2018 Volkswagen Golf R new car reviews

Volkswagen dropped some big news about the Golf R while one was in our hands: colors! Starting with the 2019 model year, the Golf R will be available in 40 custom colors–plus the standard five hues.

From VW’s media site:

VWoA’s Product Marketing team worked in tandem with Volkswagen Canada to select a diverse range of colors for the 2019 model year Golf R that will appeal to owners, while still paying homage to the rich heritage of the Volkswagen color spectrum. Viper Green Metallic, originally found on the European Mk 3 Scirocco, and later featured on the Lamborghini Huracán, has been the most popular color to date in Canada. Other colors that will resonate with enthusiasts include Deep Blue Pearl from the Mk 4 and Mk 5 R32, Ginster Yellow from the 1997 Driver’s Edition GTI, and Mars Red from the Mk 1 GTI.

Back to the present day. The Golf R is a Golf with everything–kinda like one of those crazy pizzas that the locals would never order. But instead of pineapple and bacon, we’re talking all-wheel drive, stiffer suspension, turbo power, a trick center diff and 19-inch wheels. It’s more or less the Volkswagen version of the Subaru WRX STI or Ford Focus RS–or, maybe, the front-drive Civic Type R.

Here’s one thing the Golf R doesn’t have, though: a giant wing. Or assorted scoops, bulges or other accoutrements.

The six-speed manual Golf R starts at $39,785 (including navigation, even), while the DSG-equipped version starts at $40,885. If you hold out for one of the custom colors available for 2019, budget another $2000.

Read the entire review for staff impressions.

Other staff views

J.G. Pasterjak JG Pasterjak
Production/Art Director

I don’t know this for a fact, but I’ll hazard a guess that buyers of the Golf R are not buying their first VW. This is a car for the fans: the hardcores, who want to drive the ultimate expression of the VW Golf and don’t really care what it costs to do it. Which is good, because this 292hp, AWD rocket will snatch $45,000 from your pocket by the time you get to drive it home.

Luckily that will be a fun drive. Those 292hp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque from the turbo 2.0 are delivered in linear, accessible fashion. The AWD system, which features a Haldex coupling to deliver variable thrust to the rear wheels under varying conditions, is completely unobtrusive.

Where some AWD systems can dull handling–especially on turn-in and mid corner—the Golf R retains its crisp and responsive handling all the way through a cornering cycle. And the AWD traction lets you get on the power earlier out of a corner and propel yourself to the next one with authority.

It’s not a small car, though. At over 3300 pounds, the Golf R approaches sport sedan weight classes, but luckily it has great manners to direct all that mass.

There are nits to pick, though. While it’s great to see a six-speed manual in a sporty car, VW’s cable-actuated shifter still lags behind competitors in feel and action. Combine that with the fact that VW’s DCT is one of our favorite twin-clutch boxes, and we’d probably opt for the paddles on this car. They’re just a better compliment to the chassis than the vague stick is.

The Golf R is not for everyone, but I’m glad it exists. Your lust for the car will likely be in direct proportion to your general love for VW products, and that’s fine. It’s exciting that VW thought enough of its hardcores to build them the ultimate expression of their favorite car.

Joe Gearin Joe Gearin
Associate Publisher

Our press car fleet has variety. Sometimes we get fun and interesting machines to drive, and other times we are saddled with the flavorless SUV of the month. Predictably enough, when the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Volkswagen Golf R arrived at our doorstep, our ears perked up like a dog hearing the word WALK.

This new high-zoot Golf is a far cry from the bare-bones VWs many of us grew up on. The original GTI felt well equipped for its day, with a crank-operated sunroof, A/C and even a cassette radio. Fast forward a few decades, and this current VW sports nearly every nicety available on the market. From heated, power-operated seats, laser-guided cruise control, and every electronic nanny known, this Golf R packs in the tech. It should, as the Golf R also includes an eye-watering MSRP of over $40K.

