RE: 2021 Volkswagen Golf R | UK Review

RE: 2021 Volkswagen Golf R | UK Review

Tuesday 23rd February

2021 Volkswagen Golf R | UK Review

After what seems like an eternity, the Mk8 Golf R has finally landed in the UK. Should you buy one?



If nobody told you about the new four-wheel drive system, you'd think Volkswagen hadn't really bothered with the Mk8 Golf R at all. And why would it? The previous model was a phenomenon, as unbroken as any affordable performance car of the last decade. It was good to drive and better to use daily, but it was those inescapable sub-ยฃ300 a month lease deals that made it so feverishly sought-after. British roads crawl with Mk7 Golfs with those quad exhausts.

Volkswagen wasn't about to throw out that winning formula. That's why this new Golf R still uses the EA888 2.0-litre turbo engine that, it seems, simply refuses to die (it was first introduced back in 2007, although it's now in evo4 guise having been continually overhauled during its decade and a half in production) and, just like the previous model during its twilight years, the only gearbox is a seven-speed DSG and you have to put up with five doors.

It still looks relatively discreet for a car with such giant-killing potential (on the right road, at least), except that the Mk8 Golf is generally a fussier and less effortlessly handsome car than the model that came before it. You get only a little more power, now up to 320hp, although torque has risen by around 10 per cent to 310lb ft. Just like before, your Golf R will come on 18-inch wheels unless you pay extra for 19s.


The changes within the cabin are far more obvious, this latest version proudly showing off its pair of shimmering digital displays. There are annoyances in this cockpit, although for the most part it feels upmarket, spacious and well-built. The GTI's red accents make way for blue touches everywhere - on the seats, the mood lighting, the infotainment icons, the little slivers pressed into the dashboard and steering wheel, the stitching... You'll have to be unperturbed by that particular colour if you're to use this car daily. Diehard Liverpool FC fans should look elsewhere.

The seating position is good without being great, the seats are both comfortable and supportive and, in a welcome departure, the DSG paddles are more substantial than the tiny gearshift ears you'll find in a GTI. These ones actually peer at you from behind the steering wheel rather than cower behind its spokes.

Many buyers will inevitably tick the box on the options list marked 'R-Performance Package', because it sounds like the sort of box one should tick - never mind that it'll add ยฃ2,000 to the asking price of your already ยฃ39,270 Golf R. You'll get bigger wheels, a more prominent rear spoiler, a 168mph top speed rather than a hard limiter at 155mph, plus two additional driving modes. The first is configured specifically for the Nurburgring while the second is labelled - tellingly - 'Drift'.


That's a Golf R first. Mk7 owners will be scratching their heads at that. What's a drift? Something continents do over time? And therein lies the only meaningful dynamic limitation of a supremely capable car - its four-wheel drive system was the inexpressive front-biased sort, the kind that would only send a little torque to rear when it absolutely had to.

I used a Mk7 Golf R for a year and came away thinking there was no other performance car for the money that did a better job of marrying comfort, serenity and usability with genuine sports car-baiting B-road performance. But its reluctant four-wheel drive system really did put a cap on how much fun it was to drive when you grabbed it by the scruff. It was like that otherwise witty and entertaining mate who calls time at 10pm rather than lining up the tequilas.

For the record, a Drift mode I can do without (our test car was a non R-Performance Pack model - as all the first ones are). I just don't know where or when you'd actually use it. And nor do I think you'd ever drive a car like this so aggressively that it would actually slide on the public highway. Nonetheless, I am pleased this Golf R is able to have a drift mode at all. It tells us the most pertinent thing about it - its four-wheel drive system is much more sophisticated than the last.


It isn't quite so front-biased for one thing, and for another it now features a standard-fit torque vectoring differential between the rear wheels, which can, in theory, send all available torque to the outside rear corner. That fact alone should make the Golf R a much more involving and less frustrating car at and around the limit of grip.

We'll come back to that in a moment. Elsewhere, the turbo engine is crisp and responsive, feeling more muscular now through the mid-range. The rorty sound it makes (in Race mode, at least) is augmented and piped-in, but it's convincing enough. Meanwhile, the DSG gearbox is almost too slick and clean in the way it switches from one ratio to the next. It works so efficiently that you find yourself craving just a little more drama. There's no doubting this is a very rapid car, but the powertrain feels so unstressed you actually long for more power still.

