2014 Volkswagen Golf R review

* New 296bhp Golf tested in the UK * Four-wheel drive; 0-62mph in 5.3sec * On sale now, priced from £29,900...

2014 Volkswagen Golf R review

The new Volkswagen Golf R is the most powerful production version of VW's iconic hatchback so far. The 296bhp it churns out from its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine will appeal to many, but of more real-world relevance is the 280lb ft of torque that it produces between 1800-5500rpm; this despite its impressive 39.8mpg claimed fuel economy.

A new four-wheel-drive system is standard, as is tuned sports suspension, uprated brakes (over the Golf GTI) and a six-speed manual gearbox. A six-speed dual-clutch automatic 'box is a £1415 option. 

The R is available in either three- or five-door guise (the latter at a £655 premium), while an Estate will follow later in 2014.

What’s the 2014 Volkswagen Golf R like to drive?

It’s no exaggeration to say that the 296bhp engine gives the Golf R giant-slaying performance. In a straight line it could hassle some exotica costing twice as much, and it’s very easy to drive quickly, thanks to a linear power delivery and well-judged pedal feel.

There’s very little of the uneven boostiness you might expect from such a highly tuned, turbocharged engine, either – and with so much torque streaming to the wheels through the vast majority of the rev range, you can also leave the Golf R in a high gear at low speeds and still enjoy smooth, rapid acceleration. 

You won’t be disappointed with the noise, either. The four tailpipes emit a rasping howl, with a thrapping sound being piped into the cabin to accompany it when the exhaust is set to its most anti-social (Race) mode. Normally, however, the R’s engine is a little boomy, but hushed enough for relaxed everyday use

The gearshift is delightfully precise, and the 4Motion four-wheel-drive system gives the Golf R predictable responses and handling. In less extreme conditions the R is driven by its front wheels, but start driving with some intent or hit a tricky surface, and the system can send almost all of the engine's power to the rear wheels, or shuffle it back and forth to maximise the available traction. 

It's complemented by a stability control system that can brake both inside wheels to help deliver a neutral handling balance through fast corners. It works very well indeed. With the £815 adaptive dampers (DCC) in Race mode, body movements are kept to a minimum and grip is very impressive. In hard driving the Golf R will oversteer, but it's progressive and easing off quickly brings things back into line.

The ride is surprisingly compliant in all DCC modes, despite the R having stiffer suspension, sitting 5mm lower than the firm but slick-riding GTI and our test car wearing £895 19-inch 'Pretoria' alloys. The high-speed ride is a little pattery and road noise evident over rougher motorway surfaces, but these are forgiveable.

As with all but the very base Golf models, the steering and throttle responses are variable. The Golf R also gets the same steering set-up as the GTI, which delivers faster steering rate the more lock you apply, effectively making it easier to steer around tight corners. It works very well, although more feedback would be welcome. 

What’s the 2014 Volkswagen Golf 2014 like inside?

The reasonably supportive sports seats dominate the interior. You also get a smattering of R badges, blue needles and nifty mood lighting strips, plus plenty of piano black plastic trim. However, these changes don't really go far enough - this is a £30k hot hatch, after all.

In other respects, the R is just as practical as any other Golf, meaning you get great visibility all-round, room for four tall adults to sit comfortably and a square-shaped boot, although the floor has been raised slightly to house the four-wheel-drive system, dropping capacity from 380 litres to 343. 

Equipment levels are good, and include a 5.8-inch colour touch-screen (the car shown here had the 8.0-inch screen that comes with the £1765 Discover Navigation Pro option), a DAB radio, Bluetooth and a USB socket, a multifunction steering wheel, 18-inch alloys and an aggressive-looking bodykit.

Should I buy one?

If a Golf GTI simply isn’t fast enough, but you still want reasonable running costs and easy everyday living, the new R should be on your shortlist. Naturally there will be comparisons drawn between the Audi S3, which shares its drivetrain and platform with the Golf R and costs only £740 more.

The £30,835 BMW M135i also deserves a mention here as our current favourite super hatch. However, the BMW will cost more to run, and those buyers who want the reassurance of four-wheel drive could be tempted by the seemingly more aggressive, slightly naughtier character that the Golf offers over the Audi.

What Car? says... 


Audi S3

BMW M135i

Volkswagen Golf R 
Engine size 2.0-litre turbo petrol 
Price from £29,900
Power 296bhp
Torque 280lb ft
0-62mph 5.1 seconds
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy 39.8mpg
CO2 165g/km

Volkswagen Golf R DSG Engine size 2.0-litre turbo petrol 
Price from £31,315
Power 296bhp
Torque 280lb ft
0-62mph 4.9 seconds
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy 40.9mpg
CO2 159g/km