Is the new VW Golf R the same old story?

In other words, has VW gotten lazy?

11w ago

Who doesn't like a fast Golf? Ever since Volkswagen basically invented the hot hatch back in 1976 with the launch of the Golf GTI, the manufacturer has never abandoned the goal for this car to remain the benchmark. Of course, some executions have been better than others and there were times when we thought that the iconic pocket rocket had lost its way. Throughout the years the Golf may have gotten more powerful, but also bigger and heavier. More power is not the answer to everything (cannot believe I just said that) and even though we cannot go back in the past and build cars like in the '70s, manufacturers still have the ability to build cars that are fun and engaging. So, has Volkswagen done that with their most powerful Golf to date?

This is the R and it is basically the daddy of fast Golfs. Based on the eighth generation of the famous family hatchback, it now is as powerful as ever with its turbocharged 2.0 developing 320 horsepower. That's enough to go from 0 to 100 km/h in only 4.7 seconds and hit a limited top speed of 250 km/h. To help it achieve that, the new R can count on a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and four-wheel drive. All of that sounds pretty awesome so far. On the other hand, if memory serves me correctly, this is quite similar to what the previous generation Golf R used to offer. Indeed, on paper it seems that the new car is more evolution than revolution, however in times when Audi and Mercedes-Benz keep on raising the performance capabilities of their respective hot hatches, one might ask if Volkswagen has gotten lazy.

Some will say "If it works, don't change it!", and that's a fair point. Some already four years ago, I reviewed the MK7 and MK7 facelift Rs and found that they were immensely good. All in all, they are cars that offer the perfect blend between daily usability and sheer performance. They kept all the good bits that makes a Golf... a Golf, but it could reach speeds like nothing else. Think of it as the 911 Turbo S of hot hatches. Yes, the MK7 Golf R completely changed the game. Therefore, you'll probably understand why Volkswagen did not want to take many risks with their eighth generation and mess up the magic formula. Consequently, VW only brought some minor changes to its new R, but is it enough to keep an hedge over its closest competitors?

Think of it as the 911 Turbo S of hot hatches.

Jonathan Yarden

One of the first things to know is that Volkswagen now offers a Performance Pack for its Golf R. With that you get bigger 19'' wheels, the large rear wing of the GTI Clubsport, a faster 270 km/h top speed and new Drift and Nürburgring driving modes. In total, there are six modes from Comfort to Track that really help the car to have the right ride for the right purpose. Yes, you get a lot of car but this translates into a CHF 57'900.- (£46K) starting price. That's not even the end of the story because if you pick the essential Akrapovic titanium exhaust and the Performance Pack that will be an extra CHF 6'500.- (£5.2K) of options. VW are you sure people want to spend that amount of money on a Golf? Therefore, one may ask if this price is justified.

At first glance it doesn't seem so, at least on an exterior design perspective. The R looks like your regular Golf, and I believe that it's a good thing. Unlike the Civic Type R, the Golf R really kept this wolf in sheep's clothing philosophy that all fast Golfs have. On the other hand, it can quickly become a head turner if you spec it with the options I mentioned above. A Golf with massive exhaust tips, rear spoiler, and wheels won't ever go unnoticed. You jump inside, and it's again very normal in there. Yes, you get an R-specific digital dash, blue details and stitching, as well as optional leather sport seats, but the rest is pretty much regular Golf MK8. The unpopular tactile commands are still here and still weird to operate, the 10-inch screen is still glitchy at times, and there is just too many cheap plastics. On the plus side, the built-quality is up to German standards and the cabin is spacious enough for a small family. Being a Golf, you get all the practical elements like a 374 litre boot, many storage spaces, and just all the smart stuff that helps you go on with your daily life.

If it's not the exterior design nor cabin that will justify the high price of the Golf R, it might just be the driving experience. Even though this eighth generation uses the same chassis and engine as its predecessor, Volkswagen fine-tuned the essentials to give the hot hatch this extra sharpness. It starts with the way the Golf R sticks to the road. We knew that the 4Motion system was a big help, but the torque vectoring rear differential manages to brilliantly keep the wheels spinning with the right intensity in order to optimize the grip. With this car, it feels like Volkswagen really worked extensively on the stability, even though Drift mode will allow you to lose the rear when coming out of a corner. Yes, the new Golf R is as fun and engaging as ever. Every single dynamic aspect of this car has been sharpened over the previous generation, while maintaining the same level of comfort that a regular Golf offers. Not many hot hatches can blend daily usability and high performance like this new R, and that is truly phenomenal. What seemed like a minor tweaked Golf MK7 R actually a great example of how the best broths are made in the oldest pans. Or do we even say that?

I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Volkswagen Switzerland for allowing us to discover the new Golf R. Without them, this article would have never been possible. The team has been extremely nice and has been very helpful in the process of getting us a car. We cannot wait to collaborate more with them in the near future.

VW Golf R

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Comments (75)

  • I like it, but I would take a GR Yaris when I get the chance

      2 months ago
    • The GR Yaris is a good pick, but just too hard to compare both cars

        2 months ago
  • I'd have a Focus ST - pre facelift 😂

      2 months ago
  • The Golf to me has only gone downhill since the Mark VI ... The Mk8 design is slightly improved but overall not the biggest fan ...

      2 months ago
  • It’s a good car, I can’t lie, and I’m glad you reviewed this one in blue. I just prefer the old R. Specifically a 2014 3-door model.

      2 months ago
  • Is the new Golf R actually better than the old one? @tribe

      2 months ago