VW's latest hot hatch is almost perfect

The Volkswagen Golf is a dependable thing. It's just the right size for city living, looks good, and drives well. So what happens when you give it 310 hp?

Alex Goy Editor / Roadshow
Alex Goy is an editor for Roadshow. He loves all things on four wheels and has a penchant for British sports cars - the more impractical the better. He also likes tea.
Alex Goy
3 min read
Watch this: VW Golf R: Like a Golf, but much, much faster

Volkswagen's given its seventh-generation Golf a bit of a mid-life refresh. Now all of the range gets slightly updated front and rear fenders and a tweaked cabin. The infotainment system is now a super slick touch screen (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), and it works as well as you'd hope. Not laggy, not slow. It's all very dependable and Golf-ish.

Your instrument cluster is all digital all the time on higher end models like the Golf R, and optional on the lower rungs of the ladder in Europe -- only e-Golf and Golf R get the new dash in the US. It gives you a plethora of relevant information and looks good enough to make you think the Mk 7.5 Golf is from 2025 rather than today.

The tech works, then. Good. But there's more to the Golf R than toys. In European trim, it comes with 310 horses and 280 pound-feet of torque. Get yourself a six-speed stick, and it'll hit 62 mph from rest in 5.1 seconds, but go for the new seven-speed dual-clutch DSG and you'll hit the magic number in 4.6.

As is the way with high-powered German cars, its top speed is limited to 155mph. In reality, that's more than you're ever likely to need, so no great shakes. It's the Golf R's acceleration that you'll fall for.

2018 Volkswagen Golf R
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2018 Volkswagen Golf R

Few things will keep up with it cross country.

Olgun Kordal/Carfection

A 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder may not sound like much, but it packs a heck of a punch. Twinned with the DSG 'box, it simply flies. Alarmingly so, actually. Performance Golfs of old have always been swift -- look at the original Golf GTI onwards -- but the 310-hp R feels like it's in another league.

Volkswagen's hyper-hatch lacks the power of the Ford Focus RS and the Audi RS3, sure. But stick the car in Race mode and its gearbox, dampers, steering and motor set themselves to extra angry and turn the wee Golf into a raging beast. It's a wonderful surprise, and probably the reason you rarely see a Golf R being driven below the speed limit in the wild.

The facelift doesn't really hint at its potential. A passerby won't pay its quad tailpipes and subtle "R" badging any attention. It is, in many ways, the perfect sleeper.

Unsurprisingly, the thing with lots of power is fast. But its grip makes it more than a powerful Golf -- it's more like a weapon. See, the Golf R is all-wheel drive and has more than a little in common with the Audi S3. You can cover ground at an alarming rate, taking corners at speeds that would turn a front-wheel-drive GTI in to an understeering mess.

2018 Volkswagen Golf R is speedy, but subtle

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Stellar throttle control makes it easy to balance, while its brakes aren't (for a change) overly sharp to use. In fact they're an utter joy. Stick one of these on a damp back road, then tell someone in a BMW M3 to try and keep up. I'd wager the Bimmer might have trouble.

In Europe, there's a performance pack on the way that adds bigger brakes, a loud exhaust and other fun things, and while the car does benefit from them, the vanilla Golf R should sate 99% of people's tastes.

Looking at it sensibly, you've got a 2.0-liter turbocharged petrol car with five seats, a huge trunk, cubby holes for stuff, timeless looks and all the connectivity you could possibly want. It also just happens to be quicker than a Lamborghini Countach.

Because it's small, because it's got four driven wheels, because it's so subtle, the Golf R seems like a more sensible alternative to a ton of performance cars. Whereas the Golf GTI means you can be young (ish), have kids and not sacrifice your sports car, the Golf R means you can have your sports car but don't have to sacrifice your Golf. Perhaps it's for the driver who wants it all, but doesn't want to look like they're driving something as ostentatious as hot hatch...