Volkswagen Golf R Performance Pack 2019 review – sharpened claws for VW's flagship hot hatch

With no major flaws, yet a real depth of character and a peerless image, the Golf R is popular for good reason. It’s brilliant.

Evo rating
Price
from £34,070
  • So rapid, so versatile, very satisfying to drive, feel-good factor
  • Aural fakery can be a little much, expensive with options

The Mk7 Volkswagen Golf R has been a familiar sight and sound in these parts for a while now, and although its relative age should be catching up with it, the Golf R’s innate ‘right-ness’ still emanates with undeniable strength.

This talent for combining the standard Golf’s classless ease with real performance gusto and driver engagement is the R’s real talent, and the fact that it feels worth the extra over its talented little brother, the GTI, is a testament to how brilliant the current generation Golf R is.

It may have gone through a recent update for emissions regulations' sake, but the recipe hasn't been affected despite a 10bhp drop. It may not be the fastest, cheapest or most dynamic of its ilk, the Golf R's brilliance is in its completeness.

Engine, transmission, and 0-60mph time

The R’s familiar ’EA888’ 2-litre TSI engine has in recent times been through a subtle de-tune thanks to reformed WLTP regulations, pegging power back to 296bhp from its prior 306bhp figure. As of 2019 the Golf R is now only available with a seven-speed DSG, one more unfortunate result of both changing legislation, and a changing market weeding out the few (us, in other words) who still buy cars like this with a stick and three pedals.

What the numbers don’t tell you is this engine’s wonderful character has been retained. It’s crisp, delicate and even makes a fairly good noise, if you listen past the piped in intake warble. This is especially present on cars fitted with the (expensive) optional Akrapovic exhaust, which creates an oddly satisfying soundtrack that is less motorsport than something like an i30N, yet more natural than an Audi S3.

The transmission is the usual VW-group DSG. When on the move it’s fast, quick-witted and rarely, if ever, caught out, but does suffer from dawdling responses and a jerkiness when mooching around town. The six-speed manual was one of the finer cable-operated shifts of its type, without the slickness of a Civic Type R’s perhaps, but a willing and capable partner to the engine. It’s a shame VW has killed it off.

Technical highlights

The powertrain is an obvious highlight, but whereas it used to remain within the boundaries of the upper-level Volkswagen Group hot hatch, the venerable EA888 has since been fitted to a veritable smorgasbord of other VAG derivatives, including SUVs such as the Cupra Ateca and even the Porsche Macan. Rather than dilute the Golf R’s specialness, it’s only accentuated by the wonderful calibration with the chassis and handling balance only the Golf exhibits. It remains, by quite some margin, the most satisfying of its ilk to drive.

> SEAT Leon Cupra 300 review

Adaptive dampers deserve special mention, as even when fitted with the optional 19-inch wheels wrapped in slim 35-profile section tyres, the ride remains polished and body-control contained when in the softer setting.

Inside, the R has all the Golf’s usual tech including the full width (12.3in) high-resolution display in front of the driver, and the option of the 9.2in Discover Navigation Pro infotainment system with its glossy touchscreen. Add to that the Driving Modes available before, including the option of a programmable Individual setting, and there’s almost limitless potential for button pressing, swiping and hand gestures to the point of distraction.

 

What’s it like to drive?

Like the old one, it’s absolutely brilliant. One of the many clever things about the R is that it has such a duality of personality. Drive away normally and it can be difficult to see what the attraction is from a real enthusiast’s perspective: it’s completely undemanding, comfortable, light to the touch and quiet. A long, and dull, journey, completed primarily in ‘eco’ mode with the ‘box declutching at every opportunity, elicited a high 30s mpg figure.

On the other hand, given more throttle the R positively leaps for the horizon, continuing to rev out with infectious enthusiasm with the ‘box snicking instantly through each successive ratio. It’s the kind of car that feels properly fast anyplace, anytime, especially so given it squanders nothing with the total traction capability of the four-wheel drive system. In fact, while the R isn’t a naturally flamboyant car, it’s far from inert, with the ability to go neutral and then a bit more under full power out of tighter corners.

The more you drive the R, the more you discover a subtle and unflappable poise to its ride and handling balance that really gets you hooked. The DCC dampers are a wise idea, especially if you must go up a rim size, only enforcing the R’s sheer breadth of ability. The optional Performance Pack only adds to the R’s capability, with larger brakes, standard 19-inch wheels, and a few subtle styling tweaks.

 

Price and rivals

The punchy list price of the R at £34,070 seems to have been no hindrance to the model’s success. For many buyers, though not all, there is obviously a certain kudos to owning a fast VW Golf, and given the new car is better than ever, there seems no reason its success will diminish in the future.

Along with the death of the six-speed manual, the three-door body style has also fallen by the wayside. Although this has raised the basic price, and removed what is probably the ‘cooler’ body style, it’s not the great loss the six-speed manual is. The Performance Pack integrates larger brakes, 19-inch wheels, some subtle styling enhancements and a derestricted top speed. It’s pricey though at £2300, and when combined with other choice options like the Akrapovic exhaust (£2975) can result in a near-£50k Golf.