Once behind the wheel, the Golf R felt familiar. Sure, 36 years have passed since that first GTI graced our shores, but this new example holds true to the basic concept. Take a boxy hatch, stuff in a bunch of tasty mechanical bits, sprinkle a bit of Fahrvergnügen pixie dust, and voila–you have an instant performance car! The boxy but clean looks aren’t the only echoes of the past. Performance Volkswagens have always had fantastic seats, and the new Golf R carries on that tradition. Supportive, but comfortable for the long haul, VAG continues to show the rest of the automotive world how to build a proper throne.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the six-speed manual gearbox. Back in 1983 we thought the GTI’s shifter felt rubbery, and a bit disconnected. For some reason VW never fixed this, and the brand-new Golf R has the same unsatisfying shifting feel of its forebears. As much as we hate to say it, this would be a better car with VW’s stellar DSG trans.

Our first drive in the R left me a bit disappointed. The car felt smooth and comfortable, but not very special. As the miles racked up however, the VW began to shine, as its versatility, refinement and smoothness started to get under our skin. The engine provides more than ample thrust, and when set to “Race” mode, the exhaust offers enough growl to please the ears without sounding like a juvenile delinquent. Attack an on-ramp with gusto, and the Golf R hangs on tenaciously, and then sets into a neutral drift. It’s a breeze to drive quickly, and it imparts a feeling of security, and stability, regardless of the road surface. The Golf R can boogie with the best of them, but you don’t need to be driving at 10/10ths to enjoy this car.

By the time we had to return the Golf R, I had grown seriously fond of it. Here is a machine that can carry four grown humans in comfort, but one that can also provide plenty of thrills at the local autocross or track day. It’s comfortable and entertaining daily without asking for compromise. This is a subtle car, one that reveals itself only after you get to know it a bit. It’s handsome, ultra refined and overall it feels like a grown-up that hasn’t forgotten how to have fun.

While the Civic Type R reminds us of the kid having a temper tantrum in the grocery store for attention, the Golf R is the manager of that store, looking forward to the long ride home.

After a while, the $40K price tag starts to seem reasonable.

David S. Wallens David S. Wallens
Editorial Director

The Golf R kind of reminds me of the old WRX STI Limited: all the cool hardware but dressed down a bit. And I’m okay with that. I like my performance a bit on the D.L. I don’t need a giant wing. Compared to the Civic Type R, the Golf R is downright sedate.

The VW’s ride is a little stiff, though. I’d put it more or less on par with a BRZ fitted with the SSC suspension kit–Eibachs and Konis. The Golf’s shifter feels rubbery, too, and I’ll echo the others in that maybe the DSG would be the better option here.

The seats are bolstered but not overly bolstered. The gauge display looks Benz-like, and I mean that in a good way.

There’s a bit of turbo lag, but then it comes on strong. Did I mention that the shifter feel like it’s mounted in butter?

Regarding the just-announced color options for 2019: What, no Harlequin option!? Our local dealer had one. But I guess the fact that it sat on their lot for a long time more or less answers my question.

So, Golf R, Focus RS, Type R or WRX STI? First, isn’t it great to have so many options? Or do you stretch the budget for a BMW M240i? Or do you save a few bucks and go with an MX-5 or BRZ? Mustang GT instead?

In the end, and as usual, JG is right: This one is aimed at the VW fan. Give the people what they want. If you’re looking for the ultimate VW, you won’t even consider the others. The biggest decision, assuming you can wait for the 2019 model, might be which color to get.

Join Free Join our community to easily find more articles.
Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
captdownshift
captdownshift PowerDork
9/4/18 2:03 p.m.

Now available in 40 colours, every fanboi will select Nimbus Grey. 

wearymicrobe
wearymicrobe UberDork
9/4/18 2:10 p.m.
captdownshift said:

Now available in 40 colours, every fanboi will select Nimbus Grey. 

Lambo purple and green is the color I keep hearing getting ordered up north. I see no reason why that would not happen here. 

I love the metallic pink. "Fresh Fuchsia Metallic"

 

 

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
9/4/18 2:15 p.m.

It's too bad it's such a boring looking car. 

Tom_Spangler
Tom_Spangler PowerDork
9/4/18 2:24 p.m.
z31maniac said:

It's too bad it's such a boring looking car. 

