The Volkswagen Golf R is seriously quick and as easy to live with as any other Golf, but those conservative looks won’t be for everyone
The Volkswagen Golf R is a hot hatch for the shy and retiring. It’ll beat most cars off the line at the traffic light grand prix, but its subtle styling means you’ll struggle to distinguish it from a humble Golf diesel. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your viewpoint.
The Golf R is available as a youthful three-door or a more practical five-door – both of which are covered here – and as a big-booted estate, which is reviewed separately. Given its restrained looks, you really have to sample the Golf R’s performance to fully appreciate it.
Its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is really strong, while its quick steering lets you dart into bends before using the grippy all-wheel-drive system to dig into the tarmac and fire you out the other side at an indecent pace. It’s extremely quick, and you’re able to use all the power in the wet – unlike front-wheel-spinning hot hatches such as the Honda Civic Type R.
The Golf R doesn’t feel quite as nailed to the road quite like the Honda does, but the flipside is that its suspension won’t break your back at the mere hint of a bump in the road. You can even have adaptive dampers, allowing you to choose between a firmer ride for better handling in bends or a softer setup if you simply want to cruise down a motorway as comfortably as possible.
The Golf R might look like it doesn't want to rock the boat but it has 310hp and four-wheel drive – it's faster than many so-called sports cars
You can also swap the standard six-speed manual gearbox for a seven-speed automatic, which changes gear quickly and smoothly. It is an ideal upgrade if you regularly drive the car in town, or want launch control for maximum acceleration from a standstill. Or, y’know, just for showing off to your friends.
The Golf also comes with lots of safety tech as standard to help you avoid accidents, and it got a five-star Euro NCAP crash rating in 2012, although the tests have gotten stricter since then.
There are just enough changes inside compared to a standard Golf to make you feel like you’re driving something a little special. The sporty front seats have lots of support, you get a leather-bound steering wheel, sporty gear knob, R-branded dials and a smattering of R badges.
But, thankfully, you lose none of the basic car’s robust feel or passenger space. There’s still generous space for four adults, although the boot is slightly smaller than in the standard car to make way for the four-wheel-drive system.
So, the Golf R’s subtle styling means it won’t get the attention you might want from a hot hatch, but if you want a car that’s fast and fun, yet perfectly suited to the drudgery of everyday life – few other hot hatches can compete with its broad range of talents.
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