Volkswagen Golf R 2014 review

23 Jan, 2014 9:45am Jack Rix

The 296bhp, all-wheel-drive 2014 Volkswagen Golf R looks a lot of car for under £30k


The new Golf R is lighter, faster, more efficient and bigger than its predecessor and comes packed with technology (like an ESP system you can fully disengage) that doesn’t blunt the driving experience, but enhances it. Crisp steering, instant throttle response and bags of power channeled through all four wheels mean that while it will never be held with the same affection as the GTI it’s now a more complete hot-hatch.

While the Volkswagen Golf GTI has always brought sports car thrills to the masses, the Golf R – now in its third-generation – is something altogether more extreme. We braved temperatures of -25C in Arvidsjaurin, Sweden - 110 miles south of the Arctic Circle - to get our first taste of it on a test track carved into a frozen lake.

With a heavily reworked version of the GTI’s 2.0 TSI engine, producing 296bhp and 380Nm of torque (identical to an Audi S3, 69bhp more than a GTI with the performance pack and 30bhp more than the previous Golf R) this latest version is the most powerful, and fastest production VW Golf ever.

Order the six-speed DSG gearbox and it can cover 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds (the six-speed manual we drove takes 5.3), before slamming into the limiter at 155mph.

• Volkswagen Golf GTI review

Maximum torque is produced right from 1,800 to 5,500rpm – something that’s particularly poignant when driving on ice. Even in third gear, on tight corners, with studded winter tyres, there’s plenty of grunt to unstick all four wheels and let you slide gracefully from apex to exit. All that torque also means throttle response is electric, while in-gear performance is on a different planet to the GTI.

Those quad exhausts aren’t just for show either. Select the ‘Race’ driving mode (a new setting in addition to Sport, Normal and Individual that brings even sharper throttle response, adds weight to the steering and if you order the £815 DCC adaptive dampers firms up the ride, too) and the booming engine note takes on a deeper and harder edge.

Volkswagen Golf R on ice

The reason our first encounter with the Golf R was on ice, rather than a public road, is down to another feature that debuts on the R. Whereas the ESC system on its predecessor would reengage whenever you touched the brake pedal, this time around it can be switched off completely – a first for any Volkswagen. The upshot is that huge power slides are possible, and easy to hold.

The principle is simple; you brake for a corner, transferring weight to the front of the car, turn in and get back on the power to get it oversteering like Sebastien Ogier in his VW Polo R WRC rally car.

Of course, on dry tarmac you’ll need to be travelling much faster and be braver to pull the same shapes, but it’s an opportunity to see how the range-topping Golf behaves beyond its limits. And we’re happy to report its natural balance and composure is sensational.

If you’re don’t want to turn off the electronic aids entirely, even in ESC Sport mode the system allows plenty of slip. Rather than cutting in crudely when you get enthusiastic with throttle, it leaves you well alone when you’re in control of the slide, and nudges you back into line seamlessly when things get too lairy.

There’s other electronic trickery at work too, including VW’s latest XDS+ system that brushes the brakes on the inside wheel during cornering, tightening your line and killing understeer.

To pass judgment on the ride quality, refinement and brake feel, given that we haven’t driven the car on tarmac yet would be crazy, but the steering certainly felt natural and direct. A variable assistance electromechnical system (the ratio increases the further off centre you turn the wheel), it requires just 2.1 turns lock to lock, compared with 2.8 on a standard Golf.

As for your gearbox options – while the DSG version is 0.4 seconds faster from 0-62mph, 1.1mpg and 6g/km cleaner and more relaxing on a traffic-clogged commute, the manual version we tried is not only £1,415 cheaper, but makes the whole experience more visceral.

Suspension that drops the car 20mm lower to the ground than the standard Golf, and 5mm lower than the GTI, reduces body roll and improves the looks, while the new MQB platform under the skin reduces weight by 45kg compared to the outgoing model – to 1,476kg with a manual gearbox. That’s still 94kg more than the performance pack-equipped GTI, but the extra agility and crispness to the turn-in is tangible.

VW Golf R 2014: powerful but subtle

Buying any Golf is about flying under the radar, and the R is suitably understated. A chrome bar across the grille, four exhausts, bigger wheels and a sprinkling of badges are about the sum of it, but set against a pure-white backdrop it’s definitely a handsome car.

The interior, too, isn’t far removed from the standard range (although the gearlever is 8mm lower, we’re told) but when quality standards are already through the roof, who cares? Sport seats hold you firmly in place, your feet rest on aluminium pedals and, really, that’s all you need.

To call a hot-hatch that starts at £29,900 for the three-door manual version, and rises to £31,970 for the five-door DSG, good value might seem absurd, but when you compare it to the £38,190 A45 AMG, £31,365 BMW M135i, and £31,260 Audi S3 Sportback, it undercuts them all, and only costs £3,120 more than a Golf GTI in equivalent spec.

Each of the above have their individual merits, but considering the Golf R can do everything the regular Golf can, and dance like a WRC car on ice, it has to be the ultimate all-rounder.

• Volkswagen Golf GTI review

Disqus - noscript

IMHO Current gen Golf is the best-looking since the MKI - understated, but creases in all the right places. For some reason this one has shades of current Civic (that's not a good thing). Maybe it looks better in the flesh? Still want one though.

To me that Golf R just looks like a standard diesel version which some boy racer has stuck quad pipes on! It looks pathetic. I know it's personal preference on looks, but for a car like that it needs something to shout out it's power and price!

The Anonymity is precisely the reason most buyers will want one.

Well, like I said it's personal preference, trouble is all other hot and hyper hatches do look sporting and different. So VW had better of got it's sums right with this one.

It may be more powerful and "extreme" in Jack's words, but it looks exactly the same. Why?
Are Volkswagen's designers still on go-slow?

Every single VW Golf automatically received 5 stars from Auto Express. To be honest, it gets beyond boring. Especially when the same Seat or Skoda normally gets 4 stars

Leather is £1700 for the Golf R. Yet it is standard on the S3. So it costs more which is crazy for a Golf. It should be standard.

Go slow? They haven't been woken up since the 80s!

That is the whole problem with any German car, everything ends up been an extra.

Spot on. Exactly the reason I've got one on order. Don't want some loud boy racer special. It is enough for me to know I'm driving something special. I don't need to tell others ;)

I see you point, and doesn't this exactly make it look different compared to other hyper hatches ;) Opens up a whole new market of people who'd like one, but don't necessarily like others to know they've got one...

And I see your point Jean-Paul. I can see if you wanted subtle but performance it's the way to go, I have a new Fiesta ST and people don't think that's as quick as it is even with the spoilers, they just see Ford and small car. So being sublte does have advantages, I'm not sure the quad pipes look right though because of the lack of spoilers? did you get a 3 door model?

I like the four exhausts, better than the mini cooper s copy of having them in the middle like the mk6 golf had. It is also a bit more than just exit tips. Normal engine flow runs on two, although you can override in R mode if so desired from lower engine speeds for the 'loud' setting...I order a 5 door in Lapiz Blue with DSG etc...

Just today I put a deposit down on the Golf R (2015 in USA) and will have to wait into Q1 of 2015 to actually take ownership of it. This is going to be a very long 9 or so months.

Key specs

  • Price: £30,555
  • Engine: 2.0-litre four-cyl turbo
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
  • Power/Torque: 296bhp/380Nm
  • 0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
  • Top speed: 155mph (limited)
  • Economy/CO2: 39.8mpg/165g/km
  • Equipment: ports seats, 18-inch alloys, LED running lights, sat-nav, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors
  • On sale: Now