The new VW Golf R forms a neat balance between daily driver and mountain-pass carver. We press the blue “R” button on the steering wheel, set it to Race mode, and take it for a test…

+ overall balance; inspires confidence

– capacitive buttons; last of the internal combustion Rs? 

Curiously, I’ve never driven a standard Golf. The first Golf model I sampled was the previous-generation R. Since then, the only other models of VW’s midsize hatchback I’ve tested were predominantly of the hot-hatch variety — the GTI TCR and the latest Golf 8 GTI (watch our in-depth video review here). The e-Golf, which was not available in SA, was also thrown into the mix. Regarding the former models, it’s pretty appropriate. The GTI and R-badged variants are the models that sell best in SA. So much so that VW doesn’t offer the standard eight-generation Golf locally. Recently, the new Golf R finally blasted into SA (along with the first-ever Tiguan R). While colleague Vann van Staden relished the opportunity to sample the R-badged Tiguan again (read her launch review here), I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel of the Mk8 R, the latest version of the Golf I first drove. So, how does it compare to its forebear, and how did it fare over the test period? To answer the former, I had to dig into my memory. So, with my memory refreshed, let’s start with the first question, which will naturally take me to the second…

VW Golf R

Compared to the previous iteration, the new VW Golf R felt more civilised, similar to how the eighth GTI felt compared to the seventh. However, when pushed, the latest Golf R, the most powerful of its namesake (it’s worth noting the 20 Years edition available overseas has a touch more power), revealed its hot-hatch character. With the increased power comes greater responsibility. Bar the driver, the responsibility of keeping the Golf R firmly on the road falls on the all-new all-wheel-drive system, which keeps the R firmly on the road when cornering. The (EA888) 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot directs 235 kW and 400 Nm to the 4Motion set-up (now with R-Performance torque vectoring) via a quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch ‘box. 

R-Performance torque vectoring, you say? Yes. This system shifts power between the fore and aft axles and can do so between the left and right rear wheels. The 4Motion is also networked via a vehicle dynamics manager and features electric differentials and adaptive chassis control for enhanced agility when cornering. VW says this allows the 8 R to offer the utmost precision. And it did. 

VW Golf R

On a snaking mountain road, the Golf R came into its own, egging on the driver to carve corners, each time at an increased speed. The range-topping Golf was seemingly easy to drive fast, even in the wet, as we found out when some (unexpected) summer rain graced the roads of Cape Town. Here, the various driver-assistance systems showcased just how capable the Golf R is, no matter the weather. It was grin-inducing to experience. And, with all the assistance systems, VW’s apex hot hatch flatters the driver, regardless of their experience level. Around the bends, the handling felt sharp, and the brakes bit hard. 

Regarding straight-line speed, VW says the new Golf R completes the obligatory 0-100 km/h sprint in 4.8 seconds. Launching from a standstill, it certainly felt as quick as claimed, if not quicker. And, if you’re fortunate to have access to an unrestricted stretch of road, the eighth iteration will keep accelerating to an electronically governed top speed of 250 km/h (270 km/h when specifying the optional performance package, which also includes a drift mode). Speaking of options, we’ll undoubtedly pick the Akrapovič exhaust system. 

However, you’d arguably not spend most time launching the 8 R or keep it for only thrill-inducing mountain-pass drives. The daily commute and weekly trip to the shops await. And, in town, the VW Golf R showcased its balanced personality. It’s a superb daily driver. 

The verdict

4/5

The new VW Golf R forms a neat balance between the ability to be an everyday driver and a mountain-pass carver. It felt civilised in the former environment and, press the blue “R” button on the steering wheel to engage Race mode, a commendable performance hatch in the latter. Our biggest qualms with the Golf 8 R are the same as with its GTI sibling. These are the capacitive buttons (bar the button indicating “R”) on the steering wheel and those used for operating the climate control and volume. 

Deep data

VW Golf R

Price: R912 800
Engine: 2.0 L, 4-cyl, turbopetrol
Transmission: 7-spd dual-clutch
Driven wheels: 4
Power: 235 kW
Torque: 400 Nm
0-100 km/h: 4.8 seconds
Top speed: 250 km/h
Fuel consumption: 7.8 L/100 km
CO2: 177 g/km
Length: 4 287 mm
Height: 1 478 mm
Width: 1 789 mm
Wheelbase: 2 627 mm
Weight: 1 551 kg
Luggage capacity: 374-1 230 L
Fuel tank: 50 L
Warranty: 3 years/120 000 km
Maintenance plan: 5 years/100 000 km