The 2019 Volkswagen Golf R is good at blurring things. Like the line between mainstream and premium cars. And the scenery when the accelerator is pushed to the floor. The R is the hot, hot version of the venerable Volkswagen Golf compact hatchback — the hot version is the GTI — and is a multifaceted marvel.
The usual high-quality Golf interior takes a few more steps up, with R-specific cabin accents, gauges and sport seats. And because it’s a Golf, it’s practical as well, with plenty of space for passengers and cargo.
Compared with the current GTI, the Golf R makes another 60 horsepower from its strengthened and turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and then sends it to all four wheels. In the sprint from standstill to 60 mph, the R beats the GTI by about 1.4 seconds, clocking in at 4.5 seconds with the DSG transmission. That’s quick. The manual transmission version is around an eighth of a second slower.
The Golf R rides on a sport suspension that’s eight-tenths of an inch lower than the regular Golf (and two-tenths 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. It also has a stronger braking system with larger discs.
Ultimately, its price is high for a Volkswagen, but the Golf R really has to be driven to be fully appreciated.
What’s New for 2019?
Volkswagen has revised the Golf R’s power output. Whereas the Golf R was rated at 292 hp last year, this year the official figure is 288 hp. This is the result of a new measuring method and not any actual drop in power. (Sister company Audi has done the same thing.) The torque remains the same. Volkswagen is also offering a choice of 40 custom-order exterior paint colors along with the usual five hues. And an optional Black Wheel package includes 19-in alloy rims finished in gloss black. See the 2019 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
A turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine produces 288 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. AWD comes standard.
With the 6-speed manual transmission, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates fuel consumption at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 29 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg in combined driving. With the 7-speed automatic DSG transmission, which works like a regular automatic transmission but offers the driver the choice of manual selection by using the shift lever or paddles mounted under the steering wheel, consumption is 23 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/26 mpg combined. This transmission enables an engine stop/start function to save some fuel when idling.
Standard Features & Options
The 2019 Volkswagen Golf R ($41,380) 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 LED headlights with LED running lights and taillights, rain-sensing wipers, heated windshield washer nozzles, heated side mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel/brake lever/shift knob, dual-zone climate control, a 12.3-in digital instrument display, a self-dimming rearview mirror, ambient cabin lighting with LED reading lights, leather seating surfaces, heated front sport seats, a 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, drive mode selection, adaptive suspension (DCC), Bluetooth, an infotainment system with an 8-in touchscreen, navigation, a USB port, an SD card slot, satellite/HD radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration (through VW’s Car-Net App-Connect feature) and a Fender-branded audio system. All the standard driver aids are listed in the Safety section below.
The DSG transmission costs an additional $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 and side curtain airbags). Post-collision braking is also standard — and something of a Volkswagen specialty. In the event of a collision, the Golf R automatically applies the brakes to reduce the chance of a secondary impact. The standard-issue adaptive cruise control doesn’t work below 19 mph when paired with the manual transmission, and 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-keeping assistance, front and rear parking sensors with maneuver braking and automatic high beams.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 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 did not rate the Golf R, but gave the regular 4-door 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 AWD 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.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 BMW M240i xDrive — Smaller and not quite as practical (although its trunk is pretty accommodating at 13.8 cu ft.), the 335-hp M240i xDrive also has AWD.
2019 Honda Civic Type-R — Front-drive and 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.
2019 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG — Runs with 375 hp going to all four wheels. Slightly more of a crossover than a regular hatch and costs in the region of $55,000.
2019 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works Hardtop — Less expensive than a Golf R, smaller and less powerful at 228 hp, and only front-wheel driven. But it’s still one of the most entertaining rides around.
2019 Subaru WRX STI — It’s a sedan, not a hatchback, but it’s similarly energetic and grippy. Not as refined as the Golf R, though.
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI — Take a GTI for a spin to see if it works well enough. It has 228 hp and sprints from a standstill to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. For many drivers, this is all perfectly fine.
Two things might cause us to hesitate. As mentioned above, this is an expensive car, especially from a maker that’s not considered premium. And this generation of Golf is due for replacement. There’s a choice: Wait to see what the 2020 model year brings, or try and negotiate a serious discount. Find a Volkswagen Golf R for sale