Few buyers stick with the standard, non-metallic white paint finish as most usually plump for one of the six metallic options priced around £600, including the popular Lapiz Blue. However, there are two other non-metallic colours to choose from: Tornado Red (£300) and the pearl Oryx White at £1000.

The standard, 18in alloys can be swapped out for bigger items, at a price, there are three different designs to choose from costing between £800 and £1000. That said, there’s nothing wrong with the base-spec, five-spoke wheels, so money is better spent elsewhere.

Leather upholstery is optional, and available in three finishes: black Vienna, grey nappa and anthracite nappa. The former adds £1750 to the bottom line, whereas the other two cost significantly more at £2500 – they’re all pricey and we have no complaints with the standard cloth trim.

Fortunately the R comes well equipped: adaptive cruise control, LED headlights and VW’s digital instrument cluster (Active info display) – with integrated sat-nav – constitute the basic specification. While the passive chassis is pliant and accomplished, DDC (Dynamic Chassis Control) is worth considering for £850, adding scope to customise the driving experience.

You could argue the Golf R strikes the perfect balance between performance and everyday comfort and we’d struggle to disagree. That very point, though, stops the R being as engaging to drive as our favourite hot hatches such as the £31k Honda Civic Type R.

If all-weather performance is a priority the Golf R’s four-wheel drive system will appeal. The closely related Audi S3, wraps Golf R running gear in a more premium shell and commands a list price of only £1000 more, but seems to lack the Golf’s final layer of driver engagement.

Most Popular

Triumph Lynx – Dead on arrival
Triumph Lynx
Features

Triumph Lynx – Dead on arrival

With a 3.5-litre Rover V8 under the bonnet and TR7 fastback styling, the Lynx could have been British Leyland’s answer to the Ford Capri
18 Jun 2021
New 992 Porsche 911 GT3 Touring revealed – now available in manual and PDK
Porsche 911 GT3 Touring – rear profile
Porsche 911 GT3

New 992 Porsche 911 GT3 Touring revealed – now available in manual and PDK

The Touring pack has returned, combining the 992 GT3’s set-up with more understated looks
15 Jun 2021
Used car deals of the week
Used car deals
used cars

Used car deals of the week

Here's what caught evo’s fancy this week on the second hand car market
17 Jun 2021
The reluctant LaFerrari driver – evo archive
evo archive – LaFerrari truck extraction – stop!
Ferrari

The reluctant LaFerrari driver – evo archive

How do you get a £1million hypercar out of the back of a delivery truck? Very, very, slowly…
15 Jun 2021
Next generation BMW 7-series spied – flagship saloon to once again set the tone for future models
Next generation BMW 7-series spied – front quarter
BMW 7 Series

Next generation BMW 7-series spied – flagship saloon to once again set the tone for future models

All-new saloon to feature IC and EV powertrains, but once again it’ll also lead the way aesthetically
16 Jun 2021
MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn
MAT Stratos – front tracking
Lancia

MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn

It’s been a long time coming, but this Ferrari F430-based reimagining of the Lancia Stratos is finally here
11 Jun 2021
BMW M5 CS 2021 review – a class act that reaffirms the M division’s brilliance
BMW M5 CS – front cornering
BMW M5 saloon

BMW M5 CS 2021 review – a class act that reaffirms the M division’s brilliance

Nonsensical on paper, but sublime in practice. Never has a modern supersaloon been more tactile or more engaging
14 Jun 2021
Hyundai i20 N revealed – Ford Fiesta ST rival priced from £24,995
Hyundai i20 N car pictures
Hyundai i20 hatchback

Hyundai i20 N revealed – Ford Fiesta ST rival priced from £24,995

N division's second model set to shake up the junior hot hatch establishment
17 Jun 2021
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition – slide
Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act

Immense performance from about the coolest modern muscle car out there. It’s expensive, but there’s nothing else quite like it
12 Jun 2021
Ferrari F8 Tributo replacement to be revealed June 24
Ferrari F171 spy 2021 – header
Ferrari

Ferrari F8 Tributo replacement to be revealed June 24

Ferrari’s going hybrid and V6 for its next mid-engined supercar
16 Jun 2021
2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?
Audi RS3 manufacturer spy 1
Audi RS3

2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?

Audi Sport is putting the final touches on its new RS3 hot hatch and saloon
10 Jun 2021
2022 Polestar 3 teased – all-new Audi e-tron rival a stepchange model
Polestar 3
Polestar

2022 Polestar 3 teased – all-new Audi e-tron rival a stepchange model

Yes, it’s another electric SUV, but this one will be the first ‘true’ Polestar
17 Jun 2021
GTO Engineering Squalo interior sketches revealed – new-build Ferrari 250 GTO hommage draws closer
GTO Engineering interior
Ferrari

GTO Engineering Squalo interior sketches revealed – new-build Ferrari 250 GTO hommage draws closer

New details, including the interior, have been revealed about the GTO Engineering Squalo
15 Jun 2021