Volkswagen Golf R (2014-2020) Review
Few cars combine driving thrills with everyday hatchback usability and reasonable running costs in the way the VW Golf R does
Strengths & weaknesses
Take a casual glance at a Golf R in the street and you’d certainly recognise it as a VW Golf. Its restrained, simple design is both unmistakable and capable of blending unobtrusively into the background of any street.
A second look at the Golf R, however, reveals that this is a little more than an everyday family hatchback. There is a unique front bumper, different side skirts, air intakes and a special grille to set it apart from other Golfs, plus larger, sporty-looking alloy wheels. Most distinctive of all are the four exhaust pipes at the rear. The overall effect is subtle, but it makes the R look sporty and purposeful.
Inside, you’ll find a typical Golf interior - so smart-feeling, thoughtfully laid out and with a sense of solidity to it - that’s livened up by some sporty-looking blue highlights, piano black trim, a smattering of ‘R’ logos and some supportive-yet-comfortable leather or part-Alcantara sports seats.
Earlier cars feature a touchscreen media system to control the radio and sat-nav functions with physical shortcut buttons. Updated cars from 2016 onwards get touch-sensitive shortcuts rather than physical buttons and a high-definition eight-inch screen. A larger 9.2-inch screen was available as an option. Later models get a digital instrument cluster in front of the driver, too, replacing the traditional physical speedometer and rev counter.
In terms of standard equipment, the Golf R is pretty generously kitted out. It includes front and rear parking sensors, LED headlights and foglights, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, sat-nav, a digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity. Later models also get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
Power comes from a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with either 300hp or 310hp. Pre-2017 cars have the lower power figure, but the updated 310hp model was downgraded back to 300hp in 2018 due to changes in emissions regulations. You can get a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic gearbox, both of which send power to all four wheels.
Whatever the specific power output, the Golf R's performance is impressive, with a top speed limited to 155mph and a rapid 0-62mph time of 5.0 seconds - with automatic versions accelerating even quicker. Some models were fitted with an option called the R Performance Pack, which brought bigger brakes, larger wheels and a derestricted top speed.
Even without the Performance Pack, the Golf R is a brilliant all-round high-performance hatchback. Some alternatives such as the Honda Civic Type R feel a bit more agile and exciting to drive, but nothing for the money can touch the Golf for its ability to balance driving fun with long-distance comfort.
Should I get a Volkswagen Golf R?
✔ Combines sports car pace with everyday practicality
✔ Four-wheel-drive delivers surefooted roadholding
✔ Easier to live with than a Honda Civic Type R
✘ Some rivals are a little more exciting to drive
✘ Understated styling might disappoint some
✘ Boot space reduced by four-wheel-drive hardware
If you want a car to thrill you occasionally, but which is easy to live with in traffic jams, on family road trips or when doing the weekly shop, then there is little out there to better the Golf R when it comes to high-performance hot hatches. For that nth degree of driving thrills, you’ll find other hot hatches perhaps more exciting - but, as a result, they’re all compromised as everyday propositions in some way.
You might also find the styling a bit too conservative for a car that can deliver this sort of performance. If you’re more extroverted, then the wings and spoilers of a Honda Civic Type R or Ford Focus RS might appeal more to your boy-racer side.
- Models explained
- Trim levels
- Best Golf R for
- Should I buy used?
- Boot space
Volkswagen Golf R
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Volkswagen Golf R
The standard five-door hatchback (there was initially a three-door model available too, but this was phased out early in the Golf R's life) combines the everyday usability of a more humble Golf with four-wheel-drive, a 300hp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and the ability to go from 0-62mph in around 5.0 seconds.
The only sacrifice to practicality is a slightly smaller boot than you'll find in the lower-spec Golf hatchback versions, because the four-wheel-drive system takes up some space under the boot floor.
Volkswagen Golf R Estate
If you need more boot space from your Golf R, then the estate model is the one for you. It even delivers the same 605 litres of boot space as other Golf Estates, despite its four-wheel-drive hardware, which eats into the luggage capacity of the hatchback Golf R.
Despite this extra bodywork - and a little extra weight - performance is practically unaffected, as is the potential of near-40mpg fuel economy if you take it easy.
Visually, the Golf R Estate gets the same sporty add-ons, the most obvious being its four-tailpipe exhaust, although the R badges and sporty body kit are otherwise relatively subtle.
|Volkswagen Golf R||Limited stock: The R is 20mm lower than regular Golf models and has four exhaust pipes and other sporty styling add-ons. Other equipment includes dual-zone climate control, a digital radio, adaptive cruise control and supportive sports seats.|
|Volkswagen Golf R Performance Pack||Limited stock: The Performance Pack, introduced in 2017, is strictly speaking an optional extra rather than a standalone trim level, but it brings bigger wheels and brakes, plus it removes the electronic speed limiter, bringing the car’s top speed to a theoretical 168mph.|
|Volkswagen Golf R Estate||From £21,200: There’s very little difference between the regular Golf R and the estate model - apart from an extra 260 litres of boot space. Even performance and fuel economy are barely affected by the extra metalwork.|
The Golf R offers a great balance between performance, economy and everyday usability, though the Golf R Estate model ramps up the practicality on offer.
|Volkswagen Golf R: The basic bread-and-butter Golf R hatchback represents excellent value. It’s well equipped, hilariously rapid, handles securely and is reasonably cheap to run.
|Volkswagen Golf R Estate: It’s hard to argue with the value of the fast Golf R Estate to growing families. Pushchairs, weekend bags, BMX bikes, golf clubs - it’ll swallow it all. And still be great fun to drive.
|Volkswagen Golf R Performance Pack: All versions of the Golf R are pretty rapid, but the derestricted top speed of the Performance Pack gives it the edge here. Bigger brakes are a genuinely useful addition, too.|
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Despite its already upmarket feel, if you’re after a truly posh-feeling model, the VW might not cut it. The Audi S3, however, could be just what you're looking for. It’s effectively the same car underneath, so has the same 300hp power and four-wheel-drive grip, but with a more high-tech and luxurious look and feel.
