Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Don Cheng
Published: October 23, 2019
The Volkswagen Golf has maintained its status as a rock within the brand’s portfolio. The people’s car has soldiered on, posting strong sales seemingly impervious to the marquee’s larger, er...issues. Built on the MQB platform, the 7th generation Golf offers fit and finish beyond its segment and strong driving capabilities to boot. Combined with stout powertrain choices that satisfy the needs of every owner, it isn’t a secret why the Golf sells so incredibly well.
Sitting at the summit of Mt. Golf is the R, the hottest of hot hatches, surpassing the prowess of even the mighty GTI. You’d expect that this Golf R would be extravagant and over the top in looks that would make your heart flutter. Yet, when you look at the R, you would have never guessed it was anything different than a base model. It’s that discreet. A shortcoming of being the first of the new breed of hot hatches means letting competitors study your successes and learn your weaknesses. In the case of the R, subsequent competing products have all demonstrated a certain level of boyish panache. Meanwhile, the R remains with a touch more sophistication, defining itself with moderately sized quad exhaust pipes situated out back, the smallest R badges on the front fenders, and a slightly more aggressive front fascia than the GTI. Its sophisticated and conservative styling is only obvious to those in the know.
New for the 2019 model year is Volkswagen’s semi-bespoke paint program that allows owners to choose from 40 different colours, dubbed Spektrum, and allows for a more uniquely individual Golf. My tester, a recipient of the program, came dressed in 91 Blue, a light blue hue similar to Porsche’s Miami Blue. Matched with contrasting carbon fiber accents on the door mirrors, this particular R sticks out like a sore thumb, completely eliminating its conservative styling.
Standard features on the Golf R is a similarly sophisticated affair. For starters, drivers interface with the vehicle via a full suite of digital telemetry displayed via a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. Volkswagen calls this the Digital Cockpit. It feels slightly less versatile than the Audi variant but still offers an upscale alternative to traditional analog instrument gauges. For instance, unlike Audi’s version, viewing the map in Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit won’t allow you to minimize the digital instances of the tach and speedometer, limiting your map view to only a fraction of the screen’s real estate. The rest of the center console is dominated by an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system angled towards the driver, and it offers services like satellite radio, navigation, and App-Connect for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Altogether, the hatch puts forward an in-vehicle experience that encroaches the offerings found in far more premium German brands.
Powered by the same 2.0L turbo-four found in the GTI, the R variant operates at a higher rate of tune. Power is routed via a new 7-speed dual clutch transmission (or a 6-speed manual) to all four wheels via Volkswagen’s 4Motion AWD system. Up to 50% of torque can be routed to the rear wheels allowing this Golf to corner with more tenacity than the FWD GTI. Volkswagen’s Dynamic Chassis Control mitigates the bumps in the road and optimizes the driving style dependant on your use. I found the differences between ECO, Comfort and Normal modes to be minimal, with each mode offering a progressive amount of dampening firmness when faced with undulations in the road surface. More spirited jaunts calls for Race mode but it’s a far cry from an actual race mode for the more experienced track junkie. I really liked the Individual setting that allows you to customize and flip through a myriad of parameters including steering feel, damper control, and engine and transmission performance. You could even choose the amount of artificial engine noise piped into the cabin. It’s all a very clever piece of kit, and works harmoniously together with the hot hatch’s intended use: hard back road driving.
Despite being turbocharged, the R displays imperceptible lag. Mash the throttle and the R surges forward eagerly, but the cabin masks the speed well. Best keep your eye on the speedo. The chassis handles the speed well too, feeling unperturbed through bumps, whilst both composed and confidence inspiring. Steering is light (even in the sportiest of settings) and direct, tuned to accentuate its tossability no doubt. As with other electronic racks, feedback is muted but it communicates enough. The R loves to corner, hunkering down quickly and distributing torque across all four wheels, ready to boogie and put the power down on the exit.
After seven years in the market, the MK7 Golf’s run is coming to a close and with it, the R. Typically, these vehicles will feel dated and long in the tooth, yet the Golf doesn’t feel remotely ready to pass on the torch. Its styling hasn’t aged into a garish sign of the times either. Instead it has aged gracefully, and its performance has persisted, remaining as the gold standard to beat for newcomers. The Golf R may not beat everyone to the table but it represents the full package, the jack of all trades, and is a sure bet for a happy and rewarding ownership experience.
Model: 2019 Volkswagen Golf R
Paint Type: 91 Blue
Base Price: $42,065
Price as Tested: $48,010
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,276 / 1,790 / 1,436
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four TSI
Horsepower: 292 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 280 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 5,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 11.4 / 8.2 / 9.9
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 11.0