If there’s one automotive brand at the very top of its game these days it’s Volkswagen. No further proof is needed than the range-topping high-performance Volkswagen Golf R.
Dollar-for-dollar and specification-for-specification the Volkswagen Golf R is without doubt one of the best European high-performance hatchbacks. Of course the award-winning seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf provides a superb starting point but the high-tech, high-performance goodies included in the ‘R’ model make it one of the most enticing vehicles we’ve driven this year.
‘R’ is Volkswagen’s high performance division and you see the stylized ‘R’ logo prominently featured in the company’s works team which is dominating the World Rally Championship again this year with the Polo WRC. Like Mercedes-Benz AMG and BMW M, Volkswagen’s R operation rolls-out cars which epitomize European high performance…and the Golf R is a prime example.
And the good news is, if you can’t stretch to the Golf R, Volkswagen has the sporty GTI model priced from $41,490. Talk about a world-beating lineup!
Volkswagen Golf R Overview
This is the fourth generation of Volkswagen’s high performance Golf R model. The Golf R is a high-tech wonder with a punchy turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, lots of R kit and underneath a plethora of driving aids as you’d expect from the German giant’s famed ‘R’ workshops.
The Golf R sits on a lowered sports suspension and runs the 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system, front and rear electronic differential locks, XDL (brakes the inside wheels in fast cornering – a transverse differential lock) and ESP with ‘Race’ mode.
Starting price for the Volkswagen Golf R is $51,990 for the six-speed manual version but www.carshowroom.com.au tested the top-of-the-range model fitted with the six-speed DSG automatic transmission with steering wheel paddle-shifters for sequential manual changes – retail price is $54,490.
Volkswagen Golf R Engine
A new driveline for the fourth generation Volkswagen Golf R – an updated 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and a fifth-generation 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system with a Haldex coupling.
The latest version of Volkswagen’s EA888 engine features numerous technical changes including a new cylinder head and pistons and delivers maximum power of 206kW between 5100rpm – 6500rpm and peak torque of 380Nm between 1800-5100rpm.
Our test car drove through the six-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic transmission. In this guise (using the ‘Race’ mode launch control) zero to 100km/h takes 5.0 seconds.
Combine-cycle fuel consumption is rated at 7.1l/100kms.
Volkswagen Golf R The Interior
Performance meets style – the Volkswagen Golf R is beautifully done inside.There are lots of ‘R’ cues like the excellent leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel, blue instrumentation and subtle blue lighting.
Sports front seats trimmed in two-tone grey with Alcantara sections look nice and are supportive. Combined with rake and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, the driving position is excellent.
Gloss-black trim highlights add a classy touch and we liked the push-button start button being located on the centre console – very race car-like. Centre dashboard is the 5.8-inch colour screen for the satellite navigation and audio which has the usual connectivity.
Rear seat passengers also get the two-tone grey Alcantara highlighted treatment and like the rest of the current Golf range there’s plenty of legroom back there.
Volkswagen Golf R Exterior & Styling
The Volkswagen Golf R doesn’t present with an outrageously extroverted exterior look to promote its performance. Rather, in the Volkswagen way, it’s subtle but with sufficient highlights to say this is the high performance leader of the Golf range.
The ‘R’ badges alert those who know.
Up-front there’s a unique grille, larger air intakes and Bi-Xenon headlights. The LED DRLs form the hallmark ‘U’ shape beneath the headlights.
Side-view is dominated by the massive and very stylish ‘Cadiz’ 19-inch polished alloy wheels with views to the black-painted brake calipers with ‘R’ logos. There are subtle side skirts, the exterior mirrors are painted in matt chrome and the ‘R logo also appears on the front guards.
The rear is highlighted by an effective-looking ‘R’ design diffuser, tailgate spoiler, smoked LED lights and the hallmark ‘R’ quad exhaust tailpipes.
