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Volkswagen Golf R review

2020 onwards (change model)
Parkers overall rating: 4.2 out of 54.2
” Fastest VW Golf is a discreet sportscar slayer “

At a glance

Price new £44,310
Used prices £28,084 - £44,688
Road tax cost £570
Insurance group 31 - 35
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Fuel economy 34.4 - 36.2 mpg
Miles per pound 5.0 - 5.3
View full specs for a specific version

Available fuel types


Pros & cons

  • Effortlessly fast and fun
  • All-weather usability
  • Good long-distance comfort
  • Infotainment system is poor
  • Touch-sensitive controls don't work well
  • Engine could sound more exciting

Written by Alan Taylor-Jones Published: 4 August 2023 Updated: 20 November 2023


Sitting at the top of the Volkswagen Golf Mk8 range, the four-wheel drive VW Golf R offers sports car-bothering acceleration in a discreet and practical package. The latest hot hatch variant is the fastest yet and we rate it very highly.

The Golf R uses the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine you’ll find in other quick VW Group models, including the Golf GTI, but here it’s been uprated to 320hp. The limited edition Golf R 20 Years model increases this to 333hp.

There’s no manual gearbox available, which may disappoint some enthusiasts. But the seven-speed DSG automatic fitted instead is excellent to use and helps the R accelerate 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds (4.6 seconds for the 20 Years version).

When it comes to rivals, the Audi S3 is an obvious contender. It has very similar performance and practicality, as it’s based on the same technology and underlying platform. Alternatively, there’s the BMW M135i, which also has over 300hp and four-wheel drive. The Mercedes-AMG A35 meets that brief, too. And if you don’t care about four-wheel drive, take a close look at the sensational 329hp Honda Civic Type R.

The Golf R is also available as an estate car for fast families.

Volkswagen Golf R review (2023)
Interior looks great but isn’t always easy to use.

What’s it like inside?

Like all versions of the VW Golf Mk8, the R is a mixture of good and bad inside, but is classy enough overall. It certainly looks racy, with the heavily bolstered sports seats and R badging reminding you of this Golf’s potential.

The main downside is shared with the rest of the Golf’s range – its lack of physical buttons, and a plethora of touch-sensitive controls on the dashboard and steering wheel that are hard to locate, offer minimal feedback and just end up being plain unpleasant to use. In time, the situation improves with familiarity, but at no point does this feel like a step forward over the Golf 8’s more user-friendly predecessor.

This and an overdependence on the central touchscreen can land the driver in trouble due to the amount of time their eyes are distracted away from the road. It’s a shame, as visually the R’s interior is quite appealing.

Quality is as good as you’d expect from a Volkswagen Golf, with well-judged materials and solid-feeling controls. The only issue we’d count against it on this score is that its elevated pricing puts it up against some very well-built cars – both the Audi S3 and BMW M135i feel more special inside, while the equally tech-laden Mercedes-AMG A35 is easier and more satisfying to use.

Volkswagen Golf R review (2023)
Interior looks great but isn’t always easy to use.


For a high-performance car, the Golf R can be a very comfortable place in which to spend time. There’s an appealing duality of purpose here, with relatively low overall levels of noise that make it a good long-distance cruiser. The supportive seats help, with plenty of side bolstering to keep you upright whilst cornering hard and plenty of long distance comfort, too. The driving position and forward visibility remain very good.

However, we’d also point out that some (lesser) hot hatch rivals such as the Cupra Leon and Ford Focus ST are more spacious for rear seat passengers than the Golf R hatchback. Thankfully, the Golf R Estate has a bit more distance between its front and rear wheels to give those in the back considerably more leg room.

Volkswagen Golf R review (2023)
Supportive seats are firm and can be an acquired taste.


Safety equipment on the Volkswagen Golf R reflects what’s available in the rest of the range, meaning you’ll find Volkswagen’s brilliant IQ.Light matrix LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, lane-keeping assist and blindspot monitoring.

Like all Golfs, the R has a five-star Euro NCAP score.

What’s it like to drive?

The Golf R is very fast, but fairly undramatically so. With 320hp on tap, it covers 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds (4.9 for the estate), aided by standard-fit launch control and four-wheel drive. Those figures are easy to achieve – or even beat – in real-world conditions, too.

