Volkswagen Golf R review – has the hottest VW still got it?
Undercooked and irritating in equal measure, the Mk8 Golf R’s execution is found wanting, and it’s a loss for the class
The Volkswagen Golf R has become the everyday hot hatch icon of our times. In a new car market where lease and PCP dominate, its mix of value for monthly expenditure and extreme real-world performance have made it an unstoppable force.
It’s fair to say that the pressure is on then for this new iteration, taking the latest Mk8 Golf as a base to reinvent the R without messing too much with the proven recipe. Can it maintain the qualities that made the old car such a success, or has the golden age of the Golf R been and gone?
Volkswagen Golf R: in detail
- Engine, gearbox and technical highlights > EA888 engine and DSG are a potent combo, making for an effective, if clinical powertrain
- Performance and 0-62mph time > Flagship 316bhp figure makes the Golf R about as quick as VAG hatchbacks get, Audi RS3 aside
- Ride and Handling > Feels lumpen and crude, in complete contrast to its excellent predecessor
- MPG and running costs > MPG ratings in the high 30s are quoted, low 30s are realistic
- Interior and tech > Clean design is completely undone by horrendous HMI
- Design > Another regressive step, the Mk8’s fussy and unbalanced design are another nail in the coffin
Prices, specs and rivals:
There’s only one Golf R available in Mk8 form, with three-door and manual variants not options. When taken into consideration, the base £40,025 asking price makes the Golf R a solid few thousand pounds more expensive than its premium rivals from Audi (S3), Mercedes-AMG (A35) and BMW (M135i).
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Unfortunately, despite its flagship status within the Golf range and a base price north of £40k, the latest R is shockingly underspecified when it comes to standard kit. Shell out for the Performance Pack at £2050 and you’ll still need to find an extra £795 for the critical adaptive dampers. Want a decent stereo? That’s an extra £625, and while a rear camera sounds reasonable at £300, it should absolutely be standard for this price.
There are more expensive indulgences like the £3100 Akrapovič exhaust or £1000 panoramic roof, but the rather shocking £2610 for leather upholstery is a lot for what essentially comes as standard on almost all rivals. The crux of the long options list is that to reach the point where a Golf R feels well-specced you’ll be knocking on the door of £50k...
The R’s strongest competitor in its little grouping is the Mercedes-AMG A35, a car closely modelled on the VW; both offer digital cockpits, 300-or-so bhp and four-wheel drive. And while the A35 is fractionally more expensive at £40,900, it drives with more polish and composure.
Broaden your horizons into the wider hot hatch world and there are plenty of other choices, whether it’s the dynamism of the Toyota GR Yaris, the great all-rounder that is the Hyundai i30 N, the recently revised Renault Mégane RS or the mighty Honda Civic Type R. There’s a hot hatch for everyone, from the Fiesta ST to the Mercedes-AMG A45, with price, performance and driver appeal to suit.