I awaited the arrival of the Volkswagen Golf R with great anticipation. Hot hatchbacks don’t come up in my diary very often but when they do I know to prepare for maximum distraction.
With the Volkswagen Golf R, what was calling me from under the bonnet was the growl of a 2.0-litre TSI. The Golf R is the halo car of the Volkswagen Golf range. While the legendary GTI uses the same engine with 230hp, in the Golf R it receives a healthy power boost to 310hp, along with the addition of all wheel drive.
2017 has been the year of the Golf Mk 7 makeover. The whole Golf range has received some small styling updates and new equipment, while the engine range has also been shaken up a bit with some models like the Golf R gaining more power (10hp) and the introduction of a new Volkswagen Golf 1.0TSI.
The Volkswagen Golf R sits at the top of the range with five door manual versions starting at €45,795 and the DSG equivalent from €47,595. This is a high spec Golf and naturally the interior is beautifully appointed. The infotainment system is new and works seamlessly. Visually the new glossy black surround does wonders for the interior and a digital instrument cluster has been introduced for the first time, standard on Golf R.
Other equipment highlights include sports seats with alcantara trim, adaptive cruise control, dual zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors and LED lights front and rear.
On the outside the Golf R is a lesson in subtlety. There are sportier bumpers front and back and 19” alloys, but other than that the biggest clue that the Golf R might be housing something powerful are the two sets of double exhausts at the back!
Turn the key in the ignition and the engine of the Volkswagen Golf R roars into life. This car does not hiss and spit at you, and at low speeds around town it feels as calm as a 1.0-litre TSI. The overarching respectability of the Golf’s character means that it’s only when you put your foot down hard on the accelerator that you will officially arrive in hot hatch territory. There are a number of driving modes but my default was the feisty named ‘RACE’ mode because the accentuated engine noise adds a bit more drama to the cabin.
One of the Golf R’s most redeeming qualities is its ability to transport a family and their things in comfort but accelerate like a rocket to 100kmh and carry great speed around corners with no loss of stability. The suspension is amazingly supple for a performance car, shaming some rivals (looking at you Ford Focus RS!). The steering is lightning quick but the feedback is not particularly interesting, so the Golf R in my opinion falls short of rivals like the Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus RS in terms of smiles per mile.
There is an amazing polish to this car and a layer of perfection that is both its greatest asset and its undoing. Yes the Golf R has a wicked turn of speed. Yes it will retain vice like grip through corners and cut the apex perfectly corner after corner. But if you like hissy spitty hot hatches that make you feel like a lion tamer, the Volkswagen Golf R is not for you.
Yet the Golf R is all the things we love about the Golf with tremendous power and cornering stability. If you love Volkswagen quality and don’t want to be jostled around the cabin like a seagull on a stormy sea, then you won’t go wrong with a Volkswagen Golf R!
Model tested: Volkswagen Golf R 2.0TSI 4MOTION
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo petrol
0-100km/h: 5.1 seconds
Top speed: 250km/h
Claimed Economy: 7.9/100km
CO2 emissions: 180g/km
Motor tax: €750 per year
If you are looking for a hot hatchback you might also like this review of the Ford Focus RS.