Volkswagen hasn't suddenly forgotten how these cars are mostly used, which is why it remains effortless in normal driving, quiet and refined at speed and comfortable just to be in. With Dynamic Chassis Control (adaptive dampers; a ยฃ785 option) the ride is very good, the softest setting actually too squidgy for even very poor surfaces. You're offered no fewer than 15 individual settings and for a stretch of Oxfordshire B-road that ties many other performance cars in knots, setting five was just about spot on.


There is a meatiness to the steering now that I don't remember from the previous car and don't particularly care for, although I wonder now if it's simply to do with the fatter steering wheel. It wasn't related to any of the driving modes. I think the old car's fleet-footedness has been lost slightly as well, this one feeling a little lazier on its springs. In every other respect, however, this new Golf R is far more rewarding to drive enthusiastically than the previous one.

It mightn't steer with the clarity of the last Golf R, but somehow you know precisely how much grip there is to lean on. And it's always bundles of the stuff. As you approach a bend, you have this intuitive sense of how hard the tyres will bite into the road surface, and the instant you tip the car into that bend, feeling the front end tuck neatly in towards the apex, that intuitive sense is borne out. Some cars are so numb they keep you at arm's length, daring you to push them a little harder. Others draw you in right away, keeping nothing from you. This Golf R is one of those.

As you guide it into faster, sweeping turns, you feel it roll just a little, which allows you to feel the grip build down the side of the car. The result of all this is that you hammer along in this machine just about as fast as it will go. The grip it generates seems to be concocted up in the chassis somewhere, not by four needlessly fat and uncompromising tyres. As a result, this is the kind of car you drive with confidence and assuredness.


There's some adjustability in the chassis as well, a playfulness that the previous model wouldn't recognise. At the apex it feels neutral rather than pushy, and when you stand on the power it fires itself through to the exit with much more positivity. It mightn't be sliding, but it is pushing itself along from its rear outside corner rather than scrabbling away at the front. You find yourself getting back on the power earlier and earlier because of it.

Meanwhile, the brakes are strong and the pedal itself progressive and well-measured, which hasn't often been the case with quick Volkswagens. A little has been lost compared to the old Golf R - that feeling of it being up on tippy toes; some lucidity in the steering - but thanks in the most part to a far more effective four-wheel drive system, this is the most engaging Golf R yet.


SPECIFICATION | VW GOLF R (MK8)

Engine: 1,984cc, four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 7-speed DSG auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 320@5,200-6,600rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@2,100-5,350rpm
0-62mph: 4.7 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (or 168mph with R-Performance Package)
Weight: 1551kg DIN
MPG: 36.2 (WLTP)
CO2: 177g/km (WLTP)
Price: ยฃ39,270

Author
Discussion

justa1972

Original Poster:

199 posts

100 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
Where's the Video ?!

ajap1979

4,617 posts

150 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
Sounds great. Looking forward to some group tests.

Drive Blind

3,837 posts

140 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
uh-oh another VW Golf article

incoming...

hehe

David87

5,799 posts

175 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
Good to know the crims will get to enjoy a better four-wheel drive system whilst running from the police. thumbup

Stoned

26 posts

92 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
The new R model, fast, good looking, capable, and in every way the sensible choice... but I'd still choose the older and slower Mk5 R32 with that gorgeous vr6 engine because it just has so much more character

culpz

4,602 posts

75 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
Well, i really like the look of it. Certainly no complaints from me.

Nimerino

213 posts

76 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
I was really hoping this would be bad. But having owned a Mk.7 with a manual, I can’t see myself getting this. The wife would undoubtedly love it, but I wouldn’t be as tempted to steal it for early-morning drives to work. Doubly silly when you realise it comes with the option of a manual in the States.

ogrodz

144 posts

83 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
I have the 310PS manual (2018) - last of the manuals. No incentive to change to this new model - although the estate version looks like it might be homologated for a towbar, which in my view is the only thing my Golf R lacks. The ability to tow a sailing dinghy / jetski etc.. together with manual (for the driving engagement) would make a new GolfR 8 estate attractive - but without the manual I am not persuaded.

AlexMG

74 posts

110 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all


And the number from drive the deal is 6k off the list price....

AshD

160 posts

212 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
ogrodz said:
I have the 310PS manual (2018) - last of the manuals. No incentive to change to this new model - although the estate version looks like it might be homologated for a towbar, which in my view is the only thing my Golf R lacks. The ability to tow a sailing dinghy / jetski etc.. together with manual (for the driving engagement) would make a new GolfR 8 estate attractive - but without the manual I am not persuaded.
I had a 2015 296PS manual...and was all up for getting the new one...until i found out it only has 2 pedals.

