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Volkswagen Golf R wagon 2017 review

Compact performance wagons are something Euro carmakers do extremely well. And happily, the Volkswagen Golf R, is returning to Australia in wagon form from January next year. We took a preview drive.

While Australia’s passionate SUV love affair continues unabated, Europeans maintain a more stable and mature relationship with the wagon. And who can blame them?

With a lower centre of gravity for more nimble dynamics, a good wagon combines the practicality of an SUV with the driving pleasure of a conventional hatch or sedan.

In fact, the compact performance wagon is something Euro carmakers do extremely well. And happily, the Volkswagen Golf R, is returning to Australia in wagon form from January next year.

The Golf R wagon was sold in Australia in limited numbers in 2015, but this time around it will sit alongside its hatch sibling as a permanent addition to the local VW line-up.

Volkswagen Australia invited us to a preview drive of the latest ‘Mk7.5’ version of the car, in its home environment.

Volkswagen Golf 2017: R Grid Edition
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.6L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$32,900

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

The devil is in the detail in terms of the Golf R’s design, with our test example resplendent in a bold shade of ‘Tornado Red’. 

Menacingly black 19-inch ‘Pretoria’ alloy rims are shod with high-performance 235/35 Michelin Pilot SportCup2 rubber, and full LED headlights give the car a focused, professional-grade appearance.

Black 19-inch ‘Pretoria’ alloy rims are wrapped in high-performance 235/35 Michelin Pilot SportCup2 rubber. Black 19-inch ‘Pretoria’ alloy rims are wrapped in high-performance 235/35 Michelin Pilot SportCup2 rubber.

Where the Golf GTI has a red keyline running along the grille and lower part of the headlights, the R is all business with gloss black inserts in the same position.

Strangely, the R wagon misses out on the hatch’s LED tail-light cluster (with scrolling indicators), but its distinctive twin chrome exhaust tips on both sides of the rear apron are firmly in place.

In wagon form, the R misses out on the hatch’s LED tail-light cluster. In wagon form, the R misses out on the hatch’s LED tail-light cluster.

Standard spec sees the R’s exterior mirror caps finished in ‘Chrome Matt’, while ‘our’ car featured racy carbon fibre covers.

Inside, leather-trimmed R-branded sports seats set the tone, with the new 9.2-inch ‘Discover Pro’ multimedia screen paired with VW’s configurable ‘Active Info’ digital instrument display.

Faux carbon trim panels and slick ‘piano black’ surfaces contribute to an overall look and feel that’s cool, contemporary and focused.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

Despite its performance potential there’s no change in terms of practicality in the Golf R wagon.

Front passengers are provided with plenty of room and numerous storage options, including two cupholders, door pockets with bottle holders, and oddments space including a useful glovebox and lidded bin between the seats.

There’s another pair of cupholders in the rear, with a big tick going to adjustable air conditioning vents with flow control for back seaters.

And there’s tonnes of room back there. Sitting behind the driver’s seat, set for my 183cm position, there’s ample head and legroom.

With its 60/40 split folding rear seat up the wagon offers a generous 605 litres of load capacity, which expands to no less than 1620 litres with the second-row folded. A temporary (80km/h limit) space-saver sits under the floor.

Add in cargo tie-down points, bag hooks, plus decent lighting and you’re looking at a compelling combination of speed and utility.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

Cost-of-entry for the Golf R wagon is a not insignificant $57,490, before on-road costs, and specification aligns with its ($2000-cheaper) hatch sibling.

Standard features include the 9.2-inch 'Discover Pro' multimedia system with voice and gesture control, Apple CarPlay, MirrorLink and Android Auto support, satellite navigation, the 12.3-inch 'Active Info Display' digital instrument cluster, keyless entry and start, 'Vienna' leather-appointed upholstery, heated front seats, electric driver's seat with memory function, ‘Air Care’ dual-zone climate control (uses an active biogenic filter to keep pollen, fungal spores and particulates out), auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, LED interior ambient lighting and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

The Golf R comes with an 9.2-inch 'Discover Pro' multimedia system with voice and gesture control. The Golf R comes with an 9.2-inch 'Discover Pro' multimedia system with voice and gesture control.

Add the LED headlights, alloy rims, ‘Adaptive chassis control and Driving profile selection’, front and rear parking sensors, and reversing camera (with static guidelines), and the equipment level is looking healthy.

The Golf R wagon doesn’t have direct competition in the Australian market, although Renault’s $15k cheaper Megane GT wagon pushes towards its territory. With the above basket of fruit on board, plus a healthy dose of performance and safety tech, the dollars are sure to add up for enthusiasts with a family.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

Powered by a third-generation version of Volkswagen’s direct-injection (EA888) 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, the latest version of the Golf R grocery-getter will be offered exclusively with a seven-speed ‘DSG’ dual clutch auto transmission, supplying power to all four wheels via VW’s ‘4Motion’ all-wheel drive system.

The Golf R uses a Haldex-type system to distribute up to 50 per cent of drive to the rear, with VW’s ‘Extended Electronic Differential Lock’ (XDL) helping to direct power to where it’s best applied.

