Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years review: Golf with balls
Forty-eight thousand pounds. However you do the maths, that’s a lot of money for a Volkswagen Golf. Then again, this is the most powerful, quickest accelerating and outright fastest Golf ever sold. So perhaps inevitably, it’s also the most expensive.
You already know the Golf GTI story: launched in 1975, the archetypal hot hatchback, red go-faster stripes, blah, blah.
What’s less often reported is how Volkswagen changed the game again 20 years ago with the Golf R32. The new Golf R 20 Years is here to remind us of that.
Open up and say ‘R’
The R32 arguably invented the modern ‘super hatch’ – presaging cars such as Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45 S. With a 241hp 3.2-litre V6 and 4Motion four-wheel drive, it was a cut above the contemporary Mk4 GTI in both price and performance. It was also the first production car with a dual-clutch (DSG) gearbox: technology that has become de rigeur today.
Six generations and 300,000 cars later, the ‘R’ brand is an established part of the hot VW hierarchy, and one-in-10 Golf hatchbacks sold in Britain is a Golf R. So what does this 20th anniversary special edition bring to the party?
Firstly, the familiar four-cylinder ‘EA888’ engine gains a modest power boost from 320 to 333hp. That’s good for 0-62mph in 4.6sec: exactly half the time taken by the original Golf GTI. A new throttle body helps keep the turbo spinning for sharper response, while the seven-speed DSG ’box is recalibrated for more aggressive shifts.
Driven to distraction
The 20 Years also gains the Performance Pack as standard, which means 19-inch alloy wheels with optional blue accents, a larger rear spoiler, a derestricted top speed (168mph, since you ask) and two additional driving modes. Drift mode is designed for doing skids, while track-focused Special mode was configured (where else?) at the Nurburgring.
Incidentally, a lap time of 7min 47.3sec makes this the fastest ‘R’ around the Nordschleife, just 0.1sec behind the lightweight, two-seat Golf GTI Clubsport S.
Inside, the 20 Years features Nappa leather sports seats and slabs of genuine carbon fibre on the dashboard and doors. Unfortunately, it also has the glitchy touchscreen and over-sensitive haptic controls common to all Mk8 Golfs. From a company renowned for sober, no-nonsense ergonomics, it feels like a major misstep.
Ignore the infotainment, though, and the 20 Years is still an easy car to live with. It rides well in Comfort mode, cruises effortlessly on the motorway and offers all the practicality of a regular, grocery-getting Golf. Hot hatchbacks aren’t just weekend playthings, after all.
Keeping it real
If you do want to play, however, this Golf is definitely game. A new touchpad on the steering wheel provides a shortcut to Race mode, which stiffens the (optional) adaptive dampers and injects a shot of adrenaline into the drivetrain. Gear changes are now super-sharp, walloping you in the back on full-throttle upshifts, while the quad tailpipes add some feisty crackle and pop.
Indeed, forget the Nurburgring, on real-world roads – particularly with a ‘real-world’ driver like me calling the shots – the Golf R can cover ground more quickly than almost anything. It digs in, grips hard, then slingshots out of corners on a wave of turbocharged torque. All that’s missing is that extra frisson of feedback you’d enjoy in, say, a Honda Civic Type R – or indeed the previous Golf R.
For me, even as a serial Golf GTI owner, the Mk8 R thus feels like a car to admire, rather than truly desire. That’s equally true for the 20 Years edition, which can easily exceed £50,000 with a few options (the Akrapovic exhaust alone is £3,500). Alternatively, you could spend half that amount on a late Mk7 Golf R, which is almost as fast and more fun. You do the maths.
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research
TOP SPEED: 168mph
FUEL ECONOMY: 36.2mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS: 175g/km