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Volkswagen Golf R review – engine, gearbox and technical highlights

EA888 engine and DSG are a potent combo, making for an effective, if clinical powertrain

Evo rating
  • Engine still pulls; erm, strong resale?
  • Every dynamic element feels like it’s taken a step or two backwards

There is no manual gearbox available with the new R, nor any three-door Mk8 Golfs full stop, but within this strict five-door DSG line-up are now three variations. All three utilise the 2-litre EA888 four-cylinder turbo, which is now in its fourth generation. This means it’s cleaner and also slightly more powerful, peaking at 316bhp and 310lb ft of torque for the standard models and rising to 328bhp for the 20 Years. Torque is the same on both.

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The twin-clutch DSG transmission features seven gears, and its near instantaneous shifts contribute to effortless performance, even if the turbocharger and transmission feel like they need longer to wake up than they once did – something that could well be due to the gas particulate filter fitted to all Mk8 Golfs.

The 20 Years model has no hardware changes, but there is some new software at play that further sharpens the transmission and augments a sort of anti-lag function. Far from being the rip-snorting anti-lag systems that would melt turbochargers in Group B rally cars unless they were driving flat-out, the Golf’s system simply keeps the turbo spinning through a partially opened throttle under heavy braking to reduce the spool time when you jump back on the accelerator.

Like the Mk8 GTI Clubsport, the R features a host of detail changes to its tried and tested layout of MacPherson front struts and a multi-link rear axle, with improved bearings and joints throughout and stiffer spring rates than on the old car. There are no chassis set-up differences between any of the three subvariants.

The standard dampers are passive, but VW’s adaptive units are an option (and a must-have in our view), while the Performance Pack not only includes the raised limiter but also a larger roof wing in place of the standard spoiler, 19-inch wheels and two extra driver modes. The Akrapovič titanium exhaust is a further option.

The base car’s standard wheel size is once again 18 inches, but there’s a new element to the drivetrain that delivers power to them via a new torque vectoring rear differential that can send up to 100 per cent of drive to the outer rear wheel during cornering.

The R offers Comfort, Sport, Race and Individual driver modes, accessed via either a button on the dash or on the steering wheel. Performance Pack and 20 Years models feature two extra modes: Special, where all the car’s systems are configured for the Nürburgring Nordschleife, and Drift, with obvious consequences. The front brake discs are larger than those of the old seventh-generation model at 357mm, and gripped by lighter calipers.

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