Volkswagen Golf R On The Road
Here’s the differentiator for the Volkswagen Golf R: over our high-speed mountain roads test loop in normal auto mode this thing was still astonishingly fast and responsive. Head to ‘Sport’ mode and be prepared for something really special.
Not that bumbling around the city and ‘burbs gives you any real indication of the fire within this turbocharged all-wheel-drive dynamo. In fact at low engine speeds the Golf R sounds almost diesel-like…but smash the right pedal to the firewall and it springs to life with neck-straining acceleration, brilliant exhaust noise/popping/banging and snappy gear-shifts like a DTM (German Touring Car Championship) racer.
There’s a launch control function within the six-speed DSG which extracts the most from the turbocharged 2.0-litre and all-paw grip but our favourite ‘party trick’ with mates was to nail the throttle from low speeds (like freeway merging) and notice their eyes pop – wow this thing has some acceleration!
Over the twisty stuff Volkswagen has the Golf R’s MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear nicely tied-down and of course you have the latest generation 4MOTION handling the traction. It’s European firm no doubt but in ‘Comfort’ mode not as rigid as some would expect (yes in ‘Race’ mode it is very firm – just as it should be).
So the limits are incredibly high with understeer if you dare stray that far. But it’s all ridiculously well balanced and responsive.
Around town the Volkswagen Golf R is as easy to live with as any other Golf. Tractable and refined and easy to park aided by the standard reversing camera (although care is needed with good-looking 19-inch alloys – much too nice to carelessly ‘curb’ when parking).
Volkswagen Golf R Issues
We’ve got no gripes at all with the Volkswagen Golf R. Well, we wouldn’t mind a larger sat-nav screen but we suspect that will appear sometime during the lifespan of this Golf 7 model.
Volkswagen Golf R Verdict
Oh yes, yes, yes! The Golf R is the Volkswagen Golf to buy.
Nothing wrong with the entry-level Golf 90TSI for just $21,490, but man-o-man the Golf R is Wolfsburg at its best. All this performance, all this technology, all this style and it’s yours for just $51,990 (manual) or $54,490 DSG as tested.
Some have criticized the Golf R’s style, even suggesting it’s too plain (they want wings and things). But that misses the point entirely – the Volkswagen Golf R is a German high-performance hatchback and its subtlety (even with those polished 19-inch alloys) is part of the appeal.
Like its cousin the Audi S3 Quattro, this is a car which brings a smile to your face every time you open the door and hit the starter button. The sort of car which invites turning a three minute trip to the milk-bar into a 45 minute detour just to tackle your favourite twisty road one more time.
And it’s the sort of car you can brag about with your mates at the next barbeque: “Oh yes it’s turbocharged, all-wheel-drive, EDL, XDL, Race Mode with launch control, zero to 100km/h in 5.0 seconds and fuel consumption of 7.1l/100kms…and how is your rear-drive HSV or FPV?”
Sophisticated and fast, the Volkswagen Golf R is without doubt a new Car Showroom Favourite.
Volkswagen Golf R The Competition
A wise person once said: “Watch your friends as closely as you watch your enemies.” And that’s the story with Volkswagen Golf R’s closest rival – the Audi S3. A bit pricier at $59,990, the S3 shares many mechanicals with the Golf R…but done Audi-style. We love it.
Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution (from $56,990) isn’t a hatchback and certainly isn’t the newest design but it still packs an awesome punch with its 217kW/355Nm turbocharged 2.0-litre engine. Mitsubishi’s all-wheel-drive chassis is good but not in the same league as the Germans and the interior lets the rest of the Lancer EVO down in a direct comparison with the Golf R’s lower price.
Also not a hatchback but in the same league as the Volkswagen Golf R is of course the iconic Subaru WRX ($49,990 for the STi and $54,990 for the STi Premium). Just one-tenth fast zero to 100km/h (4.9 seconds) and featuring that marvelous 221kW/407Nm turbocharged 2.5-litre Boxer engine, the latest WRX STi is the best yet but doesn’t quite match the Golf R for interior style.