That's what I like about it, actually.

eastsideTim
eastsideTim UltraDork
9/4/18 2:34 p.m.
captdownshift said:

Now available in 40 colours, every Dealer will select Nimbus Grey. 

Fixed that for you...

Run_Away
Run_Away Dork
9/4/18 2:34 p.m.

$43k golf?!

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
9/4/18 3:33 p.m.

In reply to Run_Away :

It really feels more like an Audi than a VW.....if that helps you justify it.   There is no lack of technology or luxury.    

Suprf1y
Suprf1y UltimaDork
9/4/18 3:36 p.m.
Run_Away said:

$43k golf?!

My thoughts as well

irish44j
irish44j UltimaDork
9/4/18 3:43 p.m.
Run_Away said:

$43k golf?!

I'm in the market for a new car in the next year and will likely go for the GTI over the R. Why? Because at the end of the year you can find GTI SE (with LSD) at my local dealers for under $25k - while the R's at end of year still go for upper 30s. Not sure the performance (and much worse fuel economy) is worth $15k. For that matter you can still get a WRX for just over $25k or an STi for low 30s with similar performance to the Golf R, at least around here. 

I like what the Golf R offers, but compared to the regular GTI SE, it looks like a bit of a ripoff unless you're a fanboi, with the GTI looking like a bargain.

But, as a current WRX owner, I'll almost certainly be going GTI by this time next year, thanks to VW's new great warranty. 

Tom_Spangler
Tom_Spangler PowerDork
9/4/18 4:09 p.m.
Run_Away said:

$43k golf?!

Well, it's basically an Audi S3 with a Golf body. Which makes it better, IMO, since they don't offer the S3 in a hatch.

Robbie
Robbie PowerDork
9/4/18 4:59 p.m.

only 1100 lbs

Chazooo
Chazooo
9/4/18 6:29 p.m.

My HPDE student just this past weekend was driving one of these and I was very impressed with the car - except for the MT which seemed vague to me and I was not driving it.  It indicated to me the DSG would be the choice to make unless you just enjoy rowing through the gears like racer boy Dan. It is not a late model Porsche 6-speed for sure.  Very nice Germanic interior, solid and rattle-free, extremely quiet so it would be a great road tripper.  In today's world is $40g a lot for a great car?

Ski_Lover
Ski_Lover
9/4/18 6:35 p.m.

1100 lbs. devil wouldn't that be nice. smiley

Feedyurhed
Feedyurhed SuperDork
9/4/18 7:24 p.m.

Now why can't Mazda offer the Miata in 40 custom colors? Or at least add a green or yellow.

Brett_Murphy
Brett_Murphy PowerDork
9/4/18 7:45 p.m.

Irish: I'm also a Subaru owner looking to possibly get into a GTI or Golf R.

The 2017 Sport model was exactly what I wanted (Plaid seats, no sunroof, LSD, 220hp) but the 2018 ditched that trim level and went straight to the SE, which has the features I want (LSD, Lighting package) and one I don't (a sunroof). It's a decent value proposition.

I've driven the Golf R and it is an absolute blast, and I absolutely prefer it to the SE but I really can't see buying one of those new and NOT getting a custom color. Which puts it so far out ahead of the SE model in price the it kind of starts to seem like a crazy idea. You're in the same price range as a brand new BMW 330, MSport package with a few options thrown in (build code DPVUXYKB)

That green, though. If I could get a GTI in that green, it would be no contest, but I could probably have a pro vinyl wrap done in that color for a fraction of the price. 

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
9/4/18 8:02 p.m.

They feel solid in a way that makes them feel heavier than they are. 

Chibana
Chibana New Reader
9/4/18 8:30 p.m.

I actually was not much of a VW fan prior to researching and buying my 2018 (Mk7.5) R.  I chose it because it's simply the best car in its class if you want a properly fast daily driver.  The Focus RS is insane all the time, and the seats are uncomfortable for long hauls and bigger guys like me.  Ride quality is ridiculous on Michigan roads.  I'm also not a big fan of the interior (I owned 2, 2012 Focus Titanium hatchbacks).  The Civic Type-R is ugly and was being marked up $8,000 at my local dealer.

