Overview (Final Score: B-)
Volkswagen's Golf lineup seems to have a model that appeals to your needs. Want basic hatchback? There is the regular Golf. What about something a bit sporty? That's where the Golf GTI with either 210 or 220 horsepower on tap comes on. Need a bit more space? Both the Golf SportWagen and Alltrack that bring additional room for cargo. The Golf Alltrack also features a tweaked all-wheel drive system and raised ride height to provide all-weather capability. But what if you want the big daddy of the Golf lineup? The one that can put on a show. That's where the hyper Golf R steps in.
What We Love About the 2017 Volkswagen Golf R:
What We Didn't Love About the 2017 Volkswagen Golf R:
- Blistering performance and traction
- High-quality interior
- Surprising ride characteristics for a hot hatch
Exterior View (8/10)
- It's how much?!
- Exterior doesn't scream performance hot hatch
- Stability control a bit too excited to jump in during winter driving conditions
Looking at the Volkswagen Golf R, you can be easily forgiven for thinking it is a standard Golf with larger wheels. The basic Golf shape of a rounded front end, narrow grille and large greenhouse are here. There are some giveaways to tell you this isn't your regular Golf such as a dual exhaust system with quad tips and a new grille design with the R badge. Some may be disappointed that the Volkswagen didn't go with lunacy in terms of exterior design like the Ford Focus RS and Subaru WRX STI. But some will like the downplayed nature of the Golf R's design. It may not scream that it is a hyper hatch, but it does give it some air of being a sleeper.
Interior Comfort, Quality and Ease of Use (10/10)
The R may sit as the high-performance model in the Golf lineup, but that doesn't mean it has lost many of the traits that make the standard model one of the best compacts in the class. Step inside and you're surrounded with high-quality materials and excellent build quality. The Golf R gets some special touches such as blue stitching for the seats and a flat-bottom steering wheel. Getting yourself comfortable in the front is quite easy thanks to power adjustments for the driver's seat and tilt-telescoping adjustments for the steering wheel. The passenger makes do with a combination of manual and power adjustments. The control layout is easy to understand and to reach for driver or passenger.
The Golf is considered to be the best in class when it comes to the back seat and the R doesn't mess with that. Passengers of most sizes will have plenty of head and legroom. Cargo space is towards the top as well with 22.8 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and 52.7 when folded.
The Golf R comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Volkswagen's Car-Net infotainment system as standard. Car-Net is one of the best systems in the industry thanks to a simple interface, snappy performance, and buttons around the screen that can take you to various system functions. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration come standard. We were quite impressed with how quick Car-Net was able to find our iPhone and bring up the CarPlay interface. If you want navigation, you can either use the map app on CarPlay or Android Auto, or step up to the Golf R with DCC and Navigation.
There is also a small color screen in the instrument cluster that provides trip computer information, what's playing through the infotainment system, and various settings.
Fuel Economy (8/10)
The EPA rates the Golf R at 22 City/31 Highway/25 Combined for the six-speed manual and 23/30/25 for the six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. Our average for the week in the six-speed manual Golf R landed around 23 mpg in mostly cold city driving.
Predicted Reliability, Initial Quality Ratings (7/10)
The Volkswagen Golf R has an average reliability record according to both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power. In initial quality, the Golf R earned an average rating by J.D. Power.
The Golf R's list of standard safety equipment is generous with a full complement of airbags, traction control, stability control, adaptive xenon headlights, parking sensors, backup camera, tire-pressure monitoring, automatic post-collision braking system, Intelligent Crash Response System (turns off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and turns on the hazard lights in the event of a crash), and automatic emergency notification through Volkswagen's Car-Net. The Golf R with DCC and Navigation adds blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning with automatic braking. Previously, these features were part of an option package.
NHTSA awarded the Golf R with a five-star overall rating. Over at the IIHS, the entire Golf lineup including the R was named a Top Safety Pick.
