£31,800 - £33,755 Price range
38 - 39 MPG
Competing with bewinged spectacles such as the Honda Civic Type-R and Ford Focus RS, the Volkswagen Golf R cuts an unassuming figure – aside from a boot-mounted spoiler, quad 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. But its stealthy styling means you can sneak up on other cars, overtake, and be gone before the other driver even knows what has happened. Its 296hp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine sees 0-62mph pass in just 5.1 seconds, or 4.9 if you spec the optional DSG automatic gearbox.
It might not have the banzai track ability of some, but out on the road – where 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 definite factor here in the UK) and, when you’re not in the mood to thrash it, it’s a refined and comfortable cruiser.
That everyday liveability extends to the excellent interior, which is logically laid out and displays a level of build quality that the mainstream competition is way off matching. It’s practical, too, with the option to specify five doors; it has 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 the £630 Lapiz Blue paint finish 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, while 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 a 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, it can be made compatible 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. It also has more features – such as an adjustable boot floor, 12v power socket, countless tethers and a place to store the parcel shelf.
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 so is legroom, while the car’s clearly marked Isofix points make it easy to fit a child seat. There’s no shortage of cubby spaces, either, 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 the regular setup, the suspension errs on the side of comfort – in a way the bone-jarring Focus RS and Civic Type R definitely do not – but it’s well judged for the UK’s bumpy tarmac, making the car feel connected to the road. 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 proves 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, so you can dispatch bends before mashing your foot to the floor, letting the four-wheel-drive system catapult you towards the next corner.
It’s when you’re not driving like a hooligan that the Golf reveals its full breadth of talents. Unlike most hot hatches, the R asks for no compromises – it rides well on the motorway, is extremely quiet and the adaptive cruise control means it can brake and accelerate for you.
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 stick 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 gets a new turbo – along with various other changes – to see power increase from 218 to 296hp. That’s enough to get it from 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds (4.9 seconds with the DSG gearbox) making it the fastest Golf ever built. Torque of 280Ib ft is available from just 1,800 rpm, so it doesn’t suffer from the peaky power delivery that can leave other hot hatches floundering in the wrong gear.
Despite the performance hike, it’s also up to 18 percent more efficient than the model it replaces. Fuel economy sits at around 40mpg in both manual and DSG models and road tax costs £185.
With only one engine to choose from, the biggest decision left to make is whether to choose the £585 DSG gearbox. It’s a must-have if you do a lot of town driving that would otherwise require lots of clutch work but, while it slightly increases performance, it can’t match the involvement or control of the manual.
The R doesn’t sacrifice anything in terms of safety in its pursuit of speed. There’s 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. Those looking for the ultimate trackday weapon will be left wanting, but when the track closes 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./