The Volkswagen Golf R is a challenger to the Audi S3 and Mercedes-AMG A35 that is phenomenally fast and also surprisingly easy to live with.
- Understated performance styling
- New all-wheel-drive system is a huge leap forward
- Breadth of competence is peerless
- Minimalist interior is too minimal
- Understated styling may not please some
- Capacitive touch buttons hard to use
How much does the Volkswagen Golf R cost in Australia?
Is this Volkswagen Golf R the ultimate Q car? A car dressed like Clark Kent yet hiding the performance of Superman?
The Golf R doesn’t shout its sporting potential like a Toyota Yaris GR or a Hyundai i30 N, so if you’re not a car enthusiast, you may not realise this car – which looks a lot like a $37,000 Volkswagen Golf Life – is a turbocharged all-wheel-drive terror that can accelerate from 0–100km/h as fast as a mid-2000s Porsche 911.
But if you know what to look for, then the bigger wheels, sports front and rear spoilers, and quad exhausts are enough of a clue to the heightened performance lurking within.
The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is priced from $65,990 before on-road costs – $73,439 drive-away. For the money you receive the fourth-gen EA888 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo with 235kW and 400Nm, Volkswagen’s latest 4Motion all-wheel drive, a slick new torque-vectoring rear diff, and the R Performance package dress-up kit.
That R Performance package brings some visual menace, but compared to those two show-ponies I mentioned above, it sure is subtle. At the front, we’ve got a reprofiled bumper and spoiler with a larger lower air intake to feed the engine. This is also the first Golf with LED matrix headlights.
The Golf R’s roof line sits 5mm lower than the GTI despite sitting on taller 19-inch Estoril lightweight alloys wearing high-performance Bridgestone Potenza rubber. We’ve also got matt chrome capped wing mirrors, the doorhandle recesses all have lights to illuminate them in the dark, and there are puddle lights with the R logo.
At the rear, there’s a new bumper with a more overt diffuser to channel airflow out from under the car. We’ve also got unique to R tail-lights with scrolling indicators, and a decent rear wing.
How much space does the Volkswagen Golf R have inside?
From the inside, it’s clear the Golf R continues the minimalist theme of lesser Golfs. Spartan and sporty is the vibe, and on first acquaintance it’s intimidating to come to grips with.
I road-tested the Golf GTI in 2021, so I’ve had some experience with Golf’s new less-is-more interior. But when I picked this Golf R up, I found myself having to refamiliarise with where all the secondary controls are hidden in the infotainment system.
The Golf R has nappa leather sports bucket seats with stitching and inserts in R blue. We’ve also got larger gearchange paddles behind a GTI wheel with an extra R button, which is where the magic lies. But I’ll get to that.
The rest of the cabin features little to no switchgear apart from a few surface-mounted capacitive touch buttons instead, like on the steering wheel.
These buttons are not easy to use because they function like a touchscreen rather than a tactile button. It means it is easy to overswipe and change the temperature too much or the volume too much, especially if the car hits a bumpy section of road at that time.
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Moving to the back seats and the spartan theme continues. There’s enough space back here for adults, but anyone over 180cm will find that getting decent legroom requires compromise from the person in front.
The back seats have a third-zone temperature control with centrally located air vents, USB chargers, and bottle holders in the door, plus cupholders in the fold-down armrest. There are also ISOFIX mounts in the two outboard seats.
As for the boot, the Golf R has the same 374L of space as a standard Golf, which expands to 1230L if you flip the 60/40 folding rear seats. Generous but not cavernous, and there’s no spare tyre of any kind.
|2022 Volkswagen Golf R hatch|
|Boot volume||374L seats up
1230L seats folded
Does the Volkswagen Golf R have Apple CarPlay?
Fire up the engine or accessories and the electronics also fire to life. There’s an exclusive R View graphics skin on the digital instrument display that can be customised to show what you want, such as torque or boost pressure.
There are also some unique aspects to the 10.0-inch central display, particularly in the performance pages.
And if you can’t be bothered touching the screen, you can use hand gestures to adjust certain functions, or you can yell at the car: “Hey Volkswagen, it’s cold in here!”.
The Harman Kardon premium sound system and the panoramic sunroof are both optional, raising the price of a fully loaded car by just under $3000 to $69K plus on-road costs. Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, or there are two USB-C ports to connect and charge phones up front. We’ve also got a fairly detailed head-up display so you can keep your eyes on the road.
The phone charging mat is present, but it seems to have problems with my Google Pixel 6, never quite committing to the charge. Instead it reminded me every 20 seconds that it’s charging, as though it’s just rediscovered there’s a phone in here. As a result, my phone never charged.
Is the Volkswagen Golf R a safe car?
The 2022 Volkswagen Golf range earned a five-star ANCAP safety rating when tested in 2019.
Overall, it scored highly in terms of adult occupant protection (95 per cent) and child occupant protection (89 per cent), and scored a commendable 80 per cent for its safety assist systems.
The Volkswagen Golf R has more active safety than lesser Golfs, as being a range flagship it is equipped with more safety features than other models.
Standard gear includes adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, autonomous emergency braking both forward and reserve, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot detection.
