Volkswagen Golf 7 R review (2013-2020) – ride and handling

Belies the sometimes staid Golf image. Great to drive fast, even better to drive at its limit; always fun and engaging

Evo rating
Price
from £31,685
  • Superb powertrain and agile, delicate and sophisticated handling
  • Lacks a final edge of feedback and adjustability

The Golf R sits 5mm lower than the GTI and has firmer springs. The optional adaptive chassis control system – which progressively firms the dampers, sharpens throttle response and reduces steering assistance as you click through the modes – culminates with a more aggressive 'race' setting, chiefly for track days.

It's worth noting that the Golf R's DCC mode was originally controlled using a button next to the gearstick, but this has been moved to a sub menu within the car's navigation system.

Uniquely among modern Volkswagens – and a sure sign the company sees the car as a rival to the ostensibly harder core Renaultsport Megane - the R allows you to fully switch off its stability control system (lesser versions limiting you to a 'Sport' mode).

On initial acquaintance, the R has that familiar GTI fluidity and feeling of supple, lucid response. But push on a little harder and the more powerful car’s tighter body control, quicker steering and more incisive turn-in soon shine through. In simple terms you turn the wheel and the R grips and goes.

In fact, the Golf R actually gets better the harder you push it, rising up onto its toes and coming alive just at the point where previous generations would fall to pieces. There's a crispness and a purity to the steering, a sense of lightness and agility to the way it darts towards an apex and, by virtue of its four-wheel-drive system, none of the tugging at the wheel under full load tat that you get in front-wheel-drive cars.

There’s more to the R than merely going fast from point to point, too, the most welcome difference being greater throttle adjustability and a more intimate connection between you and the chassis.

You know exactly how hard all four tyres are working, and depending on how you set the R up for the corner you can lean hard on the front end for added bite in tighter turns, pitch it in for some fun through medium-speed corners or keep things ultra-neat through fast sweeps. It’s a cerebral process, but one laced with perspiration and adrenalin. From take-off to landing, the Golf R is quick with a capital F but thoroughly engaging, too.

It's also worth noting that the Golf R is fairly unflustered by poor conditions. Snowy drives home in evo's long term car have resulted in very few issues, even on Summer tyres. 

There is one caveat to the R, and that’s the GTI Clubsport and more poignantly the Clubsport S. Both, although front-driven, prove there’s more to the chassis than the Golf R is able to muster, as those car’s have a sparkling agility and adjustability that the R just can’t replicate. This is something VW is hoping to achieve with the Golf 8 and it’s clever differential and other mechanical upgrades, we’ll have to see if VW succeeds when we drive it in 2021.

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