The Volkswagen Golf has often been referred to as all the car you could ever need. The Golf R, however, can stake the claim of being all the Golf that you could ever want.
This range-topping hot hatchback packs a punchy 296bhp turbocharged engine, an unflappable four-wheel drive system and the option of three or five doors and manual or DSG automatic gearboxes.
While Volkswagen has produced the speedy, fun-to-drive and relatively affordable Golf GTi for nearly four decades, the R adds an extra dose of power and visual clout, helping it to take on extremely powerful small performance cars like the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG, BMW M135i and closely related Audi S3.
What is it?
The Golf R sits at the top of the Golf range, differentiating itself from the already impressive Golf GTi with an extra helping of power, sharper styling – thanks to a new body kit and 18-inch alloy wheels – and four-wheel drive to better channel its newfound muscle to the road.
Though this Golf devours corners with even more enthusiasm than the standard GTi, thanks to its firm suspension, this is still very much an everyday road car. The R has numerous driving modes, which allow you to choose everything from a comfort-biased setup when you’re cruising down the motorway to a hard-edged race mode, which gives the motor a meaner engine note and tenses the suspension for faster reflexes around bends.
The rest of the Golf range stretches from affordable 1.2-litre petrol models and frugal 1.6-litre diesels to the sporty petrol GTi and diesel GTD, which sit just below the R.
What is it like to drive?
The R truly lives up to its billing as the top Golf on the road, with oodles of power, sharp handling and a rorty note from the engine when driving hard. Floor the throttle and this machine can race from a standstill to 62mph in a Porsche 911-rivalling 4.9 seconds.
The true skill of the R, though, is the ability to switch from being a comfortable cruiser when you’re just getting from A to B in ‘Comfort’ mode, to feeling like an out and out sports car if you select ‘Race’ mode.
Even the keenest of drivers couldn’t want for more power and the R takes corners with aplomb too, while the four-wheel drive system ensures that, even with the copious amount of power on tap, the car remains in control at all times.
While the car channels engine sound into the cabin in ‘Race’ mode it is still comfortable and quiet in ‘Comfort, with little wind or road noise, despite the large tyres. Claimed fuel economy is also strong at 40.9mpg in automatic form and just below 40mpg with the manual gearbox.
The automatic gearbox fitted to our car worked exceptionally well, managing to change gears smoothly around town for a relaxed driving experience, but also juggling cogs rapidly when being driven faster.
Those who don’t yearn for the most powerful Golf or need four-wheel drive will be equally well served with the Golf GTi, however.
What is it like inside?
The Golf R’s interior is solidly made and has a high quality feel. The standard sports seats are both comfortable and supportive, while the layout of controls feels intuitive and easy to use on the move, with a large screen for the media system and simple air conditioning controls.
Helping to differentiate the R from more affordable Golfs it has carbon dashboard trim and gloss black inserts for the centre console, which give the car a sporty feel, as does the chunky steering wheel.
Is it practical?
Yes. With the option of five doors and an automatic gearbox – the model we tested – the Golf R is no less practical than any other version.
The cabin is spacious, comfortable and well-equipped, with room for five passengers and there is a large boot. Despite the addition of four-wheel drive hardware, neither cabin nor boot space seem to be unduly compromised.
The flipside of the four-wheel drive system is that the car may even prove more adept in snow and slippery conditions than lesser Golfs.
Should I buy one?
Absolutely. Buyers after a speedy but practical hatchback who can afford the £30,000+ needed to get the keys to an R will not be disappointed by the car’s on-road handling or everyday practicality.
Though it offers a healthy dose of extra power over the Golf GTi, there seem to be no downsides to opting for the R, bar the slightly higher price and fuel consumption. Even so, fuel economy is strong considering the power on tap and the R offers strong value compared to other performance cars that offer similar performance.
The closely-related Audi S3 fails to match the Golf for handling or comfort while the even faster Mercedes A45 will set you back a further £6,000 – nearly a 20 per cent premium. The BMW M135i puts up a tougher battle at just £600 more for a five-door automatic model leaving buyers to choose which model appeals to them more.
Don’t want to buy new? You can browse for a used Volkswagen Golf in our classifieds here.
Volkswagen Golf R five-door DSG
List price: £32,220
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol
Max Speed: 155mph
0-62mph 4.9 seconds