Volkswagen Golf R review
New Volkswagen Golf R is incredibly fast, but is it better value than a GTI?
Whether or not to spend the money on a VW Golf R boils down to if you really will exploit its upgrades over the GTI – and you need to be honest with yourself, because that price tag places it firmly in sports car territory. To further broaden the appeal of the Golf R, VW has just introduced a new estate version, which asks only a £695 premium over the hatch. Given the extra space and its subtle looks, this Q-car is arguably the pick of the range.
The Volkswagen Golf R's asking price may look steep when you compare it to the already very accomplished Golf GTI, but look a little closer and things start to make a bit more sense. Not only is it the fastest production hatchback VW has ever built, but it offers several key upgrades over the GTI in the form of four-wheel drive, and a reworked 2.0-litre engine offering a staggering 296bhp - that's 79bhp more than the GTI.
Maximum torque is up by 30Nm to 380Nm, too – although it comes in 300rpm later, at 1,800rpm. However, it hangs around for 1,100rpm longer than in the GTI, which tails off at 5,500rpm. Anyone seriously considering an R will be interested in these numbers.
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But how do they translate in reality? Well, the R’s engine feels just as flexible as the GTI’s from low down, but it has much more top-end grunt. This means there’s little point spending the extra money on the R if you never plan on wringing its neck every now and again.
Engines, performance and drive
Perhaps the best thing about the Golf R is that it lets you use all of its performance. If the front tyres slip, the 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system can send virtually all of the engine’s power to the rear end in a fraction of a second. Whereas a high-powered front-drive car such as the SEAT Leon Cupra would be left floundering with its traction control light flickering, on a drag-race start the Golf simply digs all four tyres into the tarmac, grips and goes.
The manual version will do 0-62mph in a mere 5.1 seconds, while the DSG model features launch control, and trims that to 4.9 seconds, regardless of who’s behind the wheel. If the larger estate version is your pick, you'll have to make do with the DSG gearbox, as the cheaper manual is not an option. That said, it’ll still cover the benchmark 0-62mph sprint in a hatchback-equalling 5.9 seconds, despite a 79kg weight penalty.
On the road the hatch and estate feel effortlessly and equally quick, with the added reassurance of its all-wheel drive allowing you to exploit all of the available performance. There’s loads of grip, traction is excellent and, unlike front-wheel-drive rivals, you won’t find yourself troubling the traction control very often.
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Yet for all its extra poise, the Golf R feels very much like a GTI, with the same precise turn-in, composed body control and nicely weighted responses on the road.
No front-wheel-drive car can match it, no matter whether it’s fitted with a limited-slip diff. If you want to have some real fun, turning off the traction control fully disengages the system. However, the Golf R is so balanced that to destabilise it you’ll need to be doing silly speeds to get the back end sliding, so that’s best left for the track. But provoke it and it’ll play, although it’s not as adjustable as the rear-drive BMW M135i.
That pretty much sums up who this car is aimed at – people who until now didn’t think a Golf R was focused or fun enough. This version is, and as a Golf, it’s still comfortable – especially if you have the £815 optional adaptive dampers set to Comfort.
VW’s standard driver profile selection system lets you choose from Eco, Normal, Race or Individual modes, and with the optional Adaptive Chassis Control, damping is adjusted alongside throttle mapping and steering weight. We found we got the best set up for UK roads by using the Individual mode to set the throttle and steering to Race and the damping to Comfort.
Under the bonnet of the Golf R is a reworked version of the same EA 888 2.0-litre turbo that’s used in the Golf GTI. However, in the R it pumps out 296bhp, which is 59bhp more than the Performance Pack-equipped Golf GTI. Maximum torque is also up by 30Nm to 380Nm, and the car promises to sprint from 0-60mph under five seconds when equipped with the optional (standard on the estate) DSG twin-clutch gearbox.
The engine sounds the part, too. At idle there’s a bassy rumble that purposeful but not intrusive, while the unit takes on a hard edged growl as the revs rise. Smoothness and an eagerness to respond are further highlights.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Considering the supercar levels of performance, the DSG auto version of the Golf R has claimed economy of 40.9mpg and emissions of 159g/km, which are quite impressive. The manual fares slightly worse with figures of 39.8mpg and 165g/km but they are hardly bad, although if you use the Golf R to its maximium, you'll probably see economy figures close to half that.
A car capable of such pace is never going to be cheap to insure, but compared to similarly fast models the Golf R is surprisingly affordable. It helps that it comes with VW’s range of driver assistance systems that you get with the normal Golf.
Fixed-price servicing means you won’t face supercar bills, either, while predicted residuals of over 50 per cent mean the Golf R should hold on to its value well. VW also offers a range of attractive finance solutions, which include the offer of low cost servicing pack.
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Despite its humble hatchback origins, the Golf R is a serious piece of high performance machinery. As a result, both the hatch and estate versions fall into a relatively high insurance grouping of 34.