Might have to go hunting for a 7.5 310PS manual with low mileage to keep into the future.

Mouse Rat

1,058 posts

55 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
justa1972 said:
Where's the Video ?!
Police Interceptors, Channel 5, 8PM on Monday's

CrippsCorner

1,960 posts

144 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
That R-Performance Package sounds like terrible value to be honest; I definitely wouldn't be adding that. Overall a bit underwhelming I think. The Mk7 still looks better, and even the new R badge is worse lol. Interior looks okay.

Anyway for me I would only ever choose a manual 3 door, so I'm the wrong person for this car and I fully accept that. Looks wise I do like a fast estate though, so even though still auto, it maybe able to win me over; I loved the last one!

cerb4.5lee

17,803 posts

143 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
Mouse Rat said:
justa1972 said:
Where's the Video ?!
Police Interceptors, Channel 5, 8PM on Monday's
hehe

SDK

91 posts

216 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
Looks and sounds like a great car.
That basic RRP though eek Add leather, 19 wheels and a few other options which should be standard and it's £44k.

The new S3 is actually cheaper confused

ghost83

4,396 posts

153 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
It’s too expensive imo it’s very easy to get it over 40k and into the higher tax bracket!

The mk7 was priced well at mid 30s and could easily get 5k off it.

Also I had 3 attempts on my mk7 I wouldn’t put my family through that again

And imo it doesn’t look anywhere near as nice as the mk7/7.5

So whilst I’m sure it will be popular it’s not for me


airhawk1

18 posts

93 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
The new AWD system sounds like a very welcome improvement.

I've always been surprised that more tuners haven't tried fiddling with the Haldex tuning.

Is it just too tricky to get right? Or perhaps the limitations have been solely the hardware?

Surely you could persuade the Mk7 Haldex to send more torque rearwards (obviously without the benefit of the clever new torque vectoring rear diff)?

jonosterman

61 posts

55 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
airhawk1 said:
The new AWD system sounds like a very welcome improvement.

I've always been surprised that more tuners haven't tried fiddling with the Haldex tuning.

Is it just too tricky to get right? Or perhaps the limitations have been solely the hardware?

Surely you could persuade the Mk7 Haldex to send more torque rearwards (obviously without the benefit of the clever new torque vectoring rear diff)?
As I understood it there's only so much you could do with the Mk7 Haldex, as there was an open diff on the rear axle and even with the clutch fully locked up, you've just locked the rears to the fronts speed-wise (with all the inherent chassis wind-up problems).

To get a proper rear biased feel you'd need to be able to overspeed the rear axle which would require additional hardware (e.g. Focus RS Mk3 and A45 S).

All VW's talk of "even greater rear bias" in everything prior to the Mk8 was marketing nonsense and only really applied if the fronts were in the air or on ice.

Legacywr

8,784 posts

151 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
SDK said:
Looks and sounds like a great car.
That basic RRP though eek Add leather, 19 wheels and a few other options which should be standard and it's £44k.

The new S3 is actually cheaper confused
I spec’d one up, it came to over 50k!

culpz

4,602 posts

75 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
ghost83 said:
It’s too expensive imo it’s very easy to get it over 40k and into the higher tax bracket!

The mk7 was priced well at mid 30s and could easily get 5k off it.

Also I had 3 attempts on my mk7 I wouldn’t put my family through that again

And imo it doesn’t look anywhere near as nice as the mk7/7.5

So whilst I’m sure it will be popular it’s not for me
Read above. DTD is already offering 14.5% discount, which brings the price into the low 30's.

airhawk1

18 posts

93 months

Tuesday 23rd February
quotequote all
jonosterman said:
As I understood it there's only so much you could do with the Mk7 Haldex, as there was an open diff on the rear axle and even with the clutch fully locked up, you've just locked the rears to the fronts speed-wise (with all the inherent chassis wind-up problems).

To get a proper rear biased feel you'd need to be able to overspeed the rear axle which would require additional hardware (e.g. Focus RS Mk3 and A45 S).

All VW's talk of "even greater rear bias" in everything prior to the Mk8 was marketing nonsense and only really applied if the fronts were in the air or on ice.
Interesting - thanks for the response!

My old Evo X only ever split torque 50:50 front to rear, but that still felt pretty mega (admittedly they have a TV rear diff + front LSD). It sounds like the new Golf is a vaguely similar setup (albeit w/o the front LSD).

Either way, the Mk7 is a brilliant machine and the Mk8 promises to be better still (from that standpoint, anyway..).