£31,185 - £33,755 Price range
38 - 40 MPG
The Volkswagen Golf R is a super-fast hatchback that does things a little differently from the competition, which includes bewinged spectacles such as the Honda Civic Type-R and Ford Focus RS. In fact, aside from a boot-mounted spoiler, four exhaust pipes and big wheels, there’s little to distinguish it from a regular Golf.
To many, that will appeal. Anyone who’s driven the fast Honda will attest to the less-than-favourable attention it gets. In contrast, the Golf R’s subdued styling lets it slide under the radar, concealing the fact that its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine sees 0-62mph pass in just 5.1 seconds.
It might not have the banzai track ability of some, but out on the road – where let’s be honest you’ll use it almost all of the time – it’s ideal. The four-wheel-drive grip means its sizeable performance isn’t restricted by weather conditions (a ‘potential’ factor here in the UK) and when you’re not in the mood to thrash it, it’s a refined and comfortable way to cover ground.
That everyday liveability extends to the excellent interior, which is logically laid out and displays a level of build quality that is a pleasure to experience. It’s practical, too, thanks to the option to specify five doors and the fact there’s room for four adults and a well-sized boot.
Sat-nav comes as standard and the R gets a sporty body kit, part-Alcantara leather seats, and a sports steering wheel, but if you really want it to stand out (to those in the know at least) the £630 Lapiz Blue paint is unique to the model. Equipment includes parking sensors all round, xenon headlights and adaptive cruise control.
The current Golf has been with us since 2012, but you really wouldn’t know it from the inside.
Interior quality is second to none in this price bracket and although the design lacks a little inspiration, the layout is hard to quibble with – everything is exactly where you expect it to be, works logically and feels like it will continue to do so for many years to come.
It’s a nice place to sit, made even nicer by the R model’s body-hugging sports seats, three-spoke leather-bound steering wheel, carbon-style trim pieces and light sprinkling of R badges. It brings an air of quality to the class that no other rival can touch.
Volkswagen Golf R infotainment
The sat-nav is one of the easiest systems to use in the current crop of hatchbacks. ‘Home’ buttons make it simple to navigate and, for an extra £125, you can have compatibility with your smartphone via Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Volkswagen Golf R boot space
Practicality is high too. Sure the Golf’s 380-litre boot might be down on the Civic Type R’s 445-litre capacity, but it is still big enough to swallow two large suitcases, with a small one on top. And although the boffins at Honda were busy working out quite how big a wing they could fit to the back of their Type R, the sensible folk at VW were making the Golf’s load bay more usable – fitting an adjustable boot floor, 12v power socket, countless tethers and a place to store the parcel shelf. It’s all painfully Germanic, and vastly better for it.
Volkswagen Golf R passenger space
If you’ll regularly carry four people, it’s worth paying £655 extra to get the five-door model for better access to the spacious back seat. The Golf’s boxy shape means headroom is plentiful and legroom’s none too shabby either, while the car’s clearly marked Isofix points make it easy to fit a child seat. There’s no shortage of cubby spaces – the door bins are huge, as is the glovebox, and there are various smaller storage areas and cupholders hidden throughout the cabin.
Out on the road, the Golf R proves to be the consummate all-rounder you would expect it to be. While stiffer than a regular Golf, the suspension errs on the side of comfort – in a way the bone-jarring Focus RS and Civic Type R definitely do not. The Golf is well judged for the UK’s bumpy tarmac, while still making the car feel connected to the ground running beneath it. The £830 Dynamic Chassis Control is a popular option, which allows you to set the springs in Comfort, Normal or Sport modes.
In the latter of those, the Golf R reveals itself to be more than up to the job of gobbling up bends. Its steering might not offer the pin-sharp reactions or feelsome delivery of the best setups, but it is well-weighted and accurate. You can enter bends at speed before coming out the other end, mashing your right foot to the floor and letting the four-wheel-drive system do its thing as the car hunkers down and slingshots towards the next corner.
It’s good clean fun, but it’s when you’re not driving like a hooligan that the Golf reveals its full hand. You see, unlike most hot hatches, the R asks for no compromises – it rides well at a cruise, is extremely quiet and the adaptive cruise control means it can brake and accelerate autonomously as you hurry down the motorway.
In fact, the only place the Golf R feels a little out its depth is on track. There its controls feel ever so slightly soggy, the manual gearbox’s long throw would benefit from more precision and the car doesn’t suck to corners with the Dyson-like ferocity displayed by either the Civic Type R or the Ford Focus RS.
The R’s engine is the same basic unit found in the Golf GTI but with a little extra magic – also known as a bigger turbo – thrown in to increase power from 218 to 296hp. That’s enough to get it from 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds (4.9 with the DSG gearbox) making it the fastest Golf ever sold.
Torque of 280Ib ft is available from just 1,800 rpm, so the R doesn’t suffer from the peaky power delivery that can leave other hot hatches floundering in the wrong gear. In fact, it’s so well mannered that it is easy to forget just how quick it is, though it only takes one stab of the accelerator to bring the good times flooding back.
If you can see a gap in traffic then, 99 per cent of the time, the VW can make it but, driven with a generous helping of decorum, it can also be reasonably frugal. It’s up to 18 per cent more efficient than the model it replaces, so fuel economy sits at around 40mpg in both manual and DSG models and road tax costs £185 a year.
With only one engine to choose from, the toughest decision is whether to pick that £585 DSG gearbox. It’s a must-have if you do a lot of town driving that would otherwise require plenty of clutch work but, while its near-instantaneous changes increase performance, it can’t match the involvement of slotting through the gears and making perfectly timed down changes in ye olde manual.
The R doesn’t sacrifice anything in terms of safety in its pursuit of speed. There are all the airbags you could want, a maximum NCAP crash test rating, Isofix points for your child seats, and a host of tech.
These include the optional high-beam assist (which automatically dips your headlights when it detects other cars), and the standard-fit adaptive cruise control (ACC), which uses a radar in the front bumper to keep a safe distance from the car in front on motorways, even if that car speeds up or slows down. It takes some getting used to, but it’s very useful.
The latest Golf R follows VW’s proven recipe for providing impressive performance in a package that is entirely usable. It looks and feels well built, is practical and is, relatively speaking, cheap to run. It’s also very quick – that 4.9 second 0-62mph time would have been a badge of honour to supercars not that long ago. Admittedly, those looking for the ultimate trackday weapon will be left wanting, but when the circuit-based shenanigans draw to a close and you’re faced with a long and boring drive home, the Golf R – above all other hot hatches – is the car you’ll want to drive back in.