Volkswagen Golf R Review
A Volkswagen Golf that’s both incredibly intense and classily cultured at the same time. Shame the looks aren’t quite as subtle as they used to be, though.
What's not so good
Volkswagen Golf R: what would you like to read next?
This is the new Volkswagen Golf R, the latest in an established line of Golfs with more than a little extra “Grrr”. Or perhaps just “Rrrr”.
So, is the Mark 8 VW Golf R still the cool kid at school who’s bulked up a bit at the gym? Well, it appears so. It has lowered suspension and a cool blue LED light strip between the headlights, plus LED tail lights, four (real) exhaust pipes, a rear diffuser and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Certainly it’s a bit more obvious that this is a performance variant than the last Golf R. Whether or not that floats your boat, or you prefer the ‘sleeper’ look, is entirely subjective.
Meanwhile, the interior is all very minimalist and classy like it is in the standard Golf, with few buttons and some fiddly details. There’s a dedicated R steering wheel with some bright blue trims (as well as some seriously annoying touch-sensitive buttons), plenty of sporty blue stitching, and one-piece sports seats with stripy blue trim that feels a bit cheap.
Those sports seats hold you really well when you’re making the most of a clear stretch of your favourite twisty road, and they’re very comfortable on the motorway, but because of the integrated headrests they’re pretty bulky when you’re sat in the rear, and so are difficult to see around.
Under the bonnet lies a 320hp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, which also produces 420Nm of torque. It drives all four wheels through a DSG automatic gearbox; there’s no manual gearbox available this time. Truth be told, the auto suits the R, because it allows you to feel like a racing driver one minute and then lets you sit back and leave everything alone the next.
We recently tested the Golf GTI in damp conditions and got pretty close to VW’s official 0-62mph time of 6.3 seconds. However, a GTI driver will not see which way the new Golf R goes, so intense is the R’s accelerative ability. We tested it and it covered the 0-60mph sprint in a fraction over 4.0 seconds. Wow. It’s another league.
The Golf R still flies a bit under the radar, but there's nothing subtle about the way it performs.
As before the Golf R gets independent suspension all-round, which helps it feel agile through the corners, and the four-wheel-drive system means traction is never an issue. This Mk8 Golf R also gets an electronically controlled limited-slip differential on each axle to further enhance cornering balance and traction.
However, if you pay an extra £2,000 for the Performance Pack, your Golf R gets a higher top speed, larger alloy wheels and a ‘Drift mode’. Very un-Volkswagen.
You can also pay an extra £785 to have your Golf R fitted with adaptive dampers. These let you stiffen everything up for hooning it down country roads and soften the ride for cruising home on the motorway. The system works very well indeed, and we would heartily recommend that you tick that box.
You can personalise these settings through the infotainment system, too. So you can fine-tune your favourite set-up and save it for later.
An 8-inch infotainment system and a 10-inch digital driver’s display are both standard but you can pay extra to get a pair of 10-inch screens instead. Both displays come with R-specific blue graphics and you can customise the driver’s display using buttons on the steering wheel. You also have the ability to control lots of the car’s features using voice commands – just as you can in the standard Golf.
However, the ventilation and audio systems are controlled using touch-sensitive ‘sliders’ below the infotainment screen, and these are much less successful. What’s wrong with buttons? They’re not backlit at light, either…
You can add numerous options to your Golf R, including an Akrapovic exhaust system, which sounds better and saves 7kg. However, £3,100? You might be better going on a diet and making the noises yourself.
Space in the R is basically the same as in every other Golf, so there’s plenty of room for four adults (or five if they’re on speaking terms), and decent room in the 374-litre boot (down by seven litres on lesser Golfs because the four-wheel-drive takes up space), and there are all the usual hooks and lashing points to keep shopping where you want it to be.
So the Golf R is still the good-at-everything kid, and now it’s a whole lot stronger, as witnessed by our timing gear. Frankly, it’s a bit of a show off. If this sounds like your next car, take a look at the latest Volkswagen Golf R deals.
There’s decent space for five adults, but boot space is slightly affected by the four-wheel-drive system.
The VW Golf R has loads of front-seat space for the driver and passenger to get comfortable in, and the standard sports seats are both extremely supportive when you’re testing the car’s cornering grip, and comfortable when you’re testing its fuel-tank range.
There’s also lots of adjustment for both the front seat and steering wheel. In the back, the R feels just as roomy as the conventional Mk8 Golf, so there’s plenty of legroom and headroom for a couple of adults to feel perfectly comfortable. If there’s a downside, it’s that the two large front seats can make the back feel a little claustrophobic.
There are loads of neat little cubbies dotted around the Golf R’s cabin, and as is usual on a VW, the front door bins are lined to stop stuff rattling around. They’re big enough for a decent-sized bottle, too. A fair-sized area resides beneath the centre armrest, and there’s a pair of adjustable cupholders on the centre console.
Talking of the centre console, there’s a long box beside the gear selector, and a dedicated area beneath the dashboard for storing your phone.
In the rear of the cabin, the door bins are pretty large, and each front seat comes with three seat-back pockets – one large enough to hold a map and two smaller ones that’ll accommodate phones. This is one versatile hot hatch.
The 374-litre boot is slightly smaller than you’ll find in lesser Golfs because of the presence of the rear differential, but you’ll be able to fit in five carry-on flight suitcases. It’s also easy enough to flip down the rear seats, which reveal a 1,233-litre load area that while not the biggest, is certainly decent. If you need more carrying space, perhaps a Skoda Octavia vRS might make a better second choice.
There’s also an adjustable boot floor that eliminates the step behind the folded rear seats, so you won’t have any trouble sliding in heavy items.
The boot is also a decent, regular shape, and features all the usual bag hooks and lashing points so that you can ensure your shopping remains unscrambled on the journey home.
The Golf R has the pace to frighten many sports cars off the line, with only road noise being a slight downside.
Under the bonnet lies a four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that develops 320hp and 420Nm of torque. Interestingly, it’s a newer and more powerful version of the engine found in the latest Audi S3.
Volkswagen claims the Golf R can get to 62mph in just 4.7 seconds, but they’re fibbing. It’s faster than that. We tested it and managed to cover the 0-60mph sprint in a hair over 4.0 seconds. The 50-70mph acceleration, which is the sort you use when overtaking slower vehicles, is similarly eye-opening.
The Golf R’s standard seven-speed DSG gearbox is tremendous, shifting ratios in the blink of an eye, and doing a good job of knowing which gear you want to be in at any given moment.
The R also has an average economy figure of 36.2mpg, which is pretty respectable for a car with such pace and four-wheel drive.
First things first, the VW Golf R is no highly strung firecracker. It’s too grown up for that. However, it accelerates like something developed by Space X and drives with a pace and purpose that will really quicken your pulse when you want it to. Few cars will be as quick over a twisty B-road.
And then, when the motorway beckons, that Golf R comes over all calm and unobtrusive, save for a little more road noise than might be ideal.
Yes, you might get there just about as quick in a Honda Civic Type R, but your eyes will be out on stalks when you do.
The steering is consistent and gives you reasonable feedback about what sort of a day the front tyres are having, and when you’re back in suburbia dealing with mini-roundabouts, it’s quick enough so that you aren’t forced into frantic arm-twirling.
It’s incredibly high tech inside the Golf these days, but usability has definitely suffered as a result