New Volkswagen Golf R revealed as 328bhp hot hatch facelift

VW Golf R hot hatch gains more power, new infotainment software and a range-topping Black Edition version later this year...

New Volkswagen Golf R front static

On sale: Late 2024 | Price: From £45,000 (est)

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe is widely reported to have remained grounded despite his meteoric rise to fame. In the same way, while the new Volkswagen Golf R is now more powerful than ever following a mid-life facelift, it's not losing sight of its family car roots, nor of the big-selling Volkswagen Golf on which it's based.

This Golf R gets the same turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine as its predecessor, but now produces 328bhp (up from 316bhp), resulting in a 0-62mph time of 4.6sec (down from 4.7sec). And thanks to revisions made to the turbocharger, the new Golf R promises a more immediate response from its engine, too.

New Volkswagen Golf R Black Edition rear static

On the outside, the new R now sports an illuminated VW badge at the front. It also has a redesigned front bumper and slimmer front lights, including new LED headlights. There’s a new light signature for the rear LED lights as well. A set of 18in wheels remain standard, with 19in ones coming as part of the optional Performance Pack.

These wheels will be available on both hatchback and estate car versions of the Golf R, with the new, range-topping Black Edition (pictured above) getting them in black – still as an optional extra, mind you. The Black Edition, which will be sold solely in hatchback form, also gets darker VW and R badges.

New Volkswagen Golf R estate side static

Inside, the Golf R gains a new infotainment system, with the screen growing from 10.0in to 12.9in, and the software overhauled. You now have customisable shortcut buttons, for instance, but also a layout which is said to be easier to understand and navigate. You'll find the same system inside other recent VW products, such as the new VW Passat

We can say from trying it ourselves that it’s much better than before – even if the previous car, with its confusing layout and lack of shortcut buttons, set the bar rather low. 

New Volkswagen Golf R interior LHD

The R joins the entire Volkswagen Golf range in being refreshed. But while the facelifted regular Golf is on sale now, with the updated VW Golf GTI and Golf GTE plug-in hybrid (PHEV) set to join it over the summer, fans of the R (and GTI Clubsport) are having to wait a little longer: the new R is expected to arrive by the end of this year. 

The price is being kept under wraps for now, but the model is expected to cost from around £45,000. Sure, that’s no small amount, but the revised Toyota GR Yaris will cost a similar amount and a Honda Civic Type R costs upwards of £50,000 nowadays. 

We've already gotten behind the wheel of a late-stage prototype version of the Golf R, and below you'll find our early impressions.

What’s the VW Golf R facelift like to drive? 

The Golf R’s bump in power is barely noticeable, but then again, it wasn’t exactly short on shove before. In fact, on our test track, the outgoing car considerably bettered its official 0-62mph time, managing the sprint in a rapid 4.3sec. 

What's more noticeable is the sharper engine response. With the turbocharger getting to work sooner and delivering maximum shove earlier, the car feels more eager to get up and go.

Volkswagen Golf R prototype front head-on driving

If the above tweaks sound familiar that's because last year’s Golf R 20 Years special edition saw similar upgrades. It seems the improvements were enough to become the foundation for the standard R’s facelift. The improvements worked well too, so that can only be a good thing for buyers. 

There are still comfort, sport, race and individual drive modes to play with, which can also adjust the firmness of the optional adaptive suspension (called DCC adaptive chassis control).

Oliver Young driving VW Golf R prototype

In comfort, the ride is firm but very forgiving and still very well cushioned by hot hatch standards. Dial things up to sport or race and the ride becomes less compliant in exchange for less body lean, even if a Civic Type R is still going to corner flatter.

Like before, the optional Performance Pack includes two extra driving modes: drift and special. The former is best experienced on private tracks and sends more power to the rear wheels to help rotate the car when accelerating out of corners. The latter has been tuned with the Nürburgring Nordschleife racetrack in mind and combines the most aggressive engine and gearbox response with a slightly less aggressive suspension setup to cope with the Nordschleife’s undulating surface.

Volkswagen Golf R prototype rear cornering

You’ll still be able to pay extra for a factory-fitted sports exhaust upgrade from Akrapovic, but it's been revised to produce a slightly deeper, more aggressive sound – we should mention this is only available on the hatch. Mind you, the standard system is already pretty good. 

While some of the engine noise is synthesised and piped in through the interior speakers, you get some crackles and pops from the exhaust every now and again – these are louder and more aggressive with the Akrapovic setup – and you can clearly hear the turbo whooshing away when you floor the accelerator pedal.

The R remains solely paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox – there's no clutch pedal here. Gearshifts are super quick, even if we wish it were snappier to respond to manual control (via the paddles mounted behind the steering wheel). Pulling away and driving smoothly can also be a little tricky in the sportier drive modes due to accelerator pedal response becoming very sensitive, almost like an on/off switch.

Volkswagen Golf R prototype estate side driving

Still, the R remains astonishingly capable and easy to drive, whether that be in a relaxed or spirited fashion.  Its performance is relentless, its steering is well weighted and confidence inspiring and its all-wheel-drive system is grippy yet playful.

What’s the VW Golf R facelift like inside?

Let’s get a quick moan out of the way: while the rest of the Golf range is switching back to traditional, individual, physical steering-wheel buttons, the Golf R will continue to use the more fiddly touch-sensitive panels of the pre-facelift model. Why? Well, it’s because VW would have to integrate the R button (which cycles the driving modes) into a new set-up. It’s a shame the top-of-the-range Golf R is being denied an improvement cheaper Golfs are getting.

On a more positive note, the Golf R has the same updated infotainment system as the others and, as we touched upon, it’s a welcomed improvement. Navigating the system soon proves a quicker and easier process than it was with the old one, aided by those handy, configurable shortcut buttons at the top. 

New Volkswagen Golf R interior LHD angle

Meanwhile, the climate controls are still touch-sensitive pads located directly below the touchscreen, but they are now at least backlit, making them easier to see when it’s dark. 

Apart from that, the interior is much the same as before, meaning it feels somewhat plush in certain places, but disappointingly cheap with scratchy plastics elsewhere.

As for interior space, it’s exactly the same as before. Rear-seat space is good but not quite as generous as the amount you get with a Ford Focus ST or Skoda Octavia vRS. The boot of the hatch can take five carry-on suitcases beneath its parcel shelf. The estate car version (pictured below), on the other hand, can take nine.

New Volkswagen Golf R estate boot

VW Golf R facelift verdict and specs

Based on our early test drive, the Golf R is as usable as ever, gaining slightly livelier performance yet retaining all of its signature comfort and refinement. Sure, the improvements are minor, but they’re improvements, nonetheless. 

We’ve mentioned some rivals already, but perhaps the updated Golf R’s biggest threat comes from the Audi S3. It’s another great, versatile, sub-£50k hot hatch and one that’s just been facelifted – and in the process it’s gained Golf R power and an eerily similar all-wheel-drive system. A comparison between the pair will be very interesting indeed.

Price £45,000 (est) Engine 4cyl, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 328bhp Torque 310lb ft at 2100 to 5500rpm Gearbox 7-spd automatic 0-62mph 4.7sec Top speed 155mph 0-62mph 4.7sec Fuel economy tbc CO2/tax tbc

Key rivals:
Audi S3
Honda Civic Type R
Toyota GR Yaris

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here

Read more: The best hot hatches >>

Also consider