Volkswagen Golf R review: back and better than ever?
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Volkswagen Golf R
- Very quick
- Does a great job of being an everyday driver
- ‘Special’ driving mode is good fun to use
- Doesn’t look very special
- Need to get the 1st Edition for ‘fun’ modes
- Touch-sensitive steering wheel still not easy to use
Ever since Volkswagen first released the first Golf GTI back in the 1970s, enthusiasts have loved having a go-fast version of the hatch in the range. This was only further cemented when the R32 joined the fleet back in 2003 with the Mk4 Golf. Since then, the R Golf has been a staple of the range, sitting above the GTI, offering a more hardcore driving experience.
In 2008, the R received its biggest change yet, as not only did the ‘R32’ moniker get dropped in favour of a simple ‘R’, but it also dropped two cylinders and threw a turbo in the mix. What resulted was a Golf that didn’t produce the same iconic ‘Wookie’ noise as the previous one, but this Mk6 R offered a far more precise driving experience, which was loved by many.
If we jump to present day, the Golf is now up to its eighth iteration, and the R has stuck with the turbocharged 2.0-litre formula, which is more potent than ever before.
235kW and 400Nm is what Volkswagen has pulled from this engine in the latest Golf R, which means that it now borders on ‘hyper hatch’ territory. In terms of performance, it will hit 100km/h from a standing start in just 4.8 seconds, before topping out at 270km/h. But the performance thrills don’t stop there, because Volkswagen has thrown in a fancy rear diff with ‘R Torque Vectoring’. This means that if buyers shell out the $82,990 for the 1st Edition model, they have access to both a ‘Special’ driving mode, and the famed Drift mode.
Out of the box, the Golf is a rocket on the road. But with the most power ever offered in any Golf, ever, you’d expect this. It gobbles up the road in a similar fashion to the Audi RS3, even though it’ll take a second longer to hit triple figures. As always, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is lightning fast, but doesn’t offer the same brutal shifts as more track-orientated hot hatches.
Though I wasn’t able to use ‘Drift Mode’ function (as it’s reserved for tracks and private roads), I did manage to make the most of the ‘Special’ Nurburgring driving mode that turns everything up to eleven. Here, the ride gets stiff, and the steering tightens up, leaving the Golf feeling very accurate and direct.
Probably the biggest change lies in the transmission, which will hold gears right to the red line, and isn’t afraid to downshift early to keep drivers in the power band. Increased engine noise is also a factor in the ‘Special’ mode, but the rumble that comes through does tend to sound artificial.
While all this performance is nice, the Golf R isn’t meant to be a racecar, but instead, blurs the lines between being an everyday driver and a weekend warrior. This is where the R really shines. In comfort mode, you’d probably have a hard time telling it from an entry-level R-Line model. The engine, transmission, and ride is all softened to an impressive degree.
On the inside, there isn’t too much that differentiates the R from a regular Golf variant, apart from the ‘R’ exclusive seats. In terms of hardware, it gets the same multifunction haptic steering wheel as the rest of the range, and this is the same for the two dash-mounted displays.
While the larger Tiguan R manages to hold onto its traditional gear shifter, the R’s little tab is something that I continue to struggle with.
In terms of connectivity, Apple users will be able to make use of a wireless CarPlay system, but those with an Android device will have to settle for Auto through a wired connection. It also gets a wireless phone charging pad as standard, with a little tab that’ll keep it charging through the wildest of back road runs.
Unlike the Mk8 GTI, there’s no question as to whether or not this new R is worthy of the badge it wears, but more so around whether it’s worthy of the near-$80k price point. To work this out, you need to consider things like the Audi S3, or the Mercedes-AMG A35. Despite the fact that both of these hot hatches are a similar league to this VW, they start from $89,500 and $93,100 respectively, meaning that the R is a relative bargain in the scheme of things. With this in mind, I’d argue that it’s well worthy of the ‘R’ badge, considering its ability to double as a sensible, everyday driver.
2022 Volkswagen Golf R
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo
GEARBOX: 7-speed Automatic, AWD
ECONOMY: 8.6l/100km (WLTP)