Volkswagen Golf R review – is the Mk8 R still relevant?
The Mk8 Golf R’s execution is found wanting; it’s less resolved, more complicated and not as engaging as previous iterations
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. Unlike before, it needs to fit into an even more crowded high-performance Golf range, with the GTI Clubsport now a permanent fixture.
To keep itself clear, the Golf R remains the only model to utilise all-wheel drive. On top of this, the Mk8 also brought with it a torque-vectoring rear differential with which it has had varying degrees of success.
There are now three forms of Golf R available: base, those fitted with the Performance Pack and the top-spec ‘20 Years’ version. All are fundamentally similar in their technical make-up, but the 20 Years model does feature a small uplift in power and new mapping to the engine and transmission.
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 20 Years cars have the most potent 328bhp engine yet, lesser Rs making do with 316bhp
- Ride and Handling > Not as sophisticated, capable or engaging as it once was
- 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 > Performance Pack and 20 Years models up the visual punch; base cars are very understated
Prices, specs and rivals:
The Golf R range has essentially grown to three different models, with the base R available with and without a Performance Pack, plus the new 20 Years flagship. There are no longer three-door and manual variant options. This makes the base £42,850 asking price a solid few thousand pounds more expensive than its premium rivals from Audi (S3) and BMW (M135i). The recently updated Mercedes-AMG A35 has gone up in price, now starting at £45,930.
Despite its flagship status within the Golf range and a base price north of £42k, the latest R is rather underspecified when it comes to standard kit. That Performance Pack costs an extra £2050 and you’ll still need to find an extra £850 for the critical adaptive dampers. Want a decent stereo? That’s an extra £665, and while a rear camera sounds reasonable at £320, it should absolutely be standard for this price.
There are expensive indulgences like the £3500 Akrapovič exhaust or £1060 panoramic roof, but the £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 Golf R 20 Years costs from £48,250 and bundles in most of the desirable options including 19-inch wheels and leather upholstery, but the DCC dampers are still an additional extra.
The R’s strongest competitor in its little grouping is the recently updated 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 £45,930, 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.