The Germans like their anniversaries, and one of the more recent is the 20th anniversary of Volkswagen’s Golf R, the company’s hyper-extended take on the Golf GTI. To commemorate those 20 years, VW recently announced a limited Golf R 20th Anniversary Edition for its North American market, with roughly 1800 units to be built. The anniversary model will offer a 6-speed manual trans (a configuration unique to North America), a sunroof delete, gloss black 19-inch wheels and carbon fiber interior appointments.
We took this look at the Golf R exactly four years ago, and while that Mk7 Golf has morphed into the Mk8, most of these observations would still apply. And remember, you ‘R’ what you drive.
The German School in Potomac, Maryland offers a K-12 curriculum for both German kids – whose parents are posted in the DC area – and those U.S. children wanting to build a real connection to Germany’s language and culture. My son, having been posted to Germany with the U.S. Army, has that connection. And with his son, now five, having been born in Germany, he wants to grow that connection. German language classes at the Potomac school are one way, and while its ‘tuition’ is $40K, Volkswagen’s Golf R is another.
If you’re reading this in Texas, any iteration of Volkswagen’s Golf is difficult to identify; behind a F-Series Ford or Chevy Silverado they’re hard to see. In the Mid-Atlantic it’s easier. The Golf’s right-size footprint makes it agile in the congestion that is the Eastern seaboard, where there are far fewer pickups populating the freeways and side streets. You see the standard Golfs and GTIs in roughly equal number, while the Golf R – the hottest hatch in the lineup – is seen only sporadically. Part of that, of course, is that $40K tuition, while part – we’ll guess – is perception. For your $40K there are a suddenly a lot of other choices, including the Lexus IS 300, Alfa’s new Giulia and Genesis’ about-to-be-launched G70. But those three are warm 4-doors, while the Golf R is the overheated hatch.
Visual differentiation between the Golf R and its GTI stablemates is subtle. But get to the numbers and the ‘R’ occupies a whole different zip code. Whereas the ‘cooking’ GTI delivers 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque (wholly respectable from 2.0 liters of turbocharged four), the R-spec ups that to 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque from the same displacement; that’s HOLY respectable.
And if you think all that power plays havoc with the front wheels, the Golf R judiciously (as in ‘court appearance’) distributes the power to all four wheels via Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive. It’s the automotive equivalent of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing where everyone stays seated and pays attention, while a GTI – if your foot is put fully into the powerband on a slick or marginal surface – quickly becomes Lindsey Graham. And regardless of political leanings, in a hot German hatch you don’t want to be Lindsey Graham.
Connecting the power under the hood to the wheels is either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed DSG automatic; out test vehicle was equipped with the latter, and we weren’t disappointed. Again, given the Golf R’s urban and suburban mission I’m good with the automatic, as it has an immediacy that’s more efficient than I am. And if you want to be more involved, the up/down can be negotiated with the paddle shifters at 9:00 and 3:00.
You can also dial up or down the entertainment with three drive modes – Eco, Normal and Race. And I’m not sure why there’s Eco on a Golf R; that’s rather like living in 8.000 square feet of McMansion and keeping the thermostats set at 80 – or in the winter, 60. Taking the personalization a few steps further is the adaptive chassis with three settings, perfect for vacillating between hyper and hemorrhoidal.
Again, outside there’s little to differentiate your roughly $15K in additional monies over a base GTI. Inside, the Golf R gives you leather-covered sport buckets, and while I like leather, my preference would be for the Clark Plaid found in the base GTI, but that’s not an option. What is optional is a rainbow of special hues available on the ’19 Golf R, for an outlay of $2,500. That, of course, is cheap in the world of bespoke, as any Rolls, Bentley or Porsche dealer would tell you. Politely.
In sum, don’t compare the Golf R option to buying a more basic GTI, as the price differential will drive you nuts. Better, we think, to regard it as an alternative to BMW’s M2 or Alfa’s Giulia Quadrifoglio. Of course, it doesn’t deliver all that is available from the M2 or Giulia Quad, but in real world driving it’s gonna come close. And in coming close, you may avoid jail. And that’d be nice…