Those after the greatest possible speed, meanwhile, will like the Mercedes-AMG A45. Also four-wheel-drive, this car has a seriously punchy 360hp or 381hp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, giving it the muscle to out-accelerate many far more expensive Porsches. When it comes to costs, though, it is rather more pricey than the Golf.
On the other hand, if you want a more analogue driving experience with a greater sense of connection to the car, then you should look at the Honda Civic Type R with its raucous 2.0-litre engine and beautifully precise-feeling manual gearbox. It’s rather more uncomfortable for everyday use than the Golf, however, so it's worth weighing up which appeals most to you.
If you want a car that can cope with boring commutes, trips to the supermarket, family road trips or even the occasional track day, the Golf R really could be all the car you’ll ever need - especially if you opt for the Golf R Estate, which offers a more practical boot.
For a start, it’s fast enough and handles well enough to be great fun to drive - so no need for that two-seater sports car, then. Secondly, it’s as practical as any other family hatchback, so there’s plenty of room for kids, luggage and shopping. And thirdly, it’s capable of near-40 mpg fuel economy, which not so long ago would have been the preserve of diesel cars.
If you really do crave hardcore driving fun, then it perhaps won’t suit you, but it’s simply so complete a car when you’re not out on an empty stretch of country road and blasting along at speed. And that is likely to more than outweigh any slight dampening down of pure driving thrills for many drivers.
Volkswagen Golf R practicality: dimensions and boot space
The Golf R is 4.3 metres long, 1.8 metres wide (2.02 metres if you include the door mirrors) and 1.5 metres tall. This puts it on a par with most other hot hatchbacks and means that it’s a great size for everyday life - big enough to be spacious inside while maintaining compact dimensions that ensure it’s manoeuvrable in tight car parks and busy city streets.
The Civic Type R is a little longer than the Golf R, which is mostly reflected in a large boot (see below), but if boot space is an issue then there’s always the Golf R Estate model, with its 605-litre boot, which makes a supremely practical alternative.
|Length 4,276mm||Width 1,799mm|
|Height 1,436mm||Weight 1,476kg|
The Volkswagen Golf R loses a little of its boot space due to the four-wheel-drive hardware under the boot floor. This means it has 343 litres to play with rather than 380 litres, as in the standard Golf. Fold the rear seats down and you still get 1,233 litres of room.
Strangely, the estate model doesn’t lose any of its boot space to the four-wheel-drive mechanical bits, offering the same 605-litre volume with the rear seats up and 1,620 litres of room with the rear seats down, as the other models in the Golf Estate range.
Most rivals offer a similar amount of boot space, but the Honda Civic Type R trumps the Golf R hatchback with 478 litres of space.
|Seats up 343 litres||Seats down 1,233 litres|
Volkswagens are largely reliable cars, but the brand isn't up there with the best manufacturers in terms of outright dependability - VWs tend to rank somewhere in the middle for owner satisfaction and in reliability surveys.
In the case of this version of the Golf R, timing chains can be a problem if the car hasn’t been maintained properly - but as long as there’s evidence of on-time servicing, this shouldn’t be an issue. And drivers of this sort of car tend to be on the enthusiastic side, so components can be worked rather hard. Again, though, evidence of regular maintenance should mean this isn’t a worry.
Other than that, the VW Golf R should provide entertaining and practical performance motoring that’s at least on a par with most other family hatchbacks.
Volkswagen offers a three-year warranty with a 60,000-mile limit. That’s more or less the industry standard, but not as good as the seven-year warranties offered by Kia, SsangYong and MG. A Toyota warranty could last longer from new, too, with a whopping 10 years of protection available if you continue to get the car serviced by Toyota.
Where the VW warranty is more impressive is that it offers unlimited mileage for the first two years - which is great if you cover lots and lots of regular motorway miles and are likely to exceed 60,000 miles in two years.
Coverage excludes all the usual wear-and-tear items such as brakes, clutch, tyres and suspension, but VW will cover these for the first six months or 6,500 miles. The same short-term warranty protection applies to mechanical adjustments.
|3 years||60,000 miles|
AVERAGE REPAIR COST PAID BY WARRANTYWISE: £537
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Really, the Golf R is a simple proposition. It’s a fast, practical, and comfortable performance hatchback, plain and simple, and prices on BuyaCar start from per month.
That said, if you want the ultimate sense of driving fun, a manual hatchback model is the one to go for, while the Performance Pack modification with its bigger brakes and unrestricted 168mph top speed is good for office car park kudos. You certainly won’t be testing it out on the M40, though.
Meanwhile, if extra boot space is what you need, the Estate is really the only game in town - it has the extra practicality that comes with a bigger boot, but without you having to sacrifice much in the way of driving fun or fuel economy.
*Representative PCP finance - 2018 Ford Fiesta 1.0 ST-Line Hatchback:
|PCP representative example||APR rates available|
|Cash price £12,000||APR 7.90%||Value of loan||From|
|Fixed monthly payment £218.12||Annual mileage of 8,000pa||£25,000+||6.9%|
|Total cost of credit £2,755.55||Term 48 months||£12,000-£24,999||7.9%|
|Optional final payment £4,285.79||Loan value £12,000||£8,000-£11,999||8.9%|
|Total amount payable £14,755.55||Deposit £0||<8,000||9.9%|
BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.
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