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Volkswagen Golf R 2016 review

VW Golf R 2016 review | road test video
EXPERT RATING
8
Tim Robson road tests and reviews the Volkswagen Golf R with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Volkswagen’s Golf R has always played the role of the wolf in sheep’s clothing extremely well, taking elements of the brand’s already potent GTI and turning them all the way up to 11.

Gone are the days of the R running a larger six-cylinder engine, though; rather, VW has developed a stronger, more powerful version of its brilliant EA888 turbo four-pot that is also used in Audi’s S3, tying it in with its tricky front diff and all-wheel-drive system to create what is the fastest VW-badged car on sale today.

Design 

The five-door Golf R doesn’t look dissimilar to a GTI to the untrained eye. There’s a bespoke front bumper and a smattering of additional trim pieces, while the standard 19-inch Cadiz alloys are unique to the R. Quad exhaust tips out back are the biggest giveaway.

As with the GTI, the R’s lines are clean and well resolved, but it’s not what you’d call a challenging or confronting car, especially given the potency that lies beneath the bonnet.

There are no wild spoilers or long-slung body parts to advertise its intentions, just a couple of discreet badges on the body and brake calipers.

Practicality

As a five-door hatchback with a squared-off rear end, the Golf has always been a very handy, practical small family car. The interior, in particular, is thoughtfully laid out and well executed, with lots of clever touches and loads of room.

There’s space for six drink bottles front and back, for example, a USB port up front and an additional 12v socket in the cargo area. An adjustable lid on the centre console bin serves as an elbow rest, while additional vents under the front seats that point rearwards complement the pair mounted on the console bin.

There’s a space-saver spare wheel under the flat boot floor, while the 60/40 split seats fold almost flat to reveal a spacious cargo area that’s not compromised by a sloping roofline.

The R does have slightly less cargo room than the standard Golf, thanks to the extra diff and driveshafts under the rear end. There’s 348 litres with the seats up (versus 380) and 1233 with the seats down (against 1270).

Front seat passengers are well looked after, with low-slung and supportive leather-clad seats. While they are heated, there is no electric functionality to them at all.

Rear seat space is good even for tall passengers, though the door sills are a little high. It’s good to see that the glass roof doesn’t steal any of the head room front or rear.

Price and features

The Golf R comes in both manual and automatic, and it’s also available in a limited-edition wagon bodystyle. It kicks off at $52,740 before on-roads, with a $2000 uptick for a six-speed DSG gearbox.

Options are limited to a panoramic glass roof at $1850 and a $1200 driver assistance package (see Safety). Five colours are available as no-cost options, too, which is nice.

Race mode on the engine and transmission and Normal mode on both steering and suspension gives the car a performance edge with real-world comfort.

The R is well appointed for the money, with a mostly-leather interior, comprehensive infotainment system with satellite navigation, high-quality front seats and great fit and finish throughout.

Mechanically, the Haldex all-wheel-drive system is complemented by VW’s high-tech front electronic diff, along with large brakes and one-piece brake calipers.

The AWD system can send up to 50 per cent of drive to the rear end instantly, while the XDL diff limits understeer by reducing torque at the front wheel that’s under the most pressure.

A driving mode selection system provides the choice between Comfort, Eco, Standard and Race settings. Each mode dials up an equivalent setting for the throttle, DSG gearbox, steering and suspension tune, while an Individual mode allows you to set the R up our way.

Our favourite setting? Race mode on the engine and transmission and Normal mode on both steering and suspension gives the car a performance edge with real-world comfort.

Engine and transmissions

The EA888 engine makes 206kW at 5100rpm, which is 15kW down on its European brethren; blame our hot climate for the more conservative engine tune.

Torque is rated at a hefty 380Nm at a lowly 1800rpm. It’ll knock over the 0-100km/h dash in five seconds flat, which isn’t hanging around for a small hatch.

Out of the box, the Golf R is offered with a six-speed manual gearbox, with a six-speed DSG available for $2000 extra.

Fuel consumption

While the R is rated at 7.1 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, only your nan will regularly return that figure; it’s just too hard to stay out of the loud pedal when you see a set of corners coming up.

Over 250km of driving – including some… erm… spirited mountain pass tours – the average was more like 14L/100km, though we saw 8.2L/100km over an 80km stretch of sedate highway and city driving. Our tester had just 1000km on its engine, too.

Driving

For a car that looks like a slightly made-over but otherwise unassuming family hatchback, the Golf R really is an astonishing bit of kit.

It performs like a thoroughbred sports car in every respect, thanks to an almost perfectly resolved balance between ride, grip and power.

The 2.0-litre turbo chips in with seamless waves of urge from way down in the rev range, while the diamond-stiff MQB chassis is well served by the R’s clever three-way dampers that firm up nicely in Race mode without tipping over into the realms of being too harsh.

Its electric steering is precise and well-weighted, as well, though we found the brakes to be a little wanting after a prolonged and aggressive spell, with a softer feel underfoot at the end of the day than at the beginning.

Safety 

Seven airbags come standard in the ANCAP five-star rated Golf R, along with a rear view camera, ESP and post-collision braking.

A Driver assistance package that includes adaptive cruise control (ACC), front assist with AEB function, a blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert, and a proactive occupant protection system is a $1200 option.

It’s a shame that items like AEB can’t be included, but the recent Wolfsburg limited added the driver assistance package into its base price.

Ownership  

A three-year unlimited kilometre warranty is standard on the German-made Golf R, while service intervals of 15,000km or 12 months are suggested. Capped price servicing is available, peaking at $1082 for a 60,000km/four-year service.

Verdict

The R is the most expensive car in the Golf line, but it is worth every single penny, especially if you appreciate a good-looking, quick and comfortable car

Add to that the fact that it’ll do the school trip, the holiday run up the coast or the daily commute with the same ease that it knocks over a quick blast over a mountain pass, and it’s easy to see that the Golf R really is three excellent cars in one stylish package.

Is the Golf R the all-purpose hot hatch for you? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 VW Golf pricing and spec info.

Pricing guides

$22,990
Based on 352 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$12,990
Highest Price
$44,250

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
118 TSI Exclusive 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $20,900 – 28,380 2016 Volkswagen Golf 2016 118 TSI Exclusive Pricing and Specs
110 TDI Highline 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP $19,000 – 26,510 2016 Volkswagen Golf 2016 110 TDI Highline Pricing and Specs
110 TSI Highline 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $18,200 – 25,410 2016 Volkswagen Golf 2016 110 TSI Highline Pricing and Specs
92 TSI 1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $11,500 – 16,830 2016 Volkswagen Golf 2016 92 TSI Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Tim Robson
Contributing Journalist

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Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.