I’ve always loved the Golf GTI, ever since I drove the Mk2 way back in the early ’80s, its quick reflexes, torquey motor and great chassis, providing sports car handling in a practical hatch back. The current GTI gives you the same thing only with twice as much horsepower…..but what if you wanted even more power? Enter the 2018 Golf R which gives you that additional power but driving all 4 wheels, a snazzy new configurable digital dash and a subtle R badges that stand for very Rapid indeed.
New for 2018 is that the range of models falls to just one, you get Dynamic Chassis Control and Navigation as well as all active safety features included. VW has added auto stop/start, which is switched off in Sport/Race mode and the transmission gets one extra gear, taking it to seven. I had requested a manual but one was not available at the time and I’m sort of glad I got the one with VW’s quick shifting DSG. Outside the R gets a fresh design for its 19-inch wheels and LED lights front and rear and topping off the list is the six-year or 72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper New Vehicle Limited Warranty, which can be transferred to subsequent owners throughout its duration.
Under the hood VW has massaged the 2.0 turbo to produce 292 hp @ 5,400 rpm and 280 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm respectively…….meanwhile the Euro spec R gets 306-hp, we can but hope for more power next year. Even with a mere 292 hp the Golf R is fast but exactly how fast is it? When we tested the Golf GTI with DSG last time we got a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds, not bad at all. Using our VBox, launch control is a simple affair, turn off ESC by holding down the button until a yellow warning triangle appears in the dash, mash your left foot on the brake and your right on the gas, oh and don’t forget to turn off the A/C. Now remove your left foot like you’ve been stung by a scorpion and Holy cow! the Golf R launches like a scalded cat, with 60 mph coming up in 4.3 seconds on my first run. That’s almost 3 tenths faster than the 2017 model I tested back in December. Job done.
I can’t think of a car that works so well on a daily commute then at the touch of a button comes alive in the mountains. It’s so civilized trickling along in Comfort mode but still pulls nicely at pretty much any speed if you need it, such is the amount of torque available. The suspension irons out all but the worst potholes San Diego can offer but it’s wise to stay out of Race mode because of this. Head for the mountains and Race mode is all you need. In Race the transmission is mapped to give you the optimum gear required for very spirited driving. Other options are Comfort, Normal, Eco and Individual which lets you mix and match settings. There is still a hint of turbo lag present off the line, unless you use the aforementioned Launch Control, which I did a few times. Once on the move the R is scalpel sharp and grip is sensational, I couldn’t defeat the Conti’s or the clever torque-vectoring-system. Too fast into a corner and the Golf R simply tucks its nose in.
Attacking these mountain roads, the R is sensational, biting hard into very tight bends, you can get back on the power early on exit and surge on to the next one. Confident handling is what sets this car apart, it has even less desire to under-steer than its little brother GTI. As I said before pushing really hard into a corner I simply couldn’t get the tires to lose traction. You can stay on the throttle through tight corners without fear of plunging into a ditch. This is all achieved thanks to DCC adaptive dampers that continuously vary the rebound and compression damping of the suspension while cornering. Steering is sharp and precise and it’s easy to hit the apex of the corners for maximum forward progress.
The new 7-speed DSG feels smoother than the old 6-speed and mates better to the engine, with never a sign it’s hunting for the right gear. Stopping power comes from the uprated brakes from the GTI Performance Package model. At the front, the car has 13.4-inch diameter vented discs while the rear rotors are 12.2 inches. All this and a great exhaust noise, admittedly most of it in the cabin and not outside but nevertheless the R makes for grin inducing fun.
The R comes standard with leather wrapped sport front seats with 12-way power adjustment for the driver. The seats are very comfortable and hold you in place well and once seated the flat-bottom, leather wrapped sports steering wheel feels pretty good in your hands. Dominating the center console is the new 8.0-inch infotainment touch screen that features crisper graphics and a fast acting interface and what I especially like is the proximity feature that displays more options as your hand approaches. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility is integrated, Bluetooth is simple to pair with your phone and the Fender Premium Audio sounds great.
What I don’t like is the lack of storage space and this is because the center armrest doesn’t open and it’s infuriating. It’s not Volkswagen’s fault though, it’s some stupid federal regulation that prevents me from storing my stuff. It’s not a deal breaker of course, and I don’t really carry much anyway but even though I have tested 2 previous Golf Rs, I still try to open it. Gets me every time.
The R borrows the interactive Volkswagen Digital Cockpit instrument cluster from the Atlas and the new Tiguan. The 12.3-inch, high-resolution screen replaces the physical dials with digital gauges that can be customized to display information like the navigation map and performance and driving information. It’s very similar to the Audi Virtual Cockpit but I found its response times a little slow at times and it allows for less customization than Audi’s system. That said you can display the map in the middle of 2 dials that can show a tachometer and speedometer without having to take your eyes off the road. All controls are at your fingertips and you can see anything from Economy and Fuel range to Driver Assist systems. It works very well and looks very slick.
The 2018 Golf R has some stiff competition from the Subaru WRX STI, the Focus RS and the Honda Civic Type R but it also doesn’t look like a roller skate on steroids. Instead, it delivers sheer speed, a capable chassis, and a well-equipped interior wrapped in a Golf body. Most people don’t even notice it, it’s a true sleeper. The Golf R flies under the radar, it’s the adult option and it hits the sweet spot for me. Is it worth the premium over the GTI?…….Hell Yes!…… and if I was a few thousand dollars short I would probably sell a kidney.
2018 Golf R Numbers
|VEHICLE TYPE:||Front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback|
|PRICE AS TESTED:||$41,970|
|ENGINE TYPE:||2.0 turbocharged and inter-cooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4|
|POWER:||292 hp @ 5,400 rpm|
|TORQUE:||280 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION:||7-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shifting mode|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,325 lb|
|ZERO to 60 mph:||4.3 seconds|
|TOP SPEED (governor limited):||153 mph|
|EPA city/highway/combined:||22/29/25 mpg|
|OUR OBSERVED:||19 mpg|
|PROS:||Very rapid and very satisfying to drive, new digital dash|
|CONS:||Some lag on take off, center armrest doesn’t open|