4.2 out of 5 4.2
Parkers overall rating: 4.2 out of 5 4.2

Top-dog Golf is a discreet sports car slayer

Volkswagen Golf R (20 on) - rated 4.2 out of 5
Enlarge 15 photos

At a glance

New price £42,190 - £44,535
Lease from new From £510 p/m View lease deals
Used price £34,150 - £43,780
Used monthly cost From £852 per month
Fuel Economy 34.9 - 36.2 mpg
Road tax cost £520
Insurance group 31 - 32 How much is it to insure?
New

PROS

  • Effortlessly fast and fun
  • All-weather usability
  • Reasonably comfortable with DCC dampers

CONS

  • Infotainment set-up is poor
  • Touch sensitive controls don't work well
  • Engine could sound more exciting

Volkswagen Golf R rivals

Written by Alan Taylor-Jones on

Is the Volkswagen Golf R any good?

Sitting at the top of the range, the four-wheel drive Volkswagen Golf R is well established among enthusiasts for offering sports car-bothering acceleration in a discreet and practical package. The latest iteration of the breed is the fastest yet and we rate it highly indeed.

The Golf R continues to use the same 2.0-litre turbocharged engine you’ll find in other quick VW Group models, but it’s been uprated to 320hp. There’s no manual option, but the seven-speed DSG automatic is excellent to use and helps it turn in some excellent acceleration figures.

When it comes to rivals, the closest in terms of performance and image are the Audi S3, BMW 135i and Mercedes-AMG A 35, but there are other alternatives including the Cupra Leon 300 and Honda Civic Type R.

Unlike most rivals, there’s even an estate version for fast families. Only the Cupra Leon and Mercedes-AMG CLA Shooting Brake can match that trick at this price point.

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, but you do get plenty of options to choose from. Extras include adaptive suspension (DCC), Nappa leather seats and a lighter exhaust system by Akrapovic.

You can specify the R Performance Pack, too, which brings with it larger 19-inch alloy wheels (as opposed to 18s as standard) and two additional drive modes: Nurburgring and Drift which we’ll come onto a little later in this review.

Volkswagen also launched a special edition of the Golf R called the ’20 Years,’ in May 2022 to celebrate the hottest of hot VW hatchback’s 20th anniversary. It’ll be on sale until the middle of 2023 and adds items like a bigger rear spoiler and real carbon fibre trim for the interior. It’s also the fastest version of the Golf on sale, boasting 333hp.

What’s it like inside?

Like all eighth-generation Golfs, the R is a mixture of good and bad, 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’s more user-friendly predecessor..

That, 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 the rest of the R’s interior is actually quite appealing, thanks to its tech and easy-to-read screens.

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 135i feel more special inside, while the equally tech-laden Mercedes-AMG A 35 is easier and more satisfying to use, if a little less sturdy.

We’d also point out that some 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. If you want to know more about the practicality of either the Golf hatchback or Golf estate, check out our main reviews.

Comfort

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.

Safety

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 LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, lane-keeping assist and blindspot monitoring.

Like all Golfs, the R benefits from a five-star Euro NCAP score, which puts it at the top of its class as it’s a result under the latest and toughest testing conditions.

What’s it like to drive?

The Golf R is very fast, but undramatically so. With 320hp on tap, it covers the 0-62mph run in 4.7 seconds (4.9 for the estate), aided by standard-fit launch control and four-wheel drive. And just to rub salt into the wounds of the opposition, this figure has been easily beaten in independent testing. 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.

That said, it’s happy to approach the 7,000rpm limiter if the mood suits. Top speed is limited to 155mph, but rises to 168mph with the Performance Pack. The only potential downside is that the engine is far from sweet to listen to, with an artificial monotone note piped in into the cabin. Thankfully this can be turned off in the infotainment system.

The sound from the quad exhaust pipes is underwhelming, too, even in Race mode. You’ll hear the odd pop and bang at certain times, but little else. Those hoping the optional £3,000+ Akrapovic exhaust will be the solution will also feel short changed – they certainly look purposeful, but add little theatre to the driving experience.

Volkswagen has tried to make the Golf R a little less po-faced and 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.

However, all Golf Rs get a trick rear differential that’s able to deliver more power to the outside rear tyre than the front. This helps tuck the nose of the car in, preventing it from washing wide when you get on the power. Push harder and you’ll find the rear tyres will slide slightly, making it feel a little less lead footed and uninteresting than its predecessor. Even so, it doesn’t involve its driver or generate as big a grin as the best hot hatches out there such as the Toyota GR Yaris.

Opt for the Performance Pack and you’ll gain a raised speed limiter and 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 AMG A45 or a decent rear-wheel drive sports car for slidey shenanigans, though.

Of course, a car like the Golf R should be liveable in day-to-day driving, too. Although this version is slightly stiffer than the old one even on adaptive suspension, there’s still enough squish to make long drives more than bearable. It’s worth pointing out that we’ve not tried a Golf R on standard suspension, so make sure you try before you buy if you’re not ticking the box for DCC adaptive dampers.

VW Golf R Estate

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.

Ownership costs and maintenance

The Golf R will officially manage mid-thirties economy although emissions are still quite high. Sure, they drop well below 200g/km, yet all Golf Rs still sit in the top 37% bracket for company car tax. At least real world economy isn’t too far from the 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 offers Service and Maintenance Plans, too, 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 and fitted by Volkswagen trained technicians.

Click to find out whether we think the Volkswagen Golf R is worth going for

Volkswagen Golf R rivals

Other Volkswagen Golf models: