The Volkswagen Mk6 Golf R is a beautifully built five-door, five-seat hatch that's also a sports car. You might not use it to cross the Namib Desert, to tow a horsebox containing two Clydesdales or to jump through a flaming hoop, but if we look at more everyday scenarios it's hard to think of another car that does so much so well for so much of the time.
Volkswagen first used the 'R' badge as a signifier of ultimate model performance back in 2002 when the three-door R32 Mk4 Golf came out. That model, and its follow-up, deployed heavy-drinking normally aspirated six-cylinder engines. That all changed in September 2009 when VW confirmed that the R version of the new Mk6 Golf would have the EA113 TSI 2.0 turbo four motor. Though it was giving away over a litre and two cylinders to the Mk5, the 267hp Mk6 R stuffed the six-pot not just on power but also on torque, with 258lb ft of it delivered across a much wider spread between 2,500rpm and 5000rpm.
With the bonus of considerably less weight to shift, the 1,450kg Mk6 predictably blew the Mk5 VR6 into the weeds. The DSG version's 0-62 time was in the mid-fives, and just a tenth or so slower than that for the manual, and it gave much better economy too at 33mpg combined.
Like the Mk5, the Mk6 R went on sale in three- or five-door formats. The R20 name must have sounded a bit weedy in focus groups because VW dropped the number and went with the simpler, more enigmatic and conveniently non-capacity related R badge. If you believed in the concept of 'all things to all men', the new R was a dear alternative to the GTI, the premium for the badge hoisted to a daunting £7k, but the R was both faster and most would say sharper than the GTI, and it was the first of a new breed of properly fast Golfs.
The Mk6's life was quite short. You might see the odd 2013-registered car, but technically at least it was supplanted in late 2012 by the Mk7 whose 296hp/280lb ft EA888 engine (paired with the continuing 4Motion AWD chassis and the optional DSG box) gave it a 4.9sec 0-62 time and a significant uptick in all-round ability. Nevertheless, the 2010-12 Mk 6 R is the first and the most affordable Golf R you can buy.