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Driven: Volkswagen Golf R. Image by Volkswagen.

Driven: Volkswagen Golf R
The thinking personís hot hatch, mildly tweaked for 2017. And it remains magnificent.


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Volkswagen Golf R

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: All the extraordinary Golf R qualities are preserved

Not so good: It faces stronger opposition than ever these days

Key Facts

Model tested: Volkswagen Golf R five-door hatch manual
Price: Golf five-door range starts from £18,420; R from £32,965, car as tested £38,165
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 4Motion all-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hot hatch
CO2 emissions: 180g/km (VED £800 first 12 months, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 40.9mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 5.1 seconds
Power: 310hp at 5,500-6,500rpm
Torque: 380Nm at 2,000- to 5,400rpm

Our view:

Can there be any more a standard uniform for the Volkswagen Golf R than Lapiz Blue metallic paint (+£650), 18-inch Cadiz alloys and a five-door hatchback body? It's what pops into our head when we're asked to think of a Golf R - a sort of 'residual self-image', if you will, of Volkswagen's superb all-wheel drive hot hatch. About the only unusual spec choice on this test car was a six-speed manual gearbox; we're ready to bet most UK Golf Rs sport the DSG transmission instead, which improves its 0-62mph time to a sub-five-second sprint.

Facelifted at the end of 2016 and informally given the clunky epithet of 'Golf Mk7.5' by commentators, not much has changed with the Golf R package, but then given the absolute proliferation of them that are running about on UK roads, why would Volkswagen bother going to town on it? Key changes are an additional 10hp for the turbocharged four-pot under the bonnet, a set of LED daytime running lights and tail-lights, 'direction sweep' indicators, a larger, higher-resolution satnav system (although this test car was upgraded to the optional 9.2-inch Discover Navigation Pro package for £1,325) and the superb 12.3-inch TFT Active Info Display in the instrument cluster.

Mere polishing, then, of what was already a fantastic package - and that remains true with the Golf R. In that miscellaneous motoring category of 'all the car you'd ever need', which is filled with machines of all shapes and sizes, this VW has to be close to taking the honours. It just does everything so well. Stick it in Comfort and it burrs along motorways, its 2.0-litre engine sipping at Super to give back very close to the claimed 40.9mpg; we saw 37.2mpg on a long jaunt to a stag-do in Cardiff and back, and 33.7mpg over 414 miles of mixed driving.

Step it up in Normal and drive along fast, sweeping A-roads, and the R feels like it is absolutely in its element, the torquey motor offering instant and crisp bursts of acceleration for overtakes, and the ride quality remaining as supple as you could wish for from an AWD hot hatch like this. Find a snaking ribbon of road and dial the Golf up into its firmest setting and it'll take most routes to pieces in a jiffy, the steering direct and informative, the body control absolutely first-rate and the brakes/manual gearbox both beyond reproach. It's as grown-up to drive as any other Golf going and yet it's more fun than any other Golf, to boot.

The positives just keep coming. It looks good. It sounds good. It goes well. The interior is superb. In short, there just isn't a weakness to the Golf R - it's kind of nine-out-of-ten in most disciplines, and maybe nudging ten in others. But that 'maybe' in that statement is the issue. When it first arrived, the Golf R was the yardstick by which other hot hatchbacks were judged. However, since then, and even with the refreshed 2017MY R in play, rivals have done plenty of hard work to catch up and possibly surpass the Golf.

While they're fearfully expensive, both the Mercedes-AMG A 45 ( and Audi RS 3 ( have been enlivened by recent overhauls which see the pair of them sporting adaptive dampers; their searing pace is enough to sell them to some people over and above the marvellous VW.

Then there's the Ford Focus RS, which won't be everyone's aesthetic cup of tea but which has - incredibly enough - an even more alluring chassis set-up than the Golf. Recent two-wheel drive additions in the form of the stunning Honda Civic Type R, the sensational Hyundai i30 N Performance and the exceptional SEAT Leon Cupra R ( (rare as it is) all make the Golf's case harder. The R is a fabulous thing, no doubt, but there's the feeling that the VW will never go nuts, never fully reveal its darkest, most mischievous and enticing character, no matter how much you might provoke it - while some of the rivals here will emphatically deliver in those final few tenths of dynamic expression.

Is that enough to mark the Golf R down, though? No, not really. At nearly £40,000 as tested, its price is the biggest issue with this VW, but essentially it's easy to see why these fast Golfs are so admired and loved by the people who buy them. There are slightly more thrilling competitors to choose from, and there are certainly faster rival machines as well, but few blend all of the Golf R's broad spread of wonderful attributes together as cohesively as this. Expect to see plenty more of them out on our roads in the years to come, then.


Ford Focus RS: Stripping out the expensive Audi RS 3 and Mercedes-AMG A 45, the Focus RS is the Golf's direct four-wheel-drive rival. The Ford is quicker and has a better chassis, but the Golf has a classier interior and smoother ride.

Honda Civic Type R: One of the mental front-wheel drive hatches that is nipping at the R's heels, the Civic Type R is a storming machine, with only its extrovert looks likely to put people off.

Hyundai i30 N Performance: Hyundai comes from nowhere with one of the most rewarding hot hatches you can buy. The i30 N is down on power compared to the R, but it has a blinding chassis.

Matt Robinson - 19 Nov 2017    - Volkswagen road tests
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- Golf images

2017 VW Golf R 5dr drive. Image by Volkswagen.2017 VW Golf R 5dr drive. Image by Volkswagen.2017 VW Golf R 5dr drive. Image by Volkswagen.2017 VW Golf R 5dr drive. Image by Volkswagen.2017 VW Golf R 5dr drive. Image by Volkswagen.

2017 VW Golf R 5dr drive. Image by Volkswagen.2017 VW Golf R 5dr drive. Image by Volkswagen.2017 VW Golf R 5dr drive. Image by Volkswagen.2017 VW Golf R 5dr drive. Image by Volkswagen.2017 VW Golf R 5dr drive. Image by Volkswagen.


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