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Driven: 2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years. Image by Volkswagen.

Driven: 2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years
VW is celebrating 20 years of the Golf R with this special-edition car, but is it worth spending more on this new model?


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2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years

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The VW Golf R has already earned a cult following among enthusiasts, who love the car for its massive breadth of capability. But with the first Golf R, the R32, launched two decades ago, VW is celebrating 20 years of the R badge with this new special edition. Headline upgrades include a power boost, but will the Golf R 20 Years prove significantly better than the standard car?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years
Pricing: £50,717 as tested
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: seven-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Body style: five-door, five-seat hatchback
CO2 emissions: 175g/km
Combined economy: 36.2mpg
Top speed: 168mph
0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Power: 333hp
Torque: 420Nm
Boot space: 341 litres


In essence, the 20 Years looks much the same as a standard Golf R hatchback, but there are a few small differences. First of all, there's the 19-inch Estoril alloy wheels, which are finished in either pure black or black and blue, then there's the overgrown rear spoiler. There are smaller details, too, including the '20' logos on the B-pillars and the 20 R puddle lamp signatures that are projected onto the ground when you open the doors at night. Pleasant as that may be, though, it doesn't really justify the special edition's higher asking price.


The 20 Years uses the same basic cabin structure as the standard Golf R, but it adds one or two snazzy little features to make the car even more appealing. For example, the 20 Years is the first Golf R to have real carbon-fibre decorative inserts, while leather sports seats are fitted as standard. The seats are very good indeed, offering plenty of security and support, but they are available as an option for the standard car, so they do little to justify the 20 Yearsí price tag.

And VW hasnít moved to improve the Golfís infotainment system, either, leaving customers with a fiddly touchscreen thatís crammed with over-complex menus and aided by touch-sensitive sliders that do little to help Ė particularly when itís dark. Overall, the Audi S3ís cabin remains more user-friendly, as well as more solidly built. It isnít that the Golf feels flimsy Ė itís generally well stuck together Ė but a few cheaper bits of plastic make their presence felt, and that lets the side down a bit.

Worse of all, though, is the climate control system, which uses touch-sensitive panels instead of conventional switchgear. The fact the panels are a magnet for fingerprints is a pain, and the fact theyíre fiddly is even worse, but the lack of backlighting is positively criminal, and it means you canít see what youíre failing to do in the dark. Itís as though the car was never tested in the hours of darkness before being put on sale.


Because so little has changed inside the Golf R, the 20 Years is every bit as practical as the 'standard' car. You get a 341-litre boot, which is a little smaller than the 381-litre load bay found in a conventional Golf, but it's normal for the Golf R, which has to squeeze an all-wheel-drive system in under the boot floor. Cabin space is identical, too, which means there's ample space for four adults, even if the rear seats can feel a bit dark thanks to the black roof lining.


Like the conventional Golf R, the 20 Years comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, a seven-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive. However, whereas the standard Golf R 'only' produces 320hp, the Golf R 20 Years ups that to 333hp. That shaves a tenth of a second off the standard car's already rapid 0-62mph time, dropping it to 4.6 seconds, but that isn't the only difference. The 20 Years does without the normal Golf R's 155mph speed limiter, allowing it to reach 168mph at full chat. Happily, though, the improved performance does no real damage to the Golf R's fuel consumption, and the 20 Years still returns economy in the mid-30s.

Ride & Handling

As well as upping the power, VW has also given the car some extra driving modes, including a Drift mode for track use, but otherwise the 20 Years feels much the same as before. The capability is astonishing, with huge amounts of grip and solid body control, which allows it to corner at outrageous speed.

The seven-speed automatic gearbox is great, too, and we can't recommend the Dynamic Chassis Control highly enough. The most comfortable settings are remarkably supple for such a quick car, and the sportier settings offer incredible agility. But for all the Golf R's talent, it lacks some of the tactility and engagement you get from other hot hatchbacks. The Honda Civic Type R, for example, feels that bit more involving and exciting, even if it's ultimately slower.


The VW Golf R was already expensive, with prices starting well north of £40,000, but this 20 Years version is, predictably, even costlier. VW is charging more than £48,000 before options, and our test car, with its optional reversing camera, Dynamic Chassis Control and paintwork, cost the best part of £51,000. Admittedly, it comes with plenty of kit as standard and rivals such as the Civic Type R cost similar money, but it's still a huge amount to pay for relatively little improvement on the standard Golf R.


Therein lies the problem with this version of the Golf R. It's noticeably more expensive than a standard Golf R, but you don't really get much for your money. Yes, it's more powerful, but not by much, and there is a bit more kit, but you can get just the same thrills and capability from a conventional Golf R without spending quite such a ridiculous amount of money.

James Fossdyke - 27 Mar 2023    - Volkswagen road tests
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2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years. Image by Volkswagen.2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years. Image by Volkswagen.2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years. Image by Volkswagen.2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years. Image by Volkswagen.2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years. Image by Volkswagen.

2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years. Image by Volkswagen.2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years. Image by Volkswagen.2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years. Image by Volkswagen.2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years. Image by Volkswagen.


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