We have seen a resurgence of hot hatchbacks in Canada in recent years.
The bar has also been raised in the performance levels of these cars. One of the leaders in this movement toward the new hyper hatch category is the Volkswagen Golf R released in 2012, adding more power and all-wheel-drive to the already amazing GTI. The introduction of the Golf R has led to the introduction of hot hatches such as the Ford Focus ST, Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R.
Volkswagen has a reputation of designing cars with a balanced approach, resulting in excellent all-around performers. The current generation Mark 7 Golf R is now in its third year of production, and is highly regarded as the best option with great comfort, practicality and amazing performance. We got our hands on the 2019 Volkswagen Golf R to see if it warrants the high praise, and whether or not it’s still the best option in the hot hatch pool.
Looks are one area where the Golf R receives criticism. This comes from the fact that the hottest version of the Golf (reviewed here) range looks largely the same as the base model. It takes a keen eye to be able to spot a Golf R from a far. Even the GTI has more exterior details to set it apart from the rest of the range. If I were looking for a hot hatch, I would hope the car has more exterior details to set it apart. There are also many buyers who love the fact the Golf R is a total sleeper and does not draw any attention.
There are details that help differentiate the Golf R as well. The front and rear bumpers are unique with piano black accents, and the sides also have a simple black lip extension. Our tester has two visual options, including as the Black Styling package (gloss black 19-inch wheels and carbon-fiber mirror caps) added for a price of $595, and also a $2,995 paint option. Our Golf R is finished in stunning “91 Blue” which is very similar to Porsche’s Miami Blue. The black details contrasting against the paint are a treat for your eyes. Despite the simple design, the bright contrasting colours turn heads wherever you go.
Another aspect of the Golf R that feels too simplistic is the interior, however it still maintains the status quo for Volkswagen products in having impeccable interior fit and finish using high quality materials. The theme continues with a lack of details in the design that differentiate the Golf R, other than some R badges and white contrast stitching. It has an excellent driving position with great ergonomics and comfort for daily driving. The digital dash is a great addition that is not available in the lower Golf range. The center console also houses a large infotainment touchscreen; the interface is straightforward and further enhanced with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The Golf R is powered by Volkswagen’s EA888 2.0-liter turbocharged engine driven through a seven-speed DSG transmission and a 4MOTION drivetrain. The engine produces 288 horsepower at 5,400RPM and 280 lb-ft. of torque at only 1,800RPM. Surprisingly, the engine has been slightly detuned from previous years. The DSG transmission shifts extremely quickly with its double-clutch direct shift design.
Volkswagen’s DSG does not exhibit any bad habits of other double-clutch transmissions. It’s smooth in daily commuting and snappy on conmmand during spirited driving. With maximum torque output early in the rev range and a quick-shifting DSG, one would think the Golf R would have lightning quick response. This is true once the revs are above 2,000RPM; the Golf R is a pocket rocket. Using launch control, the Golf R is capable of accelerating to 100 km/h under five seconds.
The suspension tuning of the Golf R is very impressive. Usually with adjustable dampers, there are compromises leaving the vehicle feeling underdamped in comfort settings. In all modes, the Golf R feels superbly dampened with great body control. In “Race” mode the Golf feels nimble without being too stiff. Steering is very positive with excellent on center feel and response. Front-end turn in response is excellent; you can dive into corners comfortably with incredible poise and confidence.
The 4MOTION system in the Golf R is a Haldex system that is front-drive based and sends power to the rear as needed. Again, this car defies expectations in implementing a system that historically has been criticized for having a tendency to understeer. Volkswagen has tuned the Haldex system magnificently. In our week of testing, the car felt balanced without any tendency to push wide. The ability to accelerate out of corners is mind-boggling.
Fuel efficiency in the Golf R is what you would expect in this sector. Fuel consumption is rated at 11.4L/100km city and 8.2L/100km highway for a combined 9.9L/100km rating. During our week of testing we observed a rating of 10.3L/100km in mostly city driving. It is very pleasant to see such high levels of performance without burning a hole in your wallet at the pumps. The Golf R makes you want to keep driving and taking the long way home.
The Golf R price starts at $42,495 with minimal options available. You have the choice of either six-speed manual or the seven-speed DSG at a premium. Our tester came in at $49,050 with the DSG, Driver Assistance Package and Black Styling Package. The most expensive option is the special colour option at $2,995, but it’s worth every penny if you are a part of the camp that wants your hot hatch to stand out. The Golf R now mainly competes with the Honda Civic Type R starting at $43,476, a more focused track weapon. The Subaru WRX STI on paper is a better performer, but it’s built on an aging platform. The Golf R is the best all-around performer appealing to the masses.
In my experience of road testing cars that have been highly praised, I usually end up being slightly disappointed. I am keener to notice imperfections and critique vehicles held to a higher standard. However, the 2019 Volkswagen Golf R DSG lives up to all expectations and still manages to leave me extremely impressed with its performance. This is the people’s hot hatch, and plays the balance perfectly in true Volkswagen fashion. This mini-Godzilla is an excellent choice that provides year round fun while taking care of all daily duties in comfort and style.