Volkswagen Golf R Mk6 (2010-2012): review, history, and used buying guide

The Mk7 Golf R is a hot hatch hero, but the Mk6 offers a similar blend of performance and practicality for a lot less dosh

For years we behaved like sheep, merely accepting that ‘there ain’t no substitute for cubic inches’. Then suddenly came the concept of downsizing and turbocharging. The traditional line is no longer toed and now everyone is at it from Ford to Ferrari. Therefore one could suggest that VW were ahead of the curve with the Mk6 Golf R. When the R was announced with a mere 2-litre turbocharged engine, we yearned the passing of what we believed was the end of the uber-Golf with the Mk5 R32 and its 3.2 litre V6. That was until we drove it. 

In all honesty, the 3.2 was never quite what it should have been. It was a little bit flabby and flaccid and lacked the character we so badly wanted it to have. The new 2-litre TSI of the Mk6 actually pumped out 266bhp, 20 more than the 3.2 and 258lb ft compared to 236lb ft of before. Despite being more potent, it also weighed 35kg less. Driving all four wheels through a Haldex four-wheel drive system, 0-62mph was cut by around a second to just 5.7sec with the manual and 5.5sec with the paddleshift DSG semi-auto. This made the R a similar chunk faster than the regular Mk6 GTI, which had to make do with just 207bhp.

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The 4Motion system featured a centre diff in the form of a Haldex clutch. This distributed drive to the wheels with the most grip. The engine was the EA113 taken from the Mk5 Golf. It was chosen because of its ability to be heavily tuned but in the Mk6 R it benefitted from a reinforced block, a new cylinder head, uprated pistons and conrods, and high pressure fuel injectors. Beside these modifications it also received a new turbocharger that ran at 1.2bar alongside a more effective intercooler to deal with the increased thermal load. Hence this engine is ideal for further tuning. There are plenty of examples that have been remapped to well over 300bhp.

To compensate with the vast increases in power and performance, handling improvements were also made. The ride height was dropped by 25mm compared to the Mk6 Golf GTI and the springs and dampers were each tweaked for sharper responses, although ACC switchable adaptive dampers were a cost option. The brakes were impressive and featured 345mm discs up front with ‘R’ monogrammed calipers.

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With the price of the R at £30,000 (7k more than the Mk6 GTI), VW felt the need to justify the price. Clear distinctions between the R and the GTI came in the form of 18-inch Talladega alloys (a 19-inch option was also available), a subtle bodykit and twin centrally located exhaust tailpipes that protruded from a gloss black diffuser. The interior remained largely unchanged from the GTI, but Recaro seats were available as a highly desirable option.

Specs

EngineIn-line 4cyl, 1984cc, turbocharged
Max power266bhp @ 6000rpm
Max torque258lb ft @ 2500-5000rpm
TransmissionSix-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Weight1521kg
Power-to-weight178bhp/ton
0-62mph5.7 sec (claimed)
Top speed155mph (limited)
Price new£30,235

Checkpoints

Engine

The EA113 engine has a reputation for being strong and reliable. This tends to remain the case even once the engine has been tuned to over 300bhp. However, this can fail to be the case if the engine has not been fastidiously maintained and serviced. Andy McLeish at VW/Audi specialists APS advises every 10,000 miles or 12 months, whichever comes first. The only real weakness of the engine is that the fuel pump cam follower is prone to premature wear, which in turn scorns the camshaft. On the plus side, replacing the follower is inexpensive. Discovering whether this has been done or not is also a good indicator of the how the car has been cared for.  A leaking water pump is also another area to look out for and the changing of the cambelt at 60,000 miles of 4 years is another essential to healthy maintenance of the car. Ideally the water pump needs to have been replaced at the same. The budget for all this work if not done is £300 from a specialist.

Transmission

Some of the earlier cars particularly from 2010 tend to suffer from a failure of the Haldex pump. This is the electronic pump that that generates the hydraulic pressure needed to push the plates in the centre diff together and send the torque to the axle with the most grip.

The easiest way to see if this is the case is by the flooring the throttle in the lower gears. If there is anything more than the slightest hunt of wheelspin, it points to there being a problem with the pump. Unfortunately it costs between £400-500 to have a replacement fitted. If this is required, it makes sense to have the rear propshaft donut replaced as well. The Haldex/oil filter needs changing every two years at the latest.

Depending on how the car has been looked after and driven, the manual gearboxes tend to be very robust. However, if you feel juddering when moving away, it may indicate that the dual mass flywheel is on its way out. Sadly it’s not cheap so you may as well get the clutch replaced at the same time. This will bring the total to well over £1000.

It’s also worth noting that if you do decide to get the car remapped, you will need an uprated clutch. If  your car is a DSG, the ‘box cannot handle as much torque as the manual but generally gives few problems providing it is properly maintained.

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One of the most important aspects in regards to maintenance is that the oil and filter are changed every 40,000 miles to avoid overheating or risk of the clutch burning out. It recommended that you check both the DSG and manual boxes for speed and smoothness for a clear indication of how the transmission is faring.

Suspension, steering, brakes

Nothing serious to worry about in this department other than standard wear and tear. Creaks or knocks tend to be good indicators of wear in the front suspension top mounts. It is also worth checking the dampers for leaks and the springs for breakages. The ACC dampers are prone to being more problematic than the standard dampers.

