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 shy retiring types. It’ll beat most cars off the line at the traffic light grand prix, but its subtle styling means people will struggle to distinguish it from a humble Golf diesel. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your viewpoint… It’s 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.
It was first launched in 2013 and given small revisions in 2017, including a slight power boost – up from 300 to 310hp – new front and rear bumpers, LED lights, pulsing indicators, a new infotainment system with a larger display and VW’s Active Info digital instrument binnacle.
Given its restrained looks, you really have to sample the Golf R’s performance to fully appreciate it. The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine has so much power that long lines of traffic can be overtaken in seconds.
The 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 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
The Golf R doesn’t feel 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 for £830 – so you can choose from a firm ride for better handling in bends or a softer setup if you simply want to cruise down a motorway as comfortably as possible.
You can also swap the standard six-speed manual gearbox for a £1,285 seven-speed DSG 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 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 got 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 space for four people, but the boot is 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.