- Available from £15,000
- 2.0-litre EA888, all-wheel drive
- Superb do-it-all performance hatch
- Comes as an estate as well, but can look tired
- Strong on quality and reliability
- Wider choice (and better value?) than Mk6 R
Put an R on the bootlid of a car and, with the possible exception of the Suzuki Wagon R, you pretty much know you're going to be in for a good time. The Volkswagen Golf R is no exception. They've been around since 2002, when the Mk 4 R32 first combined a narrow-angle V6 with Haldex-type 4Motion all-wheel drive to deliver a great mix of high-traction performance and practicality. Moody twin-tailpipe styling sealed the deal for a rather larger number of people than Volkswagen was expecting, establishing the R model as a range-topper in every Golf range since.
The over-chromey, fake-diffuser Mk 5 Golf R of 2006 that followed the first R was a slight mis-step by VW, but in small 'g' golfing terms that bogey was followed by a birdie in the 2010 Mk 6 R. We did a buyer's guide on that car back in May. Unlike most heavily-drivetrained AWD cars it was a beautifully balanced package of dynamism, comfort and handling precision, thanks in no small measure to the weight reduction made possible by the binning of the big old V6 in favour of a turbocharged 2.0 litre four engine producing 267hp. That made it good for a 0-62 time of 5.7sec, or 5.5sec with the DSG twin-clutch tranny.
The Mk 7 R which we'll be looking at today picked up that sweet Mk 6 baton and ran with it. Announced in 2013, it arrived in the UK in March 2014 with a 300hp/280lb ft version of the EA888 engine and a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG twin-clutch transmissions. Although its engine spec numbers were well below those of the equivalent cars from BMW (316hp) and Mercedes (355bhp), a Golf R would easily keep up with a 911 Carrera over the 0-62mph run. As accomplished on the motorway as it was on a minor road, the R was in many ways the definitive do-everything hot hatch.
At £29,900 new, the R hatch wasn't that much more expensive than the 230hp Golf GTI Performance at nearly £26,000, but the R's extra driven wheels along with its brilliantly judged suspension setup and plumptious specification took all the pain and more out of the R premium. A DSG-only estate version was added to the range in summer 2015, but the cabrio that was part of the Mk6 R offering wasn't repeated in the 7.
In 2016 a Mk 7.5 refresh appeared with a mildly updated front and rear, LED lights, sweepy indicators, digital instrumentation, a new infotainment system and the engine out of the limited edition GTI Clubsport S, which meant a 10hp power lift to 310hp and a reduction in the 0-62 time to 4.8sec for the manual or 4.6sec with the DSG. Note however that cars from the end of 2018 on were dialled back to 300hp to get the R through new WLTP emissions regs.
The £2,300 Performance Pack that came out in November 2017 was designed to add track pace and consistency. It included bigger (but overall lighter by 2kg) brakes with pads that didn't go off as much with heat buildup. These PP brakes are identifiable by their silver calipers bearing an R logo. The Performance Pack also added 20kg extra downforce to the hatch via a rear roof spoiler. It also deactivated the 155mph limiter to give a new maximum speed of 166mph, or 168mph in the estate.
Released at the same time, and also for the hatch only, was the £2,975 option of a less restrictive titanium Akrapovic exhaust system that was 7kg lighter than the standard system. By this time, the price of the standard Golf R stood at £32,710, with the estate costing from £35,700.
At the time of writing the 320hp Mk 8 Golf R was due to be launched in early November, the day before Bonfire Night in fact, but you don't need to spend what is likely to be serious money on one of those when you can get all the fireworks you could reasonably need in a Mk 7 R from as little as £15,000.
SPECIFICATION | 2014-2020 VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R (MK 7)
Engine: 1,984cc inline four 16v turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 7-speed DSG automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@5,500-6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@1,800-5,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.1sec (man), 4.9sec (DSG); 7.5 refresh 4.8sec/4.6sec)
Top speed: 155mph
MPG (official combined): 39.8 (32.8 for post-WLTP DSGs)
Wheels: 18in (19in option)
On sale: 2014-20
Price new: £29,900
Price now: from £15,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The Mk 6 R's EA113 TFSI engine had its share of issues. Unlike the EA133, the EA888 TSi engine did its timing by chain rather than belt. There's no set lifespan for these chains but you should get at least 100,000 miles out of one, and if the chain falls out of the adjustment window a check engine light should come on. Chain tensioners are rather better known for failing.
Most direction-injection engines are susceptible to carbon buildup on the intake valves but we think that the gen-3 EA888 in the Mk 7 Golf R may have had port injection to help counteract this problem. On the road this is a smooth, urgent and well judged unit. Maximum torque runs from 1,800rpm to 5,500rpm, at which point the power peak takes over to carry you on past 6,000rpm. It will easily rev beyond its 6,500rpm redline to the limiter at around 6,800rpm and deliver really strong performance and good fuel efficiency at the same time. Nearly 40mpg was the official figure for the first cars but high 20s to low 30s is going to be more normal for the sort of use an R will typically be put to.
