New Volkswagen Golf R 2017 review
A supremely capable and surprisingly quick hot hatch, the latest VW Golf R isn't cheap and faces talented rivals
The VW Golf R is one of the best all-round performance cars you can buy, with an incredible mix of blistering performance and everyday practicality. It's expensive to buy, though, and the mighty Ford Focus RS still offers better value for hot hatch fans. If you're set on a hot Golf, consider the GTI, as it's significantly cheaper while still being great fun.
As part of the recent round of updates for the ever-popular Volkswagen Golf range, the Golf R hot hatch has been refreshed. Of course, since this is a performance car, there's been the obligatory power boost, and the new car now gets 306bhp from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.
That's a 10bhp boost from the previous Golf R and it contributes to a quicker 0-62mph time in our DSG version, which now takes just 4.6 seconds to hit the magic figure. Get the R on the road, though, and you'll find that the numbers melt away into the background.
With four-wheel drive grip and that musclebound turbocharged engine blasting away up front, the Golf R is very fast, perhaps too fast for most UK roads in fact. The seven-speed DSG 'box changes up so quickly that you've barely had time to enjoy the acceleration before you're at the speed limit.
It doesn't feel as frantic as the Ford Focus RS, it’s more composed, especially on bumpy roads. The steering could be sharper, but it's quick enough to keep up with the R's incredible pace. The car is very impressive in the corners too, with loads of grip and strong brakes that give you confidence on entry.
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For sheer grin-factor VW’s mega-hatch can’t quite match the outgoing Honda Civic Type R or the superb Focus RS. The engine isn't particularly exciting to use and the R feels heavier than the Honda while being less playful than the Ford in the corners. However, the flagship Golf is still one of the most impressive hot hatches available - and since it's a Golf, it does all the non-performance stuff brilliantly as well.
The ride is comfortable, more so than the Ford, and the well-judged driving position and interior layout mean it'll be easy to live with every day. VW's quoted 40.4mpg economy is good considering the performance on offer, and the DSG gearbox means driving around town and in traffic is no hassle. While the manual offers a lot more driver satisfaction on the right road, most will prefer the DSG dual-clutch unit instead.
You get a subtle new look with your 2017 Golf R, thanks to the LED headlights, redesigned vents on the front bumper and scrolling indicator lights. Volkswagen hasn't given the car a complete overhaul, and you won't notice most of the tweaks that have been brought in, but the new 9.2-inch screen on the inside is a significant upgrade.
The new system looks great and works much like a tablet, and it's much more responsive than the old unit. However there aren't enough physical buttons, and it's annoying to change radio station or zoom the nav screen while on the move using a touchscreen. You can also use the Active Info display behind the steering wheel to see the sat-nav directions, though, which is a great system and one that can be customised in just the way you want it to look.
The 343-litre boot is nice and wide, leaving plenty of room for big suitcases or, of course, Golf bags. Our five-door car is the more sensible choice, with easy access to the back seats, which are accommodating even for adults.
Equipment is good too, and you get 18-inch alloys, carbon-style interior trim, sports seats, that big touchscreen display, the Active Info Display, climate control and smartphone connectivity (MirrorLink, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto). Still, you'd expect plenty of kit at £33,935 - this is a very expensive Golf.
In fact, it's so pricey that we'd recommend the excellent Golf GTI instead, which starts from £27,865 - it's just as fun to drive, despite having less power, and does all that sensible stuff really well. Of course there's also the brilliant Ford Focus RS if you really want your new hot hatch to have more than 300bhp and four-wheel drive.