VW Golf GTI vs Golf R – which hot hatch is best?

For the last forty years, the VW Golf GTI has been at the forefront of the hot hatch market with an impressive blend of sportiness, practicality and everyday user friendliness. More recently, however, the more powerful VW Golf R has stolen some of the GTI’s limelight, boasting four-wheel drive and a still fairly affordable price tag. Read on for help deciding which one to put on your driveway.

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VW Golf GTI vs Golf R prices

Naturally, if you’re looking to spend the least money, the GTI is the model to pick – it costs from £27,920, £4,390 cheaper than the £32,310 Golf R. That hike in price doesn’t buy you much more interior tech either – both cars get the Golf’s upgraded eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with sat nav, adaptive cruise control, selectable driving modes and VW’s Car-Net online services.

Apart from the engine’s extra 80hp and the four-wheel-drive system, most of the Golf R’s extra price goes towards styling add ons. Keen-eyed Golf fans might notice the R’s unique front and rear bumpers, four exhaust tips, silver side mirror caps, flashes of carbon trim in the cabin and unique seat upholstery. For some, these additions plus the bragging rights of having the range-topping Golf R will justify the extra cost.

VW Golf GTI vs Golf R styling

Little separates the GTI and the R when viewed side by side. Both have large 18-inch alloy wheels as standard along with a sporty body kit and lowered ride heights compared to a conventional Golf. The GTI’s front end gets a large lower air intake with a honeycomb grille flanked by grey plastic strakes. The R’s front is similar but swaps the honeycomb pattern for a rectangular grille with shiny black plastic trim on either side.

The GTI has a signature red strip that runs the width of the front grille and extends into the headlights, harking back to the design of the 1974 original, while the R makes do with a chrome strip. At the back, both feature boot-mounted spoilers but the R is marked out by its four exhaust tips in place of the GTI’s comparatively modest two.

VW Golf GTI vs Golf R interior

Inside, the differences are almost non-existent. The GTI features seats trimmed in the same iconic tartan fabric that’s graced GTIs for many years while the gear knob is designed to look like a golf ball. The R’s seats are embossed with the ‘R’ logo and have cloth centre sections and contrasting outer sections.

Both models can now be fitted with VW’s Active Info Display that swaps the traditional dials behind the steering wheel for a configurable screen, helping the cabin feel high tech. There’s also decent space in both for four adults and their luggage, although those after the most storage might want to pick the Golf R Estate – a body style not offered for the GTI.

VW Golf GTI vs Golf R driving and engines

Both the GTI and the R display similar handling characteristics – they aim to offer a sporty driving experience with a nod towards everyday usability. This means you get very limited body roll, firm suspension and vast reserves of grip, but the weighting of the controls isn’t as extreme as racier hot hatches such as the Honda Civic Type R and Renaultsport Megane. The R’s four-wheel-drive system means it’ll cling on through fast corners a little longer then the GTI although the optional limited-slip differential included in the GTI’s performance pack somewhat makes up for this.

The R’s headline power figure might leave you thinking it’ll make the GTI seem slow but, in practice, both feel really quick on the road. The GTI has 230hp in standard form or 245hp with the optional performance pack and its 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds puts it firmly among the fastest hatchbacks. That is, until you look at the four-wheel drive 310hp Golf R – it sprints from 0-62mph in just 4.6 seconds when fitted with the optional seven-speed DSG gearbox.

VW Golf GTI vs Golf R verdict

Neither option here is a poor choice. If your budget is a little restrictive, the GTI’s lower price means you can enjoy its impressive performance, fine handling and great build quality without busting the bank. If you have a little more to spend, you might prefer the extra few degrees of performance and better bragging rights of the Golf R.

Save money on your next new car

Click ‘login’ on our homepage to sign up and configure a new car or see our list of new, nearly new, pre-reg and ex-demo cars. See our VW Golf GTI deals and our VW Golf R deals. Check out our list of the best hot hatches on sale or view carwow’s latest savings on our car deals page or use our car chooser for more help making your mind up.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

A small family car that’s quick and fun to drive
8/10
£28,465 - £31,755
RRP
Read review Compare offers

Volkswagen Golf R

A very fast practical family hatchback
8/10
£32,880 - £34,910
RRP
Read review Compare offers
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