocated are already pre-sold, and interestingly the most popular colours are black or white. Since the Golf R only comes in three colours, that leaves Lapiz Blue Metallic as the third wheel. There was a Lapiz Blue Golf R in the studio with us, and it looked stunning.

“It’s much more than just a badge,” says Sang, “It’s a symbol of high performance.” He might be right there. This new Golf R is the first with the all-new AWD system, and the first with the torque vectoring differential, that we saw recently at the launch of the Audi RS3.

The new Golf R has improved handling and agility he says, and we’ll get to test this out tomorrow at Pukekohe Park Raceway.

To date, Volkswagen New Zealand has pre-sold 107 Golf Rs and 160 Tiguan Rs. As expected, 80% of the sales are for First Edition models.

2022 Golf 8 R in Lapiz Blue Metallic

Volkswagen New Zealand: 2022 Golf 8 R

The Golf R now manages to pump out 235kW of power (up 7kW over its predecessor), with torque now at 400Nm. The power increase helps the new model get to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 250km/h (270km/h in the First Edition models). That power increase has come about by using a larger turbo and improved cylinder heads.

At 7 minutes and 51 seconds, the latest Golf R is 19 seconds faster around the Nürburgring.

Those lucky buyers of a First Edition model certainly get some extras for the $5,000 increase in price. For a start, there are two extra drive modes that you simply can’t have on the ‘normal’ Golf R: Drift, and Special.

For the Drift mode, the car can send maximum rear torque to either outside wheel to maintain a drift. Special drive mode will see the DSG stay in manual mode if selected, right out to the red line and the car will valve bounce if you don’t manually change gear. When not in manual mode, the transmission will downshift as early as possible, and upshift as late as possible.

First Edition models also get an exclusive rear spoiler, the increased top speed to 270km/h, a panoramic sunroof, and a Harmon/Kardon sound system.

Probably the biggest mechanical change is the move to a variable torque differential that VW calls R-Performance Torque Vectoring. This works like a variable diff lock, and can deliver up to 100% of the front or rear drive to either the left or right wheel. Comparing this to the  Mk7 Golf R, which could only send up to 50% torque to either side. In a nutshell, it should offer excellent driving dynamics and improved driving stability, and it certainly should help with Drift mode as well.

2022 Volkswagen Golf 8 R Torque Vectoring differential

There is only one transmission option, a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic (DSG) with new shift-by-wire and an R-specific performance curve.

The front suspension has been altered, with a 10% increase in spring rates over 7R, more aggressive negative camber, and an R-specific damper setup. There’s also an alloy front subframe, and a 10% increase in the anti-roll bar size over the R7 Golf.

The front brake assembly is 600 grams lighter than before, with increased pedal feel with less travel, and a larger master cylinder. Two-pot brakes are retained, pushing against 357mm discs in the front, and the brake booster is now electro-mechanical, so it offers more boost at higher speed when it’s needed.

At the back of the car, there have been changes as well. The rear suspension is still multilink, but with reconfigured springs and stabilisers, reconfigured control arm mounts, new wheel mounts as well as new damper bearings and hydraulics.

Volkswagen New Zealand: 2022 Tiguan R

VW has successfully transplanted the drivetrain of Golf R into the Tiguan, so it’s essentially the same running gear as the hatchback. It has the same engine as the Golf R but with more weight, the Tiguan R takes 5.1 seconds to get to 100km/h.

Suspension changes over a normal Tiguan include R-specific dampers all round, an alloy front subframe, and the car is lowered by 10mm all round.

Like the Golf R, you can purchase a Tiguan R First Edition. This model has 21” Estoril alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, and Harmon/Kardon audio.

2022 Volkswagen Golf 8 R & Tiguan R: Pricing

Golf R: $77,990

Golf R First Edition: $82,990

Tiguan R: $80,990

Tiguan R First Edition: $85,990

Clean Car Fee (additional cost):

Golf: $517.50

Tiguan: $1,955

2022 Volkswagen Golf 8 R & Tiguan R Launch: Day Two

We’d need to get to Pukekohe by 10:30 today, so that meant a self-drive on any roads we wanted, as long as we got there in time. Jumping into a black Golf R, we hit the road. The car is as easy to drive around town as any other Golf, with only the exhaust noise to really let you know it’s different. In Comfort mode, the ride is quite compliant as well, soaking up bumps in Auckland city streets pretty well.

We decided to head to Castaway Beach, as the 8km road to it is full of twists and turns. On the back roads South of Auckland, there were still opportunities to test out the car’s performance and handling at lower speeds on some tighter bends. The turn-in on the car is stunning, it simply falls into the corners. We’re not going at a pace fast enough to really feel that torque-vectoring differential, that would have to wait until we got to the track.

I tried out the Special drive mode, the one that’s only optioned in First Edition models. It keeps the ride relatively smooth, while holding the gears longer and changing down more quickly. So far it’s feeling like it’s really a Goldilocks sort of drive mode.

