Volkswagen Golf R

May 2014

picture of car from the front

At first glance it's easy to mistake the R for a standard Golf

Ratings

Overall Rating 8Overall rating

Value for money Rating 7Value for money

Space and Practicality Rating 6Costs

Space and Practicality Rating 8Space and practicality

Controls and display Rating 7Controls and display

Comfort Rating 8Comfort

Security Rating 7Car security

Safety Rating 9Car safety


Likes

  • Smart exterior makes the most of the basic Golf shape
  • High quality cabin is a pleasure to use
  • Flexible engine sounds great when extended
  • Composed and controlled ride and handling

Gripes

  • In-house rival GTI is very close in many respects
  • Relatively expensive for a compact hatchback
  • R badge lacks impact of some rivals
  • Running costs may be an issue

Stepping above the level of the hot hatch GTI, the Golf R aims to take on more serious performance cars with a high output engine and four-wheel drive system. In fact it is the fastest Golf ever, putting it up against serious performance cars as well as putting it beyond some of its more traditional rivals.

The GTI is an intrinsic part of the Golf line up and has been for thirty years, so Volkswagen markets the Golf R as something a little different. Blending high performance with a more discreet look whilst retaining a high level of comfort, the four-wheel-drive Golf R is Volkswagen's idea of the car for every occasion.

Inside the R is more comparable to a regular Golf, albeit with a number of bespoke features unique to the model. There are new sports seats, handsome aluminium pedals, an attractive three-spoke steering wheel with a flattened bottom and gloss finish to the dashboard. There is also a full range of driving modes which adjust various elements of the car, culminating in a 'race' mode.

Under the bonnet there is a 2.0-litre turbocharged direct injection petrol unit which is broadly similar to that found in the GTi, here it has considerably more power and torque and is transmitted to the wheels through a four-wheel drive system. Remaining front-wheel drive most of the time, the system automatically diverts power if sensors detect a loss of grip, which results in power being transferred to the rear wheels without any driver intervention. Electronic differentials front and rear also help distribute the power.

Available in three and five door specification, the R is also available with an innovative DSG (direct shift gearbox) transmission, which uses two clutches to provide seamless gearchanges even under hard acceleration. In this application it also comes with paddles mounted on the back of the steering wheel, allowing the driver to shift manually via the wheel or the level itself.

Our verdict on the Volkswagen Golf R

The Golf R is an immensely capable car that is at home on a twisting B-road, a high speed motorway or crawling through traffic. It is impressively docile and almost indistinguishable from a standard Golf when in its most comfortable mode, yet it has terrific pace and dynamics when pushed. Whether it has enough appeal over the Golf GTI to justify the extra expense.

Costs
Costs rating 6

The initial purchase price of the R could be considered high for a vehicle that is based on a family hatchback, but the amount of standard equipment and the high specification justifies the price. Running costs will be relatively high however, with fuel economy and insurance costs the biggest factors.

Space and practicality
Space and Practicality Rating 8

Giving almost nothing away to the standard Golf, the R has a fractionally smaller boot on account of the four-wheel-drive system although overall the difference is very small. Occupants front and rear have plenty of head and legroom too.

picture of car from the rear

Subtle styling of rapid Golf R continues at the rear

Controls and display
Controls and Display Rating 7

Following on from the standard car the Golf R is a lesson to other manufacturers in the art of simple clarity. The unique dials are attractive but easy to read, while the touchscreen operates with assured ease. The sensor bar brings up additional options as you bring your hand up towards it too, which is a simple but clever feature.

Comfort
Comfort Rating 8

Excellent standard sports seats give a high level of support, and neither wind nor road noise is likely to disturb passengers. Set to 'Comfort' mode the Golf R is virtually as smooth riding as the standard car which is impressive given the larger diameter wheels.

Car security
Security Rating 7

The Volkswagen Group likes to play its cards close to its chest as regards security system details, but an immobiliser is standard equipment, as is an automatic speed-sensitive door locking system that can be deactivated if required. Naturally, all models feature remote central locking and the lockable glove box is an additional benefit. The hatchback body means items in the boot are concealed from view by the parcel shelf.

Car safety
Safety Rating 9

A five-star safety rating comes as no surprise considering the impressive array of standard passive and active safety systems. A raft of airbags including one for the driver's knee, a whiplash restraint system and seatbelt fastening detection for the rear seats are all included. ABS with brake assist, an advanced ESP system with a differential lock and traction control and automatic hazard light activation are all important elements to avoid an accident in the first place. Add to that the high grip, strong performance and immense brakes and you have a very safe car indeed.

Driver appeal
Driver Appeal Rating 8

Like any good performance hatch the Golf R is undemanding when driven in normal conditions, especially with the DSG transmission and the car set to 'Comfort' mode. However it takes just a squeeze of the throttle to release the deeply impressive acceleration, accompanied by a deep growl from the engine. Turn everything up into 'Race' mode and the suspension, steering, gearbox and engine are harder-edged and more responsive. The Golf R is composed, very fast and controllable.

picture of car interior

Another example of VW's excellent interiors

Family car appeal
Family Appeal Rating 7

Happily the R has the ability to combine performance and practicality and it could easily provide excellent family transport, although the five-door version has an obvious advantage here. There is sufficient passenger and luggage room, and it has the ability to cover distances with ease and in comfort.

First car appeal
First car Rating 3

Other than probably being too expensive for a new driver, the Golf R is not too intimidating for a novice driver. But the running costs, especially insurance, added to the list price means it will be off the shopping lists of most new drivers.

Quality and image
Quality and Image Rating 8

VW's reputation for quality is maintained in the R, with high standards of fit and finish throughout. A strong sense of good design is also evident, giving the R an aura of high quality. The R's image is also elevated above that of the GTi, and the relative rarity and specification of the car gives it an enviable reputation amongst its rivals.

Accessibility
Accessibility Rating

One of the obvious benefits of a high performance hatch is that it offers just the same accessibility as the standard car. Three-door versions obviously require a little more effort than five-door versions but even so the large doors give good access. The boot is easily accessed through the large tailgate too.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

All Golfs get a big touchscreen display with a variety of inputs and controls on the steering wheel to match. With an info display between the instruments too and DAB across the range is a welcome addition.

picture of car in detail

2.0-litre engine delivers highly impressive performance

Colours and trim

The standard Golf cabin is more than good enough for a performance car, but the R has its own touches such as the smart steering wheel, unique seats and smart trim. On the outside the amount of body-coloured details means that colour choice is crucial - the mid-blue that has long featured on Golf R models is an attractive choice.

Parking

Despite its sporty nature the Golf R is no more difficult to park than a regular car, bar taking care of the alloy wheels. Light steering and accurate controls are a help, and the optional automated parking system works well.

Spare wheel

Tyre repair kit or space saver spare fitted depending on option.

 

Range information

Petrol engine options - 1.2-litre (84bhp, 104bhp); 1.4-litre (120bhp); 1.4-litre ACT (138bhp); 2.0-litre (217bhp, 296bhp). Diesel engine options - 1.6-litre (104bhp); 2.0-litre (148bhp, 168bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual gearbox, seven-speed DSG twin clutch automatic gearbox with switchable sequential manual mode. Trim levels: S, SE, GT, GTI, R.

 

Alternative cars

BMW M135i Fast, sharp to drive and attractive, more costly to run however

Audi S3 Premium-badged performance and shares some hardware, only fractionally more expensive

Renaultsport Megane 275 Very impressive dynamics and performance but quality is less impressive

Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG Hugely powerful and capable but more expensive as a result



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May 2014