Although it delivers its maximum power at high revs, it has strong low-speed torque too. What that means for the driver is swift progress without working the engine hard. The 333hp 20 Years model doesn’t feel much different in normal use, but has a bit more punch over the last 2,000rpm or so.

Volkswagen Golf R (2021) review, profile view
Top speed is as high as 168mph.

Top speed is limited to 155mph, but rises to 168mph with the R Performance Pack (which is fitted as standard on the 20 Years model, but optional on others). The engine isn’t especially nice to listen to – and the unpleasant artificial noise piped into the cabin does little to improve matters. Thankfully, you can turn off the sound generator in the infotainment system.

The sound from the quad exhaust pipes is underwhelming, too, even in the most aggressive Race driving mode. You’ll hear the odd pop and bang at certain times, little else. There is an optional £3,000 Akrapovic exhaust upgrade; this certainly looks purposeful, but adds surprisingly little theatre to the driving experience.

Volkswagen has tried to make the Golf R a bit more playful than its predecessor, something that has worked up to a point. The body pitches less on this generation and the R remains devastatingly quick in the bends when you want it to be. It’s also a little more stable under braking. So far so sensible.

Volkswagen Golf R Akrapovic exhaust 2021
The optional Akrapovic exhaust looks good but doesn’t add much character.

However, all Golf Rs now get a trick rear differential that’s able to shuffle power and torque around to create a more dynamic driving experience. For instance, it can help tuck the nose of the car into a corner, preventing it from washing wide when you get on the power. Push harder and you’ll find the rear tyres will even slide slightly if you want – something the previous generation of Golf R would never have entertained.

Unfortunately, for all its cleverness, it still doesn’t involve its driver in quite the same way as the very best hot hatches on the market. The smaller Toyota GR Yaris, for instance, performs even wilder tricks with its four-wheel drive system. The front-wheel drive Honda Civic Type R is also a bigger entertainer.

Opt for the R Performance Pack and as well as the raised speed limiter you’ll get two extra drive modes: Drift and Nurburgring. The latter is a slightly softer alternative to Race mode, slackening off the adaptive suspension to deal with bumpy roads whilst keeping the engine and gearbox aggressive.

As for Drift, it makes the Golf R go even more sideways if you desire. It can’t beat the (very expensive) Mercedes-AMG A45 S or a decent rear-wheel drive sports car for slidey shenanigans, but it does make the process relatively safe and easy.

Volkswagen Golf R review (2023)
Golf R estate is every bit as good as the hatchback.

From our perspective, it’s more important that the Golf R should be easy to live with in day-to-day driving. Gladly, although this version is slightly stiffer than the old one, there’s still enough squish to make long drives more than bearable.

If you prefer a rapid wagon to a hot hatch, the Golf R estate serves up almost all the thrills provided by the hatchback. Its larger size and weight means it isn’t quite as quick or agile, but the margins are very slim. As for the Golf R 20 Years, it just feels like a Performance Pack equipped car with more power.

Ownership costs and maintenance

The Golf R will officially manage mid-30s miles per gallon fuel economy although emissions are still quite high – resulting in all Golf Rs sitting in the top 37% bracket for company car tax. At least real world economy isn’t too far from those official figures, with over 30mpg perfectly possible if you’re gentle with the throttle.

It’s not cheap to buy, though, costing pretty much the same as an Audi S3 or BMW M135i, and they are both formidable rivals.

Volkswagen Golf R (2023) review
It’s not cheap, but it offers plenty of value.

Volkswagen offers Service and Maintenance Plans, which should take the sting out of servicing costs. The advantage of these is that they will protect you against any future increase in prices, and all work carried out comes with two years warranty.

What models and trims are available?

Once you’ve decided if you want a hatchback or an estate, there’s one flavour of Golf R (plus the limited edition 20 Years), but you do get plenty of options to choose from. Extras include adaptive suspension (DCC), Nappa leather seats and that Akrapovic exhaust, which is slightly lighter than the standard pipework.

The R Performance Pack brings with it larger 19-inch alloy wheels (as opposed to 18s as standard), as well as the higher speed limiter and additional drive modes.

Would we recommend buying a Golf R? What is one like to live with? Click through to our long-term test and then verdict to find out.

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