I wanted AWD because my other goal is serious HP through tuning and an upgraded intercooler.  The R is a great tuner vehicle, known to be able to handle at least 400 hp without issue.  Toward that goal, I also opted for the excellent DSG transmission, because it's significantly quicker than the stick, and the difference in acceleration numbers gets bigger the more power you add to the car.  With a TCU tune, it can also handle the increased torque better than the stick.

I've had it now for about 4.5 months and 12,000 miles (yeah, I drive a lot), and it's without a doubt the best DD I've ever owned.  Hopefully the long-term reliability will match my previous DD, my 2014 Mazda3 (that my son now drives).  That car's been amazing through 127,000 miles.

pugwonk
pugwonk
9/4/18 9:19 p.m.

I'm not a VW fan (or an anything fan really) but I instructed someone at a track day who had a 2017 one of these and I drove one session in it. I was amazed by how capable this car was on track. Great handling - you can really throw the car around without feeling like anything bad is going to happen. Suspension, power, brakes all well balanced for the car. I liked the quote about a middle-aged person who still likes to have fun now and again - this is a car you can have a great track day in, and then buy a table and drive it to Alaska in cheery comfort.

84FSP
84FSP SuperDork
9/4/18 10:29 p.m.

I drove one before settling on the V.  Really Really Good.  I struggled with the price tag for VW but the performance, handling, and fit were incredible.

pointofdeparture
pointofdeparture PowerDork
9/5/18 11:47 a.m.

I was a skeptic for a long time but absolutely love my '16 GTI SE. I just hope it doesn't give me too much grief once I crest 100k. Pro tip: the shifter feel is GREATLY improved with some aftermarket delrin bushings and a replacement of the stock plastic cable guides/levers with metal. No "short shifter" needed.

I do see lots of the Rs both in real life and online so clearly there are a lot of people that feel they are worth the money spent. The GTI does everything I need/want it to for a fraction of the price though.

eastsideTim
eastsideTim UltraDork
9/5/18 12:39 p.m.

My wife likes several of the colors.  If they were optional on the GTI, it wouldn’t surprise me if she’d trade up her ‘15 to a ‘19.  I doubt she’ll be willing to spend the extra money on the R, though.

0001
0001 New Reader
9/5/18 1:22 p.m.

Started with a Sirocco in 1978, then a GTI in 1984, and back to a MK7 GTI SE/DSG in 2016. The MK7 has a stage 1 APR tune and makes 315HP and 310 Torque, which cost only $800.00.  It is a rocket. Aprox $31,000 all in. The R is an awesome car, but I struggle with that much cost increase....if it was $35,000, it would be the bargain of the century. At +$40,000, it is a tough call, but I think the GTI is much better bang for the dollar.

docwyte
docwyte SuperDork
9/9/18 11:40 a.m.

I want an R.  You have to look at them as a hatchback, 6MT version of an Audi S3, because that's exactly what they are.

It is hard to justify the additional cost vs the GTI SE, ~$15k for awd is a tough choice.  One of my friends just was in that position and decided to get the GTI SE, he bought it brand new for $25,500, so that's a screaming deal.

 

turtl631
turtl631 HalfDork
9/9/18 3:42 p.m.

I test drove a Golf R several times last year when contemplating my next daily driver. Backseat had to be kid friendly and ultimately I decided to spend more and picked up a used M3. I really enjoyed the car though, it was a nice place to be and seems like a great all-around vehicle. I feel like it's a little harder to justify the more hardcore options like the STI and the Focus RS at this point because they have fallen so far behind other cars. It was a different story in 2004 when the STI and the Evo were giant killers. the class just really hasn't Advanced that much in terms of speed, and the Golf R is such a nice place to be.  They're also pretty mod friendly, they can be made seriously quick with a tune and downpipe while remaining reliable.  That said the increased spending over a GTI is significant and it's a bit hard to justify.  I am loving this big color palette, wish more manufacturers would offer that.