Some engines have been reported as using half a litre of oil every thousand miles, or less than that, or indeed more than that. Which one of those it is may be down to how it was run in. Poor idling, lower performance and higher fuel consumption could be down to problems with the PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) hoses and/or valves. Left unattended, these faults can cause the rear main crank seal to fail, but changing the valve is a five minute job. Check your PCV system by pulling out the oil dipstick while the engine is running. If it starts to run roughly and then smooths out again when you put the dipstick back in, your PCV is in good shape.
R timing chains have been known to snap and turbos have been known to fail, but in common with most other cars of the modern age most of the problems you'll encounter - if you encounter any, because these are generally very reliable and sturdy cars - are more likely to be electrical than mechanical.
On the transmission front, you could choose between a six-speed manual or a six-speed twin-clutch DSG that was upgraded to seven-speeds in 2017, lopping around 800rpm off engine revs in top gear and incidentally making the 'sport;' mode somewhat more usable than it was on the relatively manic 6-speed. The DSG is super-responsive and will quickly drop down a couple of cogs even on light pedal pressures. Some found the 7-speeder to be a bit too keen to change up in order to keep the revs (and fuel consumption) down when pottering, leading to a feeling of 'lugging' on inclines, but the feeling you get from forums is that most saw the 7-speeder as an improvement.
To the disappointment of many and the surprise of no-one the manual box was discontinued in 2018. One commonly held view is that the DSG is better suited to the car anyway, although there's really not much in it once you've sussed out the narrowness of the manual's gate. You should be very happy with either. The transmission choice was much more evenly split between manual and DSG in the three-door cars than it was in the fives, where the overwhelming majority of buyers went for the DSG. Taking in the whole gamut of Rs there were around two DSGs for every manual.
This generation of DSG is less trouble-prone than earlier ones but you might still experience slightly harsh 1-2 upshifts when cold. Fluid and filters should be changed every 40,000 miles. A VW dealer may ask up to £300 for that, but at an independent the bill should always be well under £200.
The Haldex system drives only the front wheels until they lose traction, at which point power is fed to the rears. In combination with the electronic braking that helped to control side-to-side grip it's a great design that works just as well in hard driving on dry roads as it does in slippery conditions. It's always good advice to check that the system is actually working, as some Golf Rs have been known to lose drive to the rear. Before assuming that the Haldex pump has died (which can happen) check that the AWD control module fuse is OK and then that the connector to the Haldex pump is still in place. Be careful taking your 2WD car to a dealer as they may simply replace the entire back end gubbins at vast expense. Once you're satisfied it's all good, have it serviced on a three-yearly/30,000-mile basis.
Talking of servicing, 12 month/10,000 mile minors will cost you around £250, 24 month/20,000 mile majors around £400. Fixed price servicing is available at VW dealers for all models between 3 and 15 years old. Up to now it hasn't been legally necessary to have servicing work done by a recognised dealer to preserve the warranty or for any other reason, because EU block exemption rules say that the car can be maintained, serviced and repaired by any registered garage and you can't be penalised in the event of a warranty claim if you have the paperwork to show that the correct parts have been used.
Not sure how things will be by this time next year but as it stands you can do the Haldex service yourself in half an hour with a bottle of G-060-175-A2 oil. Otherwise a VW dealer will charge you around £70. Recalls were done to rectify problems with the ESP and anti-lock braking systems. Stop/start sensors can go AWOL.
Tell your disinterested mate that the Golf they're looking at is great fun to drive and they might hoist a quizzical eyebrow. After all, it's only a Golf innit. But underneath its buttoned-down Brooks Brothers look the R really is a hoot. Many believe that the R chassis is more talkative than that of its close relative the Audi S3. It uses the electrically-assisted progressive steering rack from the GTI. Although it's not nervously quick or overflowing with feedback, the steering is accurate, light for parking, nicely weighty at speed and less upset by road lumps than something like (say) a Focus ST.
If your car has the Adaptive Chassis Control (or Dynamic Chassis Control to avoid the self-inflicted confusion caused by VW using the same ACC acronym for its Adaptive Cruise Control), you'll be able to adjust steering weight along with damping and throttle mapping via one of the three suspension modes: Comfort, Normal and Race. Standard R driving profiles are Eco, Normal, Race and Individual, the last of which will allow you to select Race for throttle and steering and Comfort for damping. That's a good mix for British roads. For (attempted) clarity, Dynamic Chassis Control isn't there to give you additional options on top of the standard driver profile choices. It constantly monitors and adjusts the suspension to suit the profile selected, your driving style and the road conditions. 'Normal' with DCC, for example, feels different to 'Normal' without DCC. Some owners have reported fritzing drive mode buttons.