A typical fault of VWs is the illumination of the ABS or ESP light. This can often just be a fault with the sensor and not be of any concern and is an inexpensive fix. However it could well be that the ABS pump-control unit needs replacing, which costs more than £1000 from VW.

Body, interior, electrics

The easiest way to detect any accident repairs is to assess the uniformity of the panel gaps and any overspray. A positive note is that interiors appear to be holding up well. Hence any signs of excessive wear or damage to trim may indicate that the car has lived a tough life and this may indicate other issues. Better examples can most certainly be found. The CAN Bus wiring system can often play up so it is worth checking that all the toys work.

Rivals

Ford Focus RS (Mk2)

Not everyone’s cup of tea. The Mk2 Focus RS (09-11) produces a whopping 300bhp from its 2.5 litre turbo five, 0-60mhp in 5.9sec and a truly bonkers FWD ride. Prices are around £17k.

Renaultsport Megane 265 Cup

If the sensation of driving is all that you are interested in, then this is the car for you. Built between 2012 and 2015, the 265 produces 261bhp from its 2 litre engine. The sprint to takes just 6.4sec and the handling and chassis are sublime. A good one is around £16k.

Audi S3

The S3 (06-12) is almost identical to the Golf R underneath. The 261 bhp engine powers all four wheels enabling the car to get to 60 in just 5.6sec. Despite being phenomenally capable it feels a little clinical. To get a good low-miler, you are looking around the £16-18k mark.

I bought one

Ollie Dunstall

"I’m on my second Golf R after the first was written off in an accident. I knew another long search was in store – there are only around 800 Mk6 Rs in the UK and finding one with a good spec is a challenge. Prices are holding well, and a cherished example doesn’t stick around.

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‘A fellow member of vwroc.com heard about my accident and contacted me to say he was thinking of selling. Three weeks, several emails and four hundred miles later, I was the owner of this late-2012 model in Rising Blue metallic. 

‘It belonged first to VW as their demo car, so has every single option, including the Recaro buckets – an expensive option at almost £3500, but coupled with the RNS 510 satnav and upgraded Dynaudio system it makes the cabin a very nice place to be. Although not to everyone’s tastes, the DSG gearbox is a no-brainer in my opinion and makes a quick hot hatch even quicker!

‘To many, the R is “just another Golf” – and that’s one of the things I like the most. Mine has been treated to H&R front and rear anti-roll bars, BC adjustable coilovers and Powerflex bushes. I’ve also upgraded to EBC slotted discs with Yellowstuff pads, while the 19in wheels wear Pirelli P Zeros. Future plans include a turbo-back exhaust, a new intake and a high-pressure fuel pump, which should add a further 90 to 100bhp.

‘Running costs are relatively low – VW servicing is quite reasonable and the car averages 25mpg. Road tax is circa £280, but insurance is expensive – the fact that I’m only 22 probably plays a factor!’

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‘There aren’t many cars within this price bracket that can rival the Golf R’s range of abilities and also put such a huge grin on your face."

What we said

First drive, February 2010

"Where the R32 lacked the incisive delicacy of the Mk5 GTI, the Mk6 Golf R feels sharper, angrier and a whole lot faster than the current GTI. Where the potent but chunky R32 always fell victim to the law of diminishing returns, the Golf R proves that, when executed well, more power can equal decisively more performance.

‘The same goes for the chassis. Experience suggests that switching a Golf from front-wheel-drive to all-wheel-drive delivers security at the expense of sparkle, yet the Golf R’s 4Motion system seems to achieve the opposite. I should qualify that statement by saying that conditions for our are first drive are wintry, but the steering response is cleaner and the general enthusiasm for corners more energetic than the beautifully polished but overwhelmingly straight-laced GTI.

‘The optional ACC switchable dampers aren’t fitted to this test car, and the ride and handling compromise struck by the standard-fit fixed-rate suspension seems pretty much spot-on.

‘The Golf R is a hugely impressive addition to the hot hatch Premier League. It’s pricey, but you only need look inside a Focus RS to know where Ford saves money. The Golf R has got terrific pace and tractability, coupled to a memorably effervescent engine and a sport-biased chassis that exudes confidence and genuine enthusiasm. It’s a formidable range-topper. Golf R: same game, bigger balls." - evo 140

What to pay

Buying

The basic entry point is around £15k. However many of the car in this price bracket tend to be high mileage cars with less than solid service histories. The £16-18 bracket will bring a wide range of cars with varying mileage from middling to low and many cars here will actually be undervalued.

If you want the best possible though, 20k is the necessary figure. These cars will be low mileage, one or two owner cars that posses a full VW service history. It is also worth noting that the ACC switchable dampers and Recaro seats do command a premium. 

Costs

Tyres (each) £91.55 (Dunlop Sportmaxx)
Front pads (set) £108.68
Front discs (pair)£235.94
Front damper (each)£101.49
Clutch (manual)£291.33
Release bearing£87.60
Flywheel£659.32
Haldex pump£247.92
Spark plugs£61.96
Oil change service£171.68
Major service with plugs and filters£345
Haldex oil change£98.60
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