Dave M
Dave M New Reader
9/9/18 4:28 p.m.
turtl631 said:

I test drove a Golf R several times last year when contemplating my next daily driver. Backseat had to be kid friendly and ultimately I decided to spend more and picked up a used M3. I really enjoyed the car though, it was a nice place to be and seems like a great all-around vehicle. I feel like it's a little harder to justify the more hardcore options like the STI and the Focus RS at this point because they have fallen so far behind other cars. It was a different story in 2004 when the STI and the Evo were giant killers. the class just really hasn't Advanced that much in terms of speed, and the Golf R is such a nice place to be.  They're also pretty mod friendly, they can be made seriously quick with a tune and downpipe while remaining reliable.  That said the increased spending over a GTI is significant and it's a bit hard to justify.  I am loving this big color palette, wish more manufacturers would offer that.

Have to disagree about the class not advancing in terms of speed: Civic Type R is faaaaaaast. Of course, it's $50k after you pay the stupid Honda dealer tax, but the last one I saw at the track was hauling ass.

turtl631
turtl631 HalfDork
9/9/18 5:39 p.m.

That's true, it's a step up. But also fwd.  

84FSP
84FSP SuperDork
9/9/18 5:49 p.m.
Tom_Spangler said:
Run_Away said:

$43k golf?!

Well, it's basically an Audi S3 with a Golf body. Which makes it better, IMO, since they don't offer the S3 in a hatch.

 

Dave M
Dave M New Reader
9/9/18 7:02 p.m.

In reply to turtl631 :

Besides the price, I would guess the stumbling price for most is the ugliness, not the FWD! 

docwyte
docwyte SuperDork
9/10/18 8:59 a.m.

In reply to Dave M :

It's nowhere near as fugly as the Civic Type R!

ThatsNoUsername
ThatsNoUsername HalfDork
9/10/18 9:26 a.m.
docwyte said:

In reply to Dave M :

It's nowhere near as fugly as the Civic Type R!

True, its horrible in real life, not much better in person.

Someone who just apparently got one tried to "race" my zx2 from a stop light recently. I wasnt gonna play so i just took off at a normal pace, he blew the shift from 1st to 2nd so badly that i "won". The horrified look from him as i passed was kinda funny

turtl631
turtl631 HalfDork
9/10/18 8:01 p.m.
docwyte said:

In reply to Dave M :

It's nowhere near as fugly as the Civic Type R!

I think Dave was referring to the Civic.  The golf r is plain but I don't think any reasonable person would call it ugly.  I think the golf package is very clean-looking, but it definitely does not look nearly as aggressive and track ready as the Focus RS, STI, and Civic Type R.

docwyte
docwyte SuperDork
9/11/18 8:53 a.m.

In reply to turtl631 :

No it doesn't but I think that's the point.  It's reasonable to lump all those cars together in a comparison as "hot hatches" but they're not the same.  I'd put the Focus RS, STi and Type R together but the Golf R is definitely built more as a GT type of hatchback vs a "Rally" bred one.

It's a far more livable, nice place to be for a DD...

Jaynen
Jaynen UltraDork
9/11/18 12:24 p.m.

Where do you see all the colors? I was unable to find but a few on the VW site

Desert 2009
Desert 2009 New Reader
9/29/18 11:17 a.m.

Unfortunately the local VW dealer here believes that the R is sprinkled with magic VW dust and tries to gouge another 5k on the MSRP. 

 

I mentioned that I could drive down the street and buy an S3 under invoice, they seemed unimpressed. 

docwyte
docwyte UltraDork
10/1/18 8:30 a.m.

In reply to Jaynen :

They're on the Canadian site.  I went to my local VW dealer Saturday to pick up some exhaust studs for my 911 Turbo (ha!) and they had the color pallette book for the 2019's.  Full sheet color swatches, which was very useful.  Several of the colors that I liked on the Canadian VW website looked nothing like what I expected in person.  The Ice Blue looked great on the web and really unremarkable in person.  I liked the Prussion Blue Metallic alot, the oranges looked pretty good and the Viper Green is wild....

Our Preferred Partners
ZBCNzKRVyt4lhyjYR36ZP0OcuWu0tg34ioJgGucvWlFxqwyV7Br6P9oxjbqpQecm