All these and the rest of the Golf R’s active safety suite is packaged as Volkswagen’s IQ.Drive system. This includes Volkswagen’s Travel Assist, which combines active cruise control and lane-keeping assist to ease the ‘strain’ of driving on long journeys.
The Golf R’s active cruise control has a ‘don’t undertake’ function, which I suspect is useful on European highways where driver lane usage is more disciplined, but in Australia it’s of questionable value. Basically, if you’re going faster than a car ahead in the right lane, the Golf’s cruise control will slow your speed so you don’t undertake (overtake on the left).
In Europe this behaviour can result in a fine, in Australia not so much.
The Golf R’s parking camera is detailed and sharp, plus there are parking sensors at both ends for tight situations.
How much does the Volkswagen Golf R cost to maintain?
Like all Volkswagen models, the Golf R comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and requires servicing every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
Servicing is not cheap, but not overly expensive for such a complex and finely honed machine. You’ll pay $1700 for the first three years and another $1400 for the two years after that.
As for insurance costs, the Golf R costs $1508 per year, which is slightly more than the $20K cheaper Hyundai i30 N ($1334), but a fair bit less than the $25K more expensive Audi RS3 ($2595), comparative quote based on a 35-year-old male driver living in Chatswood, NSW – insurance estimates may vary based on your location and driving history.
|At a glance||2022 Volkswagen Golf R hatch|
|Warranty||Five years / unlimited km|
|Service intervals||12 months or 15,000km|
|Servicing costs||$1700 (3 years), $3100 (5 years)|
Is the Volkswagen Golf R fuel-efficient?
The Volkswagen Golf R requires premium unleaded petrol for its engine, which it consumed at the rate of 10.1L/100km while on test with us. We freely admit that a fair portion of our testing was on quiet country roads where we more fully explored the vehicle’s real-world performance.
More mundane driving will return a lower economy figure, probably closer to VW’s claim of 7.8L/100km.
|Fuel Useage||Fuel Stats|
|Fuel cons. (claimed)||7.8L/100km|
|Fuel cons. (on test)||10.1L/100km|
|Fuel type||98-octane premium unleaded|
|Fuel tank size||50L|
What is the Volkswagen Golf R like to drive?
In short, it’s a riot. The Volkswagen Golf R is a brilliant driver’s car that will thrill on any winding back road.
It’s also a surprisingly comfortable and happy daily driver that trundles docilely around town without complaint.
That means you’re getting the best of both worlds for under $80K. Some may find that expensive, but I can’t think of anything else that can match the Golf R’s breadth of capability and competence for that price.
Electronics, of course. For starters, there are the Golf’s multiple driving modes that tailor driving controls, suspension, and all-wheel-drive system for work or play.
Volkswagen says the Golf R sits 20mm lower than mainstream variants, but thanks to larger 19-inch wheels the roof line is pretty much at the same height. This lower ride does make the Golf R firmer, but you’d expect that – in fact, you’d feel ripped off if it didn’t have a sportier ride. Still, it’s comfortable enough for everyday driving.
The Golf R’s new rear diff, variants of which are also found on the Audi RS3 and Cupra Formentor, has the smarts to manipulate the engine’s prodigious torque better than any Golf R generation before it.
Previous generations could adjust torque front to rear, and across the front axle, but it was a coping mechanism rather than an active driving system. By that I mean it relied on the brakes to ‘reduce’ torque to tyres with less grip once they started to spin.
This new system uses its smarts to feed more torque to the wheels that can handle it instead of braking wheels that can’t.
It’s a faster and smoother system with one huge natural advantage in corners. Instead of the rear axle pig-headedly pushing the chassis wide in corners, it now helps to pivot the car through the bend.
Imagine you’re pushing a shopping trolley with two hands. It wants to go straight ahead, right? Now drop one arm… The trolley naturally wants to turn.
When you’re pushing this car hard, the all-wheel-drive system is an invisible partner, working its magic to get you around corners as fast as physics will allow. VW says this latest 4Motion iteration is better at feeding power to the outside rear wheel, which reduces the likelihood of understeer.
There’s also a drift mode, which can send 100 per cent of rear-axle power to one wheel making oversteer slides possible – but we were on public roads, so we didn’t get a chance to test that mode.
All up, there are three driving modes unique to the Golf R.
Nurburgring mode is a good one. It heightens everything but retains more compliant damping to help deal with bumps – which is what you need to go fast on the Nurburgring, or bumpy Aussie roads.
Drift is the second mode – and as we said, we didn’t test it.
The third mode is Race, which combines the firmest damper settings with maximum powertrain response and performance.
There’s also an individual mode should you want to customise the settings combinations.
|Key details||2022 Volkswagen Golf R hatch|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power||235kW @ 5600–6500rpm|
|Torque||400Nm @ 2000–5600rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Power to weight ratio||157kW/t|
Should I buy a Volkswagen Golf R?
Sure, if you’ve got $80,000 to spend and want the best hot hatch that money can buy.
There are a couple of rivals in the Audi S3 and Mercedes-AMG A35, but neither can match the Golf R’s sharpness or driver immersion.
If that performance edge is what you’re looking for, then the nearest rivals in performance terms are the Hyundai i30 N, which offers brilliant hot hatch value for around $50,000, and the newly launched Audi RS3, which is a truly ballistic hot hatch (and sedan) but costs another $25K more.