‘Reserved in appearance, practical in shape, and so much fun to drive – for a price’, blogs Dan Scanlan.
The term “hot hatch” was born when Volkswagen put a hotter engine and more aggressive rubber and suspension in its front-wheel-drive Rabbit econobox hatchback back in 1974. Since then, many have done hot hatches – three- or five-door compacts with turbocharged Fours, a few wings and things and stickier rubber. And in a few cases, even more powerful versions have been done. Which brings us to the ‘19 Volkswagen Golf R.
At first glance, it looks like a garden variety Golf – sensible, roomy, practical and nice. But it’s what’s under that skin than counts. Born off the seventh-generation Golf first shown in 2012 and facelifted four years later, the R is only available as you see it, the only option the choice of 40 custom colors plus a Black Wheel package with 19-inch gloss-black alloy wheels. Under the hood, a turbocharged, direct-injected 2-liter in-line Four with 292 horsepower (premium fuel) at 5,400 rpm, and maximum torque of 280 pound-feet from 1,800 to 5,500 rpm.
Starting with the GTI’s 220-horsepower engine, VW engineers worked the cylinder head, exhaust valves, valve seats, springs and pistons, and added a high-pressure injection system. There are also water-cooled exhaust gas channels to the turbocharger and electronic coolant control. You can go old school with a fairly short-throw six-speed manual, or the much-loved seven-speed DSG auto. 4Motion AWD powers the front wheels in normal cruising as rear wheels decouple to save fuel. But tackle more aggressive driving and the rear wheels engage, up to 50 percent. Along with a center differential that acts longitudinally, electronic differential locks act laterally and can briefly brake a slipping wheel to transfer power to the opposite side.
So what sort-of looks like a common hatchback now digs in all four tires and launches very quickly to 60 mph in 5 seconds, and 100 in about 12. The dual-clutch DSG is a bit quicker, but I love rowing my own! This six-speed manual is a delight, precise if a bit notchy in the second-to-third gear shift if rushed. Despite all this power, we saw up to 25 mpg during highway and suburban driving.
The Golf R is actually .2-inches lower than the GTI, VW modifying the strut-type front suspension and lower control arm as well as reworking the multi-link rear suspension. It has a quick progressive variable ratio steering rack with 2.1 turns lock to lock, compared with 2.75 for less powerful Golfs. A Driving Mode Selection switch next to the shift lever has “Normal,” “Individual,” “Eco,” and a “Race” mode. These modify suspension, steering, engine, the adaptive lighting, smart cruise and climate control.
“Eco” does dumb down the throttle a bit and back off a/c, but leaves the Golf R frisky enough for daily use. It also softens the ride, but remains quickly supple, just softening bump impacts. “Normal” gives a bit more throttle response and a more agile ride. “Race” mode gives fastest engine response, stiffer shocks, tighter steering and backed-off stability control. My favorite, it made the Golf R a very agile, quick and responsive hot hatch with a nice exhaust snarl that wasn’t overpowering, bumps and potholes handled with very quick, tight-yet-buffered rebound. It was also a confident, stable hoot to drive.
The Continental rubber gripped beautifully on our almost-6,000-mile-old test car, and the R was neutral as we powered through decreasing radius highway entrance ramps with minimal lean and great grip. There was no loss of grip as we tackled tighter turns, the 4Motion transferring power front to rear and side-to-side as needed. We’d just point it and power though, steering accurate with tons of feedback as we zipped around corners with no drama.
On the skidpad, there was a hint of understeer in “Race” mode, just pulling through with a bit of body roll, a hint of understeer due to stability control backing off. Tapping the stability/traction control button for more than three seconds deactivated it, cool since Golfs have no defeat for that. The Golf R’s GTI Performance Package-sourced binders were 13.4-inch front and 12.2-inch rear vented discs, a very responsive brake pedal that hauled us down quickly with no fade evident after multiple hard stops with minimal nosedive.
Now stand back and gaze at the R, and there’s just about the same profile Golfs have had for decades – five-door box. The space between and below the LED headlights with L-shaped LED DRLs is more aggressive, a redesigned bumper with large center intake and side inlets in gloss black over a body-color air dam with black side winglets.
The R is also 56.5-inches tall vs. the stock Golf’s 57.2-inch height, due to a lowered suspension and 10-spoke satin silver and gloss gray alloy wheels on P235/35/19-inch Continental ContiSport performance rubber. There are black-painted brake calipers with the “R” logo. Body badging is subtle – “R” badges on front fenders and a larger “R” on the tail. The rest is basic VW Golf – this isn’t an aggressive, winged and scooped – it’s subtle.
Inside, a thin blue line lit in the alloy door kick plates, then subtly sporty changes to the well laid-out, well made VW cockpit under padded black. Firm and nicely supportive black leather bucket seats hold you in well, although I’d like a bit more side bolstering. The driver gets 12-way power adjustment, facing a flat-bottom, leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with a neat chrome “R” logo on its lower spoke. Interior trim gets a carbon fiber-like accent with buff alloy underneath; the panels on the doors adding a thin lit blue strip. That steering wheel offers controls for audio, navigation, adaptive cruise control and a full-width digital gauge package with 200-mph speedometer and 8,000-rpm (6,500-rpm redline) tach. Economy info can be shown inside main gauges, while the central section can scroll through audio, navigation, car settings, performance and more. The central dash is topped with an eight-inch touchscreen, all main buttons part of its smooth glass surface that access map and main menu items for radio, phone, navigation and performance settings. The system also has a USB port, Bluetooth, SiriusXM radio and Travel Link weather, sports, gas and more. Car-Net App-Connect smartphone integration offers Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. The 8-speaker/400-watt Fender sound system was powerful and clear, with a great sub woofer. The back seat has decent head and legroom for two, with center armrest. The seat-backs split and fold 60/40 to expand a usable 22.8-cubic-foot cargo area. Due to all-wheel-drive, there’s no under-floor storage space.
A base ‘19 Volkswagen Golf 1.8T starts at $20,910 with 147-horsepower engine, while a base GTI starts at $26,415. Our ‘19 Golf R starts at $39,785 with standard six-speed manual transmission and everything else standard. With delivery, it was $40,635. The seven-speed DSG automatic version starts at $41,495. Some serious car guy buddies said as much as they loved the R, it was a bit pricey. Check one out and you decide!
For more information about the 2019 Volkswagen Golf R, please visit https://www.vw.com/models/golf-r/section/overview/