24 things I love about the Golf R: 24-hour test driveJan 27th, 2020
Words by: David Chisholm, Senior Brand Manager
I recently had the pleasure of spending 24 hours in the newest-generation Golf R. A car I have long been curious about, often noticed on the road, and read countless reviews about.
Speaking of those reviews – a Google search will bring up a variety of reviews and specs on the R. If you’re interested in technical specs, or how the R compares to the GTI (or Audi S3), there’s plenty of information out there. So, this review won’t be that.
Technical specs are great, but numbers on paper are never what really make a car memorable – or make you long to drive it after it has been tucked away in the garage each night.
After 24 hours in the Golf R, here are 24 things (in no particular order) that I loved about it – and why first impressions are always the most important.
1. Subtle styling. The Golf R’s subtle design tweaks allow it to fly well under the radar. This is not a hot hatch that screams ‘look at me!’, with gaping intakes, wings galore, and fussy bodywork. My favourite design elements include: the more aggressive front clip (especially the daytime running lights), subtle ‘R’ badges, and squat stance. It looks handsome.
2. Exhaust note. With chunky quad tips that poke out the back (although some of the sound is artificially piped back into the cabin), the R still has a characteristic grumble that reminds you it is slightly more angry than your typical Golf or GTI.
3. Grabby brakes. Fantastic feel, and more than adequate for a vehicle of this size and power. +1 point for the R badge on the chunky calipers.
4. Carbon interior details. Come on, it just looks cool. Especially with the blue accent lighting at night.
5. Turbo. With 288 hp on tap, and 280 lb/ft of torque, the R surges forward effortlessly. Under hard acceleration you can slightly hear the turbo working hard. It puts a smile on your face and reminds you that the R is something special.
6. Digital Cockpit. The ultra-clear display was easy to read, customizable, and futuristic-feeling. Usually I prefer analog gauges, but these were nicely done without being too fussy.
7. 7-speed DSG. Surprisingly snappy. If Porsche’s PDK is the gold standard, this one is not far off. Responsive shifts even under more aggressive driving conditions.
8. The seats. Oh boy, the seats. Some of the best I have experienced in any car under $100,000. I would happily swap these seats into anything.
9. The leather. Speaking of the seats, the quality of the leather in the Golf R is impressive. Soft and supple with some perforation, with equal attention given to the back seats. Now if only it had ventilated seats…
10. Race mode. Do I really need to explain why this rules?
11. The hatch. Not only is it very practical – plus rear seats that drop down for extra storage – the hatchback also gives the Golf R a squat look and (especially) with the summer wheels on, makes the R appears taut and ready for action.
12. Condo-sized. A rocketship that fits easily into the downtown landscape, you’ll never be worried about parallel parking this thing.
13. It’s actually practical. How many sports cars can claim this?
14. Fuel-efficient. With the 4-cylinder turbo engine always in the right gear thanks to the 7-speed DSG, the Golf R returned a very respectable fuel mileage of over 30+ mpg on the highway.
15. You can make it your own. Although my R was a sophisticated grey colour, VW has unlocked the full colour ‘Spektrum’ for Golf R models, allowing you to choose from over 40 colours to suit your taste.
16. It’s mature. Other hot hatches (and AWD vehicles) in this segment scream ‘look at me’. Not the Golf R. The Golf R is above all that. It’ll put on its dinner jacket and head quietly out for a night on the town, thank you very much.
17. No sunroof. OK – I may be in the minority here, but how many of us actually USE a sunroof? Sure, it’s a nice option to have, but I certainly don’t miss it in the R. In fact, I prefer it without.
18. It grips. And doesn’t let go. Thanks to the 4Motion all-wheel drive system, the Golf R is a joy to drive in all types of weather. Under regular driving conditions, the system defaults to a 90/10 front-to-rear split, which helps with fuel economy. Start driving in a more spirited manner (or on sketchy terrain) and the 4Motion system transfers power to whichever corner is in need.
19. Hides your dark side. To the family and neighbours? Practical, timid, grocery-getter. But underneath? You know the truth. No need to let others in on your secret.
20. Great tech. An infotainment system that simply works well, without being too fussy. The R comes standard with a number of safety and drivers aids that assist you in your daily commute without getting in the way.
21. Its (soon to be) rarity. After Volkswagen announced that the Golf R would be discontinued after 2019, you’ll want to find a place for this in your garage before you can’t get one anymore. There will be at least a few years hiatus before the Mk8 Golf R appears.
22. Sure-footed. With a firmer suspension setup than its baby brother GTI, the Golf R feels taught and composed, especially when cornering. Standard adaptive dampers (Dynamic Chassis Control) provide a variety of different settings to suit all driving moods.
23. You warm up to it quickly. The Golf R is not an intimidating drive, despite its specs. It makes you feel confident and capable as a driver. The fact that I was able to easily come up with 24 things I liked about it in the 24 hours I spent with it, is a testament to how intuitive this vehicle is.
24. Perfect package. Above all, the value is certainly there with the Golf R. How many other true sports cars have year-round capability and room for the family? It’s hard to argue with the value that the R provides. If I were to go from having two vehicles (fun summer car, and winter beater) to one – this would be the one in my garage. And that’s about the best compliment I can give!