You could describe the 2019 Golf R as the classless king of the hot hatches, built from the peoples car people at VW. It still has its roots in the original Golf GTI from 1976, take a simple 5 door hatch add a gem of an engine and it becomes a hot hatch icon. The 2018 Golf GTI I drove last year was a gem especially as it had a manual transmission, not as quick as the DSG version but definitely more engaging, however, I came away from that test preferring the auto version, yes I said it.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and my 2019 Golf R arrived with a Lapiz Blue exterior and Titan Black interior, looking every bit the sleeper that it is, in fact, you’d be hard pressed to spot the differences, except for those quad tail pipes. What I wasn’t expecting were the 3 pedals inside, a manual at last. I had asked for a manual for the last 3 years and VW had never had one available so this was the icing on the cake since there will be no 2o2o Golf R, we’ll have to wait a couple of years for the MK V111.
There’s not too much new for 2019 except a crayola crayon box of 40 new custom order colors and a gem of a turbo 4 slightly down on power from last year due to emission regulations. Don’t worry the R doesn’t notice one bit and it still puts out 288 hp @ 5,400 rpm and 280 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm through a fabulous and quick shifting 6 speed manual transmission. Add to that standard Dynamic Chassis Control and Navigation as well as all active safety features included.
Topping off the list of great things 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.
One thing you do notice is there’s no lag on takeoff because your right and left foot are in control and the 4Motion system keeps it all under control. That said the R is a bit slower on launch than its DSG sibling, getting from 0-60 in 5 seconds flat by dropping the clutch at around 4,000 rpm but that’s not really the R’s purpose in life as you soon find out once you hit the open road.
A GTI turned up to MAX
Once you get familiar with the bite point of the clutch, which took me one commute, I never wished for the DSG for the rest of the week. 1st to 2nd can always be a little tricky but this car has so much torque unless you come to a complete stop first gear is almost hardly used. Add to that an excellent shift action and fairly short throws and I soon started to love the manual.
The suspension is also a step further on from the GTI, with different front control arms and a ride height that’s another 0.2 inches (5mm) lower to the ground. Every 2019 Golf R also gets Dynamic Chassis Control as standard. The Golf R gives you a number of different settings—Comfort, Normal, Eco, Race, and Individual.
In Comfort the R rewards you with smooth suspension and reduced steering input, even riding on horrible roads was pleasantly comfortable….turning it up a notch to Individual you can change the dampers, throttle mapping, steering feel, climate control, and adaptive cruise control behavior. The transmission, of course, is unaffected since you are in charge of the shift points. It also sounds good but mainly inside since VW make use of a Soundaktor which pumps nice noises through the speakers into the cabin.
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. Best of all you are in charge of engine speed flicking between 3rd and 4th gear to make the best us of that power and torque.
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.
The 2019 Golf R also offers a comprehensive suite of driver-assistance technology. Standard features include: Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring (Front Assist); Blind Spot Monitor Rear Traffic Alert; Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC); Lane Keeping System (Lane Assist); Park Distance Control; and High Beam Control (Light Assist).
The 2019 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 and at $41,290 its pretty good value for what you get and yes I would take the manual. I’m going to miss this car a lot.
2019 Golf R Numbers
VEHICLE TYPE: Front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
BASE PRICE: $40,395
PRICE AS TESTED: $41,290
ENGINE TYPE: 2.0 turbocharged and inter-cooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4
POWER: 288 hp @ 5,400 rpm
TORQUE: 280 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6 speed manual
CURB WEIGHT 3,300 lb
ZERO to 60 mph: 5.0 seconds
TOP SPEED: (governor limited): 155 mph
TIRES and WHEELS: 19 inch alloys w/summer performance tires
EPA city/highway/combined: 21/29/24 mpg
FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 14.5 gallons
OUR OBSERVED: 21 mpg
PROS: The manual is magnificent, very rapid and very satisfying to drive
CONS: No 2020 model, we’ll have to wait for the Mk8