The 2018 Volkswagen Golf R serves to remind us that there’s a lot of talent in Volkswagen’s compact hatchback platform. This is the car for those who think the front-drive Golf GTI is all well and good (some might say legendary), but want all the spice they can get.
Compared with the current GTI, the Golf R makes another 72 horsepower from its strengthened and turbocharged 4-cylinder 2.0-liter engine, and then sends it to all four wheels. In the sprint from standstill to 60 miles per hour, the R beats the GTI by about 1.4 seconds, clocking in at 4.5 seconds with the DSG transmission. Which is quick. The manual-transmission version is around 0.8 of a second slower.
It rides on a sport suspension that’s four-fifths of an inch lower than the regular Golf (one-fifth of an inch lower than the GTI) and has an XDS electronic limited-slip differential feature at both ends, giving the R some serious handling talent. This is complemented by a stronger braking system with larger discs. The usual high-quality interior takes a few more steps up with R-specific cabin accents, gauges and sport seats. And because it’s still a Golf, that means a ton of practicality as well, with plenty of space for passengers and cargo.
Ultimately, its pricing seems pretty high for a Volkswagen, but the Golf R really has to be driven to be fully appreciated. That’s when it starts to exert a tug, when you start thinking of ways to make ownership possible, like selling those Apple shares or breaking into the kids’ college funds.
What’s New for 2018?
The DCC adaptive suspension and navigation are now standard, along with a 12.3-inch Volkswagen Digital Cockpit (a high-resolution configurable driver information display), and the infotainment system receives a new 8-in touchscreen. The optional DSG transmission now has seven forward speeds and brings an engine stop/start feature. There are new designs of LED daytime running lights and taillights, and the headlamps are now adaptive (they follow the direction of the steering). The nose has been tweaked with a new bumper, larger air inlets and a revised grille. There’s a fresh design of 19-in alloy wheels (up from last year’s standard 18-in wheels). Pedestrian monitoring is now standard, and the bumper-to-bumper New Vehicle Limited Warranty lasts for 6 years/72,000 miles (whichever occurs first). See the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R models for sale near you
What We Like
Engaging turbocharged engine; handling, grip and traction enhanced by standard all-wheel drive; premium interior; highway champ
What We Don’t
Pricey; not significantly faster than the GTI
With the 6-speed manual transmission, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption at 21 miles per gallon city, 29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. With the 7-speed automated manual (called DSG; it works like a regular automatic, but also offers the driver the choice of manual selection by using the shift lever or paddles mounted under the steering wheel), consumption is 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Volkswagen Golf R ($40,635) comes as one well-stocked model.
Standard equipment includes 19-in alloy wheels, aerodynamic body additions, quad exhaust pipes with chromed tips, keyless entry/push-button ignition, automatic/adaptive headlights with LED running lights and taillights, rain-sensing wipers, heated windshield washer nozzles, leather-wrapped steering wheel/brake lever/shift knob, leather seating surfaces, dual-zone climate control, 12.3-in digital instrument display, self-dimming rearview mirror, ambient cabin lighting with LED reading lights, leather seating surfaces, heated front sport seats, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, drive mode selection, adaptive suspension (DCC), rearview camera, Bluetooth, infotainment system with 8-in touchscreen, navigation, three USB ports, SD card slot, satellite/HD radio and a Fender-branded audio system.
The DSG transmission costs another $1,100.
Like other Golf hatchbacks, the R enjoys some of the most generous cargo space in its class: 22.8 cu ft. behind the rear seats and 52.7 cu ft. when those seats are folded down.
The Golf R comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, hill hold assist, and six airbags (front, front side, side curtain airbags). Post-collision braking is also standard and something of a Volkswagen specialty. In the event of a collision, it automatically applies the brakes to reduce the chance of a secondary impact. The adaptive cruise control doesn’t work below 19 mph when paired with the manual transmission; it will bring the car to a complete stop if necessary when paired with the DSG transmission.
Other standard safety features include forward-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, front and rear parking sensors with Maneuver Braking and automatic high beams.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given the Golf R a maximum overall score of five stars; four for front impact protection and five for side impact protection.
The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 4-door regular Golf its highest rating of Good in every category and made it a Top Safety Pick Plus.
Behind the Wheel
The Golf R has excellent road manners to go with the muscle, along with a quiet cabin. And the all-wheel drive system with the XDS electronic differential function makes a real difference when powering through the bends. Whereas the GTI sometimes wants to understeer wide of the intended course, the Golf R gives that familiar "invisible hand" sensation of all four wheels working to keep the car in line. The R is completely composed at high speeds and its upgraded brakes provide all-day stopping power without fade.
2018 BMW M240i xDrive — Smaller and not quite as practical (though its trunk is pretty accommodating at 13.8 cu ft.), the 335-hp M240i xDrive also has all-wheel drive.
2018 Ford Focus RS — The Focus is another compact hatchback with another world-class chassis. The full-on RS version beats the Golf R with 350 hp going to all four wheels. Anyone thinking about an R really has to check out the RS. But don’t procrastinate, Ford is pulling the plug on it.
2018 Honda Civic Type-R — Front-drive/manual transmission only. But 306 hp, limited-slip differential and 20-in alloy wheels are all part of a recipe for sharp handling and sharp looks.
2018 Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 — Runs with 375 hp going to all four wheels. Slightly more of a crossover than a regular hatch and firmly in the $50,000 region.
2018 Mini Hardtop John Cooper Works — Less expensive than a Golf R, smaller, less powerful (228 hp) and only front-wheel-driven. But one of the most entertaining rides around.
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI — Take a GTI for a spin to see if it works well enough. It has 220 hp and sprints from standstill to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. For many drivers, this is all perfectly fine.
Used BMW M3 — For power, poise and prestige, there’s nothing better.
The normal recommendation is to get the automatic transmission. In this car, it’s actually good and allows some opportunity for involvement with its steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. So don’t fret if you really want this option. But drivers who like to shift their own gears will find the manual transmission a perfect ingredient in the Golf R recipe.