There was a 19in Pretoria wheel option for the R that was desirable but also known for disliking potholes. Fitting softer-sidewall tyres like Michelin Pilot Sport 4s or Eagle F1s might lend a little extra protection, otherwise replacing a buckled Pretoria will cost you about £800. A recall was issued for wheel bearing failure. Avon ZV7 tyres are worth considering as a surprisingly good low-cost choice.
The electrically regulated Dynamic Chassis Control dampers that were also available on the Mk 6 proved to be a bit of a liability over time as they were given to leaking and expensive to fix, plus the DCC ride in the sportiest mode was notably firm. Knocking from the front suspension is not unheard of, especially when the car is cold.
In the regular hatch shape you could have your R in three or five-door format. Three doors used to be the default choice for a sporty look, but over time VW seems to have visually equalised the two bodystyles and as we've all got fatter these days the ease of entry and added practicality of five doors might edge you in that direction. Certainly when new five-door Rs outnumbered three-doors by a ratio of four to one. The 3-door was dropped from 2019 onwards because of 'lack of demand'.
Either way, the R's understated look will either delight or disappoint depending on what sort of a person you are. Even quite close up, a non-car geek would be forgiven for not realising this is the top end Golf, the quad exhaust tips being the biggest clue. If you want in-yer-face styling the Civic Type R is over there.
Xenon headlights were standard, and for more than a few owners so were squeaking door rubbers. Gummi Pflege seal lubricant in a handy 100ml roll-on was the usual answer to that. The driver's seat can creak too, and the auto up/down operation of the front windows on both sides might play up. The fix for that was to fully close the window and hold the switch in the auto-up position for a second until you heard a faint click in the door.
We take the Golf's space, practicality and quality for granted these days, and things have improved with every new iteration. The R's ambience is on the sober side of exciting, but the high quality of Golf kit meant that you got extra class in the R simply by virtue of having more of it.
Even the more plasticky materials on display are in no way offensive and the way it all fits together is impressive. So is the R's infotainment thanks to a good sound system and a nicely intuitive touchscreen that you can steam straight into without needing to refer to the handbook, which as we all know is the last refuge of a scoundrel. 2016-on facelift 7.5s had the revised setup we mentioned earlier with 'virtual cockpit' digital instrumentation and an uprated high-res nav system with phone connection for traffic info and the like. For £1,300 that could be upgraded again to a 9in screen with gesture control although it's a backward step because you lost the physical (and useful) volume and zoom knobs.
If we must nitpick, at 340-1,233 litres the R's boot is 37 litres smaller than that of a non-AWD Golf, and not everyone gets on famously with the Golf R driving position, the relationship between the pedals and the wheels not always feeling bang-on. You may have to decide on having comfortable legs or comfortable arms as it may not be possible to have both at the same time. Try before you buy.
Even a leggy Mk 4 R32 will cost you at least £7,000 nowadays, and good ones go well into five figures. Mk 6 Golf Rs aren't cheap either at £11,000-£13,000 for middle-of-the-road cars and £18,000-plus for low-milers, their values having been kept buoyant by relative rarity - the Mk 6 R production line didn't run for much more than a couple of years.
Against these prices, the £15,000 start point for a Mk7 R seems very reasonable. The number of Mk 7 Rs that flooded onto the leasing market when it was new means that there is no shortage of used specimens now. Many of them were in very attractive shades of blue, but not many were massively optioned up, partly because the standard spec was generous to start with and also maybe because fleet managers didn't want to pay the high prices being asked for extras, like £2.5k for leather. R estates are in plentiful supply at prices from £17k to around £32k for effectively new minimal-mileage cars, but some of the cheaper wagons do tend to look a bit more 'used' than hatches of the same age.
Let's have a squint at what's on offer in the good old PH Classifieds. At the bottom of the heap price wise, but still looking nice and fresh in red and wearing its 64,000 miles very well is this early 2014 3-door manual at £15,000. If you want a 'power-up' 310hp R there's plenty of choice. Here's a blue 2017 5-door DSG with the rare leather for £23,450.
Finally, something a bit special. These cars are still prime targets for thieves, so you might want to load up on every sort of security gizmo you can think of. This privately owned 2016 3-door in black with leather has a wired-in dash cam so you record the lads as they try to crash into you on the roundabout. They'd need to stop you to catch you too because it's Revo stage 2 spec with 400hp and 405lb ft, a new clutch, Pretoria 19in alloys and a short-shift gearchange. Nae bad at all at £18,500.
1 / 8