The combination of desirable VW badge and exceptional driving dynamics has meant strong demand for Golf R models on the secondhand market. And while the fast flagship sells in greater numbers than the GTI, our experts predict that the popular R will retain at least 50 percent of its new value after three years.
Interior, design and technology
With a classy and subtly revised look, the new Golf R doesn't shout about its potential. The R grille features a chrome strip, while unique bumpers, wider side sills and smoked chrome mirror caps are the only markers that this is a special Golf. Spec it in a metallic grey hue, and bystanders could easily mistake the R for a more mundane version of the Golf.
At the back, you’ll spot LED light clusters and quad exhausts, which are the biggest giveaways to the R's performance. The optional 19-inch alloy wheels add an aggressive look and, combined with the 15mm lower ride height, they contribute to the Golf R’s purposeful look.
With its boxy proportions and practical image, the estate version is even more low key, giving the model real Q-car appeal. It looks particularly stealthy on the standard 18-inch alloy wheels.
The cabin blends the sporty feel of a hot hatch with the swish ambience of an upmarket executive car. The standard Golf’s superb dash is complemented by a gloss black centre console and carbon-look decorative trim. Sports seats and aluminium pedals come as standard, while the classy and sporty multifunction wheel and first-rate switchgear make everything you touch feel suitably special for a £30k car.
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Snazzy LED interior lights, exterior puddle lights, xenon headlamps and classy dials add to the Golf’s upmarket feel, while the standard kit tally also includes Bluetooth, parking sensors, adaptive cruise control and a DAB radio. The driving position is spot-on, too, with lots of steering wheel and seat adjustment.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Strangely, Match, R-Line, GT, GTD and GTI versions of the Golf get sat-nav as standard, but it’s an extra cost option on the R. At £765, the Discover Navigation touchscreen set-up isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s easy to use and features clear mapping, despite a smallish 6.5-inch screen. It also has motion sensors that reveal extra on screen functions as you move your hand closer to the unit.
Spend an eye-watering £1,765 and you can upgrade to the Discover Navigation Pro set-up that features a larger 8.0-inch screen that features upgraded features such as a 64GB music hard drive, Apple CarPlay functionality and enhanced internet applications.
All versions of the Golf R get an eight speaker (four woofers and four tweeters) and a relatively modest 4x20 Watt power output. However, listening to your music is straightforward thanks to a DAB/AM/FM tuner, single CD player, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB connection. For an extra £535 you can add the Dynaudio stereo upgrade that includes an eight-channel digital amplifier with a healthy 400 Watt output.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The addition of a bodykit and larger wheels have given the Golf R a more hunkered and purposeful look, but against the tape measure its dimensions are identical to the standard hatchback and estate models.
Leg room, head room and passenger space
Despite its pace, the R is still a Golf – so that means plenty of space inside. So you have a reasonable sized glovebox, huge door bins both front and back, a drawer under the driver’s seat, a large central cubby under the arm rest and a couple of cup holders. There is plenty of adjustment in the seating position and this, plus height adjustment for the driver’s seat and reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel, means that most people will be able to find their ideal driving position.
There is plenty of space even for adults in the back seats, although the transmission tunnel does get in the way of the middle passenger. This middle position is worse in the R model than the normal Golf on account of its sculpted rear bench, which suffers from an uncomfortably raised centre section.
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It's a similar story with the boot. The addition of bulky four-wheel-drive components in the rear axle means the Golf’s boot capacity shrinks from 380 litres to 343 litres. However, with the seats folded, you get 1,233 litres of luggage space and the R comes with an 18-inch space saver wheel as standard.
The larger estate is obviously more practical, with a 605-litre boot, which rises to a healthy 1,620-litres with the rear bench folded – although you don’t get totally flat load area. It also features a number of handy storage cubbies, a 12V power supply and a handy ski-flap for longer items. As the wheelbase remains the same as the hatch, rear passenger space is just as generous.
Reliability and Safety
The Golf has earned a solid reputation for reliability over the past three decades, and the R is likely to live up to this, as it uses proven components. VW finished a disappointing 22nd in our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey’s manufacturer chart, however - indicating that the ownership experience could be improved.
As for safety, the Golf R gets the same Euro NCAP rating as the normal Golf, the full five stars - that's partly thanks to the curtain and driver's knee airbags and stability control, which are all standard. Plus, there are systems in place that automatically brake for you if it senses a low-speed collision to stop you getting too close to the car in front.
As with the standard Golf, the R gets a comprehensive three years and 60,000-mile warranty. You can extend the guarantee to five years at extra cost. A one-year breakdown recovery package is also included, although this looks a little stingy alongside the three-year schemes offered by many manufacturers.
Again, the Golf R follows the same servicing schedule as the standard model. That means you can choose between fixed or variable intervals, depending on the type of driving you do. Lower mileage users will be better off with the fixed scheme, which requires an inspection every year or 10,000 miles, whichever comes sooner. Spend lots of time on the motorway, and you can extend the gaps between services to 20,000 miles and two years.
VW does occasionally offer pre-paid servicing packages, but these tend only to be available to owners buying their cars through the VW Solutions finance scheme.