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New 2021 Volkswagen Golf R review

Rory White

08 Apr 2021

1/8
Range-topping Volkswagen Golf R is back with more power and a drift mode. Does it still make the Golf GTI look a little redundant?

PROS:

+ Mighty engine

+ Brilliant cornering ability

+ Usual Golf space and quality


CONS:

- GR Yaris even more fun

- Best infotainment still optional

- Performance Pack fairly pricey


Verdict: Once again, the Golf R offers more performance and driving involvement over its GTI sibling for a relatively small jump in monthly cost. It combines quality, comfort and cornering ability brillitantly, although a GR Yaris is still more fun.



2021 Volkswagen Golf R review: the five-minute read


Car finance. 90% of new cars are bought with it, and in the case of the Volkswagen Golf R, it has helped many buyers to discount the lesser GTI and head straight for the top of the range.


You see, it's been so cheap to borrow money for so long, that the last R's clever all-wheel-drive and extra power over the GTI seemed a no-brainer given the relatively small extra monthly outlay. The same it likely to be true here, and especially given the GTI now feels and sounds less aggressive than ever.


But the R has stiff competition to see off from elsewhere too. The smaller but similarly-priced Toyota GR Yaris, the Honda Civic Type R and Audi S3 to name some of the strongest.



If there were reservations about the way the standard MK8 Golf looks, they are quickly forgotten with the R. Its aggressive body kit, quad tailpipes, boot spoiler, matrix LED headlights and 18-inch alloys really lift the look. It's understated next to a Type R, but many will want it for that fact alone.


Inside the R stands out from other Golfs with a pair of lovely cloth and Alcantara sports seats with integrated headrests that get blue tartan detailing – which looks better than it sounds. There's also a sports steering wheel with more blue, shiny sports pedals and unique R badging plus R graphics on the infotainment system. An Audi S3 is slightly plusher inside, but the margins aren't huge.


On the subject of infotainment, it's frustrating VW still dosn't give you its upgraded Discover system as standard on the R and it costs a pretty penny to add. At least its mainly software upgrades, though, and the R's standard twin 10-inch screens look sharp and respond well to touch, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard.


Like all Golfs, two tall adults will sit comfortably in the front of the R, another two will do the same in the back and although a Civic Type R will carry more stuff in its boot, the R boot will handle a family's needs perfectly well and makes a GR Yaris's effort look stingy.



VW's 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is found across the VW Group in many flavours, but here it produces 320hp and 420nm of torque, which via the car's standard all-wheel-drive and seven-speed automatic gearbox means 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds – although we managed to go a couple of tenths faster than that.


It really is a Jekyll and Hyde motor, proving savage in the right driving mode, yet also quiet and smooth when you just want to cruise. The Hyde part teams with immense grip and razor sharp steering on a country road to provide massive fun, plus there's an optional Performance Pack with a drift mode, although it is a fairly pricey addition and we still think a GR Yaris and Type R are even more fun to drive.


Of course, the R will also potter to the shops keeping you calm and comfortable as well as bomb along a motorway retruning a little more than 30mpg if you're sensible. It does this dual-personality better than the Honda or Toyota, plus feels higher quality inside, making a strong enough case for many to justify it before either.


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Extended read…



2021 Volkswagen Golf R interior and infotainment


The Volkswagen Golf R's interior has the same basic architecture as any other Golf, which is a very good thing.


Nothing moves, nothing squeaks, all the switches feel substantial and there are lovely piano black and chrome trim accents about the place that brings a classy look and feel. An Audi S3 is slightly plusher inside, but the margins aren't huge.


Inside the R stands out from other Golfs with a pair of lovely cloth and Alcantara sports seats with integrated headrests that get blue tartan detailing – which looks better than it sounds. There's also a sports steering wheel with more blue, shiny sports pedals and unique R badging plus R graphics on the infotainment system.


The R's infotainment system has its good and bad bits. We don't much like the touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel (or on the dash the climate control for that matter) and it seems stingy that VW still doesn't throw in its pricey upgraded Discover system. At least that brings mostly software upgrades, though.


Plus, the system you do get is easy to understand, the standard 10-inch infotainment screen is responsive to touch and the 10-inch digital dials look lovely and can be configured to your liking. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard if you prefer.


The standard stereo system is good enough that it seems silly to spend the extra on the upgraded Harman Kardon one.



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2021 Volkswagen Golf R practicality and boot space


Part of the reason for buying a hot hatch is the fact it retains much of its practciality, so you'll want it to be able to handle the everyday stuff like carting people and luggage about as well as it can scythe down a country road.


The Golf has always been very good at doing just that, and hence the R is too. You'll fit four tall adults inside without much fuss, although three adults across the rear seats will cause a bit of complaining on a long journey.


The R boot's is 381 litres in size, which will handle the weekly shop or a week away with the kids without much problem. A Civic Type R will handle slightly more, but a GR Yaris is embarrassed in this company when it comes to boot space.


The R also gets spacious door bins front and back, plus a decent glovebox, two cupholders between the front seats and a useful cubby at the base of the dashboard.



2021 Volkswagen Golf R engine


VW's 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is found across the VW Group in VWs, Skodas, Seats, Audis, you name it. It comes in a variety of power outputs, but the R's is something special.


Here it produces 320hp and 420nm of torque, which via the car's standard all-wheel-drive and seven-speed automatic gearbox means 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds – although we managed to go a couple of tenths faster than that.


It really is a Jekyll and Hyde motor, proving savage in the right driving mode, yet also quiet and smooth when you just want to cruise, where if you keep things sensible it'll manage more than 30mpg too.


There isn't a manual gearbox option like in the GR Yaris or Civic Type R, which will seem a shame to some, but given how well the automatic gearbox works and how few manual gearbox seems to be sold these days, we'd wager most buyers won't care.


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2021 Volkswagen Golf R driving


Finance deals was one reason the old R porved popular, but another was its all-wheel-drive system. These systems used to be fairly rudimentary, but these days they actually make things more playful, plus provide more confidence on the UK's often wet and grimy roads.


Grip levels in this latest R are immense, which toegther with the car's quick, precise steering and hugely punchy engine make it a very capable point-to-point machine. It can be convinced to step its rear axle out a little here and there off the throttle though, plus if you add VW's (admittedly pricey) Performance Pack there's actually a drift mode that'll actively allow easier slides.


The R feels at its most lively in Race driving mode, where you can feel the power being sent to its rear wheels more readily and its gearbox is sharpest and steering at its most meaty. If you have VW's optional adaptive dampers added these will be at their firmest here too. All-told, we still think a Type R feels more agile and a GR Yaris even more raucous fun, but the R is right up there with the best.


And and R is better once dialled back to its Comfort driving, where its more comfortable and quiet. Plus, being a Golf, its very easy to drive and park in town. It'll also glide along the motorway very confidently, proving a little noisier than lesser Golfs, but never to the extent that it frustrates.


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Rory White

08 Apr 2021