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

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.

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captdownshift GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
9/4/18 2:03 p.m.

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

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

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

Tom_Spangler GRM+ Memberand 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 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 GRM+ Memberand 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 UltimaDork
9/4/18 3:36 p.m.
Run_Away said:

$43k golf?!

My thoughts as well

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 GRM+ Memberand 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.

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