Volkswagen Golf R review
New Volkswagen Golf R is incredibly fast, but is it better value than a GTI?
The asking price for the Volkswagen Golf R may seem crazy, as it starts at around £4,000 more than the Golf GTI, but not only is it the fastest production hatchback VW has ever built, it also looks like pretty good value when you begin looking at the finer details.
Not only is there more performance on offer in the Golf R, but you also get a host of engineering upgrades thrown in. For starters, the engine is a reworked version of the 2.0-litre turbo in the GTI, with power increased by 79bhp to 296bhp.
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.
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.
Whether or not to spend the money on an R boils down to if you really will exploit its upgrades – and you need to be honest with yourself, because that price tag places it firmly in sports car territory.
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 probablt the biggest giveaway 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.
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.
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.
With a reworked version of the same 2.0-litre turbo, the 296bhp R has 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 in five seconds.
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 in the hands of an expert, while the DSG model features launch control, and trims that to 4.9 seconds, regardless of who’s behind the wheel.
On the road the new R feels effortlessly 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.
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.
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. Plus, VW finished a respectable 16th in our Driver Power 2013 satisfaction survey’s manufacturer chart. The car comes with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty as standard.
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.
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 sculptured rear sports seats which are designed mainly for two.
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.
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 VWs 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.