While the engine delivers 228kW/400Nm in European trim, Australia’s status as a ‘hot climate market’ means, for us, VW tunes it to produce 213kW between 5400 and 6500rpm, with maximum torque of 380Nm delivered across a gloriously flat plateau from 1850-5300rpm.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Claimed economy for the EU combined (urban, extra-urban) cycle is 7.3L/100km, with the engine emitting 166g/km of C02 in the process. And you’ll need 55 litres of (minimum) 95RON premium unleaded to fill the tank. 

What's it like to drive?   9/10

Our preview drive ran from Berlin in Germany’s east, to Frankfurt, roughly 550km to the south-west.

We had the opportunity to blast down unlimited speed sections of the autobahn network, and take in the twists and turns of high quality B-roads between smaller towns.

The ‘Performance Pack’ removes the 250km/h speed limiter, and adds upgraded brakes. The ‘Performance Pack’ removes the 250km/h speed limiter, and adds upgraded brakes.

Happily, our test car was optioned with a ‘Performance Pack’ which includes removal of the standard 250km/h speed limiter, and inclusion of an upgraded brake system. As it transpired, we used both to full effect.

Thanks in part to standard launch control, Volkswagen claims the Euro-spec Golf R wagon will sprint from 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds, and despite the slight drop in outputs for the Aussie version, it’s a safe bet the car will still hit triple figures in under five seconds.

Volkswagen claims the Euro-spec Golf R wagon will sprint from 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds. Volkswagen claims the Euro-spec Golf R wagon will sprint from 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds.

That’s properly quick, and the Golf R loses none of its urgency in the transition from hatch to wagon.

With maximum torque available from just 1850rpm, all the way to 5300, forward thrust is strong and unrelenting. In Australia, speeds above 110km/h are irrelevant, unless you’re keen on track days (the multimedia system includes a lap timer) or prison time, but for the record the R wagon is a missile from 110-160km/h.

Beyond that speed power becomes the most important measure, and as the peak comes on stream at 5400rpm the howl from the 2.0-litre turbo (despite synthetic ‘Soundaktor’ enhancement) is exhilarating all the way to the 6800rpm rev ceiling.

We saw an indicated 269km/h, just one km/h shy of VW’s claim, which is big speed for such a small, four-cylinder car, and the wagon remained stable and balanced at all times.

Not far off Volkswagen claim of 270km/h. Not far off Volkswagen claim of 270km/h.

A wayward SUV meandering into the fast lane at just the wrong moment put the performance brake package to the test, and a firm shove on the left pedal at 200km/h-plus did nothing to upset the R’s composure.

Once off the autobahn we played with the adaptive damping and chassis control system, and the shift from ‘Comfort’ to ‘Sport’ mode immediately firmed up the suspension, without obvious benefit in terms of steering response (already good) or body control (well buttoned down).

Step it up to ‘Race’, and throttle response is instantly sharper, the turbo lag that occasionally makes its presence felt in Comfort mode is banished, and already slick shifts from the DSG transmission become eye-blink fast.

Factor in rorty exhaust burps on the way up the ratios, and rude pops and bangs, with more aggressive changes on the way back down, and you have a recipe for backroad blasting fun.

The rorty exhaust pops and bangs on the downshifts. The rorty exhaust pops and bangs on the downshifts.

Turn everything back to standard settings, however, and this powerhouse is just as civilised and tractable as its less sports-focused siblings further down the range.

The sports seats remained comfortable and supportive over long stints behind the wheel, the Golf 7.5’s new multimedia set-up is excellent, and the Active Info Display digital instrument set-up is as good as it gets.

While we know the Golf R’s ride is firmer than even its sporty GTI stablemate, it’s hard to make a judgement on overall refinement for this mark 7.5 version, given we’re driving on Germany’s billiard table smooth A-roads.

But in this environment, the drivetrain, steering, and brakes feel brilliant.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

On the active safety front, high and low speed AEB is standard, as is the expected array of braking, traction and stability aids including AEB, ABS, EBD, BA, EDL, multi-collision brake, ASR, a tyre pressure indicator, and a rear-view camera. 

For more elaborate systems like blind spot warning and radar cruise control, you’ll need to stump up for an optional safety package ($1300 on the hatch).

Passive safety support includes seven airbags (driver and front passenger head and side, driver’s knee and front and rear curtain). 

There are three top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer rear positions.

Although the 7.5 upgrade hasn’t been specifically tested by ANCAP, the current Golf scored a maximum five-star rating when it was assessed at launch in early 2013.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

Volkswagen Australia’s new vehicle warranty covers three years/unlimited km, with paint covered for the same period, and the main steel body structure under warranty for no less than 12 years (unlimited km).

Recommended service interval is 12 months/15,000km, with capped price servicing available for six years.


If you have a family and want to hang on to some driving enjoyment, think twice about that compact SUVThe Golf R wagon, while not exactly cheap, is a brilliant blend for the practical head and fun-loving heart.

Performance wagon or SUV? What's you preference? Tell us in the comments below.

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James Cleary
Deputy Editor


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