The Golf R employs a re-tuned turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder from the GTI. Power has been increased from 210 horsepower and 258 pound-feet to 292 and 280 respectively. Our test Golf R came with the standard six-speed manual. A six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission is an option. Power is routed to all four wheels via Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel drive system.
We're not quite sure what kind sorcery Volkswagen pulled off with the turbocharged-four, but it makes the Golf R fly. Put your foot on the accelerator and power comes on at an instantaneous and continuous rate. Need to make a pass, no problem as the turbo stirs quickly to provide the shove of power needed. Volkswagen also deserves credit for the dual nature of exhaust note. Under acceleration, the exhaust grows from a burble to a roar. But when you are cruising along, the exhaust quiets down and doesn't enter the cabin. The six-speed manual transmission is a joy to work thanks to the crisp engagement when changing gears and an easy to operate clutch pedal.
The secret sauce to the Golf R has to be the 4Motion all-wheel drive system. On dry roads, the system provides excellent traction when cornering. Thanks to a snow storm during our week with the Golf R, we were able to test the all-weather capability. Driving through unplowed roads, the 4Motion shuffled power around to keep the vehicle moving. The only downside was a too-eager stability control system that would cut in at times to stop wheel-spin, causing us to lose momentum. Thankfully, the Golf R features a sport mode for the stability control system to allow some wheelspin. This made the difference as it kept the Golf R moving with no issues.
On the handling front, the Golf R is quite impressive. Driven around turns, the Golf R feels balanced and shows little body roll. We do wish the steering had a little bit more weight and feel for being a high-performance model. Out on public roads, the Golf R differs from other high-performance compacts as the ride doesn't punish you. Some bumps will make their way into the cabin, but the Golf R has one of best rides in the class. The Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) found on the higher trim Golf R offers different modes that can provide an even softer ride or stiffen the suspension if you're planning to take it to the track. We find the standard suspension setup to be just fine for most people. Road and wind noise are kept to very acceptable levels.
Pricing and Value (7/10)
The base Volkswagen Golf R begins at $35,655 for the manual and $36,755 for the DSG. With destination, our as-tested price landed at $36,475. However, you will likely not find one of these at your local Volkswagen dealership, let alone the automaker's website. The company is building a small number of the base R. It isn't clear as to why, but we figure Volkswagen wants to try and up sell you into the Golf R with DCC and Navigation. This model begins at $39,375 which is a lot of money for a Golf. For only a few grand more, you can step up to the Audi S3 which is the Golf R in a distinctive sedan shape.
If you're willing to put in the legwork to find one, we would recommend the base Golf R as it offers pretty much everything that you need at a somewhat reasonable price.
Total Score and Competitive Comparison (66/80, 82.5%)
The elephant in the room when talking about the Volkswagen Golf R is the Ford Focus RS. Not only does it boast more power than the Golf R (350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque), it features a clever all-wheel drive system with a drift mode. The Focus RS also stands out with an aggressive body kit. But Focus RS has one of the stiffest rides in the class. Even on a seemingly smooth road, the suspension will transmit the smallest imperfection to the backsides of you and your passengers clearly. The Focus RS doesn't have a nice of cabin or amount of passenger space like the Golf R. Subaru's WRX STI offers a bit more power than the Golf R, along with a wild look and the ability to adjust the amount of power being sent to the rear wheels via a dial. But like the Focus RS, the WRX STI doesn't have the same quality feel inside like the Golf R. The WRX STI also loses points as it is only offered in a sedan.
The one competitor that might make you think twice about the Golf R is the Golf GTI. It might not have power output or all-wheel drive like the R, but it comes with all of the other positives. Plus, it won't break the bank with prices beginning at $25,595 for the base S with a manual transmission.
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf R might not look like a hyper hatchback. But that might be its greatest strength. Underneath the understated looks lies one of the most capable performance cars on sale with an amazing all-wheel drive. Add in the plus points of the standard Golf such as the well-appointed and spacious interior, and non-jarring ride, and you have one of the most well-rounded performance vehicles on sale. But be prepared to spend some cash to get it.