Very tasty R-specific roof spoiler

2022 Volkswagen Golf 8 R & Tiguan R Launch: Track Time

After stopping on the track, we had a demo of the Golf R’s new Drift mode by a tame racing driver. Not making it look easy but certainly making it look impressive, the ‘secret’ driver ploughed the Golf R around the hairpin and shortened back straight to get the car sideways much of the time. On pulling up to us, smoke was pouring from the front brakes.

Video credit: Volkswagen New Zealand

The tame racing driver was Mr Greg Murphy, who would also be taking us out for Hot Laps later in the day. The demo over, we split into teams and our team took on Drag Racing first. We lined up Golf R against Golf R next to the Christmas tree and waited for the green light. If there’s one thing this proved, it was the Golf R sounds delicious. Snaps, crackles and pops come out of the exhausts with no fakery. It sounds excellent. Of course, the car can really move it. Max torque kicks in at 2,000rpm and once you hit that, the car shoots forward at a hell of a pace.

After a few goes at the drag strip, we switched into Tiguan Rs and did the same thing. More superb noises, and while performance is not the same as the Golf R, this SUV can really honk it down the drag strip. Very impressive all around.

Racer Ray Williams get the drag racers ready, with some zeal

2022 Volkswagen Golf 8 R & Tiguan R Launch: Drift Mode

Next up was trying to get the Golf R to drift on a wet part of the track. While our instructors made it look easy, previous experience reminded me it’s not easy. It’s hard to turn your brain off as it wants to correct the car all the time and stop it sliding, but that’s not what this was about. While we only got a couple of attempts at this, and a few drivers managed to do well with the car.

But we know the Golf R can do this, and it might be a good reason why the majority of Golf R sales are the First Edition models, since that’s the only model that has Drift mode.

Regardless of Drift mode, it goes on to prove how good this car goes – and sounds. Listening to this car being caned on the track in Drift mode, it blitzes the Honda Civic Type R for engine noise.

Attempting to drift the Golf 8 R

2022 Volkswagen Golf 8 R & Tiguan R Launch: Slalom

It was Golf R time again, this time two shots at getting the fastest time through a slalom set up on the track. Tricky as some of the cones are on off-camber corners, meaning the car – and driver – has to work harder to make it smooth and quick.

But again, the Golf R impressed with its handling prowess. Not only handling, but the steering feedback is excellent, and that torque-vectoring diff helps in getting the power down at the right time and point perfectly. This was one test that really showed how much better the Golf R is with that new rear diff.

Full suspension travel in hard conering on the slalom

2022 Volkswagen Golf 8 R & Tiguan R Launch: Laps of Pukekohe

While we’d be restricted to only 160km/h, it was time to do full laps of the circuit, following a lead car. I expect that a lot of drivers here today had been waiting for this one, as was I. We’d had a taste of the Golf 8 R’s engine, handling and variable-torque diff, and now it was time to see how it really went in its home environment. This was a car tuned for the Nürburgring, after all.

My first car was the Tiguan R. I was expecting it to be a bit of a handful, and certainly with some body roll, but it was very good, bordering on excellent. It holds its line well, and mid-corner bumps (Pukekohe has plenty of these!) don’t upset the car at all. It accelerates hard, sounds brilliant and is practical to boot. I can imagine both partners in a relationship being happy with the Tiguan R: one wants practicality, and the other wants performance, engine noise and handling. The Tiguan R has all this. It’s a great compromise car, and I think its performance and handling surprised quite a few of us.

Next up, it was into the Golf R. While the Tiguan R can accelerate quickly, you could instantly feel the extra speed and urgency of the Golf R, with amazing sounds from both engine and exhaust. The steering is brilliant with excellent feedback from the front wheels.

And that new diff? It works. Turning into the hairpin, you could physically feel the diff working hard, and without a doubt, it made that hairpin easier to take. The performance of that upgraded engine – even if it only has 7kW extra – is really noticeable on the track, and it pulls like a steam train. That 400Nm of torque is quite handy too, as there was one corner I was taking in second gear, when it was better to take it in third. Special mode was pretty handy here and with perfectly placed paddles, you could ace the gear changes right on the red line. 

I was disappointed that the heads-up display (HUD) doesn’t have a rev counter in any drive mode – or even a gear indicator – but the bar-type of rev counter right up high on the dash was pretty usable. Hopefully, in some update, we’ll see VW fixing the HUD and making it work for the driver, even if only in Drift or Sport mode.

2022 Volkswagen Golf 8 R: Hot Laps With Greg Murphy

Too quickly our laps were over, and it was time to put on helmets and head out on the track with Murph. Hitting the first corner, there was no slowing down. We took it sideways at 160km/h, the car very nearly on the limits of adhesion. From the passenger’s seat, I could feel the car wanting to let go, but Murph feathered that throttle with precision to keep the car from going off the track.

It was like this corner after corner; it wasn’t a display of how quickly the car could be hustled around Pukekohe, but instead a display of how forgiving the chassis is in the right hands. That torque-vectoring differential was working hard.

Greg Murphy and Golf 8 R – a good combination

It was now time to call it a day, and head home. We’ll publish our normal full review of the 2022 Golf 8 R and Tiguan R once we get them to test.

Read more about the 2022 VW Golf 8 R and Tiguan R on the Volkswagen New Zealand website.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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