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New Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years 2022 review

Volkswagen has teased more power out of the Golf R, but can the 20 Years edition trade blows with the Mercedes-AMG A35?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Verdict

We don’t recall bemoaning the Golf R’s lack of straight-line pace, but Volkswagen has given the 20 Years edition a power boost anyway. On a damp, undulating B-road, it’s a truly formidable machine, but one that fails to recapture the fluidity of the stunning Mk7 Golf R version. A more tactile, expressive chassis would have elevated it among the very best hot hatches.

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Since the Mk4 Golf R32 launched 20 years ago, Volkswagen’s string of devastatingly quick, four-wheel drive hot hatchbacks have set the tone for extracting sports car-baiting performance from humble beginnings. And now, to commemorate the first Golf to wear the R badge two decades ago, Volkswagen has built the Golf R 20 Years. Taking the Mk8 Golf R as a base, the 20 Years aims to inject more character into the package, potentially unlocking an extra sparkle to fight the world’s best hot hatchbacks. With a new Honda Civic Type R on the horizon, that will be no mean feat. 

With a two-tier rear spoiler, 19-inch alloys and a hunkered-down stance, the 20 Years has the same visual aggression as the R-Performance Pack-equipped Golf R, albeit with optional blue wheel accents and subtle badging. The R’s discreet, menacing design has always disguised the car’s potential, and the 20 Years does little to change that.

Inside, the special edition is equally restrained, save for carbon fibre trim inserts and flashes of blue on the steering wheel and upholstery stitching. The rest of the cabin is shared with the standard Golf R, so build quality is good rather than class-leading, and the infotainment system can be fiddly at times. Some ergonomic oddities – such as unlit touch-sensitive temperature and volume controls – mar what is a generally attractive, roomy cabin. 

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The chassis of the 20 Years is also familiar, with the same suspension hardware and calibration as the base R. The standard-fit four-wheel drive system remains, featuring a torque vectoring rear differential, which can apportion up to 100 per cent of torque sent to the rear axle to either rear wheel. It’s a key player in the R’s dynamic tool box, and as with R-Performance Pack models, a Drift mode is available to make full use of it. 

The major changes relate to the powertrain. For the 20 Years edition, VW has squeezed 328bhp from the car’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder motor, making it the most powerful production Golf ever built. Peak torque is unchanged at 420Nm, but the power uplift trims the 0-62mph sprint to 4.6 seconds, and it’ll run on to a top speed of 168mph. 

Along with the extra grunt, the 20 Years arrives with a new turbo calibration that keeps the throttle valve open to maintain boost pressure for sharper responses and reduced lag when you get back on the power. The seven-speed DSG gearbox has also gained new software to provide a thump in the back during manual upshifts, which are especially noticeable under partial loads. Contrived, perhaps, but in response to customer demand, VW says. 

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Nevertheless, the 20 Years is startlingly rapid when you bury the throttle. Even in wet conditions, the four-wheel drive system extracts grip from the surface and deploys all 328bhp with relative ease, shuffling torque around as the car scrambles out of tight corners. The brakes are a match for the newfound potency too, despite a slightly soft initial bite.

The power increase isn’t transformative, but there is a fraction more urgency than the standard Golf R. The engine is keen and reactive to small throttle pedal inputs, providing a transparent feel when trimming the car’s line through a corner. The optional Akrapovic exhaust system is suitably rorty, too, although enabling speaker augmentation is required for a fuller, more raucous note inside the car. 

The sheer level of drive mode customisation on offer is, at first, baffling. Beyond the usual suite of steering weight, powertrain response and stability control programs, Individual mode unlocks 15 damper settings to choose from, including Comfort, Sport and Race presets. Even on relatively smooth roads, venturing beyond Sport introduces a persistent fidget over bumps, with harsh impacts shuddering through the steering and nudging the car out of line.

At the expense of some immediacy on initial turn in, dialling back to Comfort provides a better sense of flow, but the 20 Years still doesn’t tackle imperfections with the deftness of the Mk7 Golf R. Even so, you can build a rhythm on a challenging road, flicking through turns with commitment that belies the conditions.

For what it lacks in outright communication, the progressive-rate steering weights up as cornering forces build, and the 20 Years tends towards secure, mild understeer when feeding in the power. More liberal use of the throttle brings the torque vectoring rear differential into play, edging the tail wide, but the 20 Years feels largely unflappable. A typical Golf R trait.

This special edition certainly offers up some extra drama over the standard model, but the changes haven’t remoulded the Golf R. The powertrain tweaks are only appreciable having experienced the regular car, which is already an exceedingly capable machine and costs £5,400 less than the 20 Years. Still, for those who want the most powerful production Golf in history, look no further.

Model:Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years
Price:£48,095
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
Power/torque:328bhp/420Nm
Transmission:

Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, four-wheel drive

0-62mph:4.6 seconds
Top speed:168mph
Fuel economy:36.7mpg
CO2:174g/km
On sale:Now

Now read our list of the best hot hatchbacks...

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