- 2.0 litre petrol inline four, turbocharged, all-wheel drive
- First of the turbo Rs, and genuinely fast
- 5.5sec 0-62, tremendous grip
- Few major issues to worry about
- Short run means few on sale, so could be a canny buy
Don't switch off, things will improve I promise, but we're going to start off by talking about cricket for a couple of seconds. The term 'all-rounder' was coined to describe a cricketer who wasn't a specialist bowler, batsman or fielder, but who had moderate amounts of skill in all three departments. Originally, calling someone an all-rounder was kind of damning them with faint praise, but then people like Beefy Botham and Ben Stokes came along to change all that by possessing stupid amounts of skill in every department.
Today, the all-rounder is an ideal bod to have in your clicky-bat team, and the car we're going to be talking about here - Volkswagen's Mk6 Golf R - is the Ben Stokes of motoring. It's a beautifully built five-door, five-seat hatch that's also a sports car. You might not use a Golf R 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. Best of all, a Golf R won't get involved in late-night incidents outside a nightclub.
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. Weighing just over 1,550kg, it had a 237hp/236lb ft/25mpg version of the then-new 32-valve 3.2 litre VR6 engine working through a 4Motion Haldex all-wheel drive chassis. Today, a well looked after Mk 4 R32 can easily carry an £8,000-£10,000 price tag.
Its 2006 successor, the Mk5 R32, retained the VR6 engine and the 4Motion chassis, albeit with an extra 10hp courtesy of a revised inlet manifold. Max torque was the same at 236lb ft but it was delivered a few hundred rpm lower down the range. More interestingly, the R32 could be ordered with a five-door body and/or VW's new DSG dual-clutch gearbox, which chopped a couple of tenths off the 6.5sec 0-60 time of the manual car. The still hefty 1,540kg weight kept the Mk 5 R's combined fuel consumption high at 26mpg, though. With prices starting from £23,745, the Mk 5 R32 was £4,000 more expensive than the Mk5 GTI.
These Mk5 R32s don't have quite the same secondhand cachet as their Mk4 predecessors. Their chrome grille and fake rear diffuser were a bit naff, and they seemed to be a bit more prone to rust too, so their relative newness isn't that accurately reflected in today's prices. Some dealers will try their luck with smart-looking Mk5s, asking up to £9,000 for even leggy specimens, but you can easily pick up a privately-owned average-miles 2006 Mk5 R32 for £6,000.
As noted, both these early R32s were powered by 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. The Mk8 Golf R is supposed to be here by the end of 2020, though who knows what the release date will be now. When it does get here, expect it to have nearly 330hp - or more than 400hp in the R Plus that's also been chatted about.
But forget about those last two. The 2010-12 Mk 6 R is the first and the most affordable R, so it's the one we're concentrating on here. Let's get into it.
SPECIFICATION | VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R (MK6)
Engine: 1,984cc, inline four, 16v
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 267@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@2,500-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 5.7 secs (manual), 5.5 secs (DSG)
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,450kg (1,465kg DSG)
MPG (official combined): 33.2 manual, 33.6 DSG
CO2: 199g/km (195 DSG)
On sale: 2009 - 2013
Price new: £30,712/£31,297 (3/5dr manual, leather); £32,067/£32,652 (3/5dr DSG, leather)
Price now: £8,500-£18,000
Note for reference: data relating to car weight and power 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 EA113 TSI engine is essentially the same as that used in the Mk5 Golf, but reinforced in the R with a stronger block, pistons and rods and a new cylinder head, plus high-pressure injectors. The turbocharger ran at 1.2bar and was served by a more efficient intercooler.
The EA113 is a strong unit that was amenable to tuning, but even in the beefed-up R that didn't mean you could skimp on servicing. Specialists recommend that you have it looked at every 10,000 miles or every year, whichever comes first. The main weak point is probably the pump cam follower in the high pressure fuel system. The black coating atop the bucket is known for early wear. Thankfully, replacing this is a 10 minute job with a couple of spanners and a Torx bit.
A top-end rattle from a cold start usually means that the cambelt needs changing. Do that every 60,000 miles/4 years at least, including changing the water pump in the process, though you might experience water pump leakage separately as they're known for that. Coolant can seep past the thermostat too. In the list of generic German performance car issues the blowoff (diverter) valves fail, and any misfires will usually be down to a dodgy coil or injector.
There are more DSGs than manuals, so your choice there is wider and it's a fast-acting transmission to boot, but you also need to be aware that they're not entirely fault-free. The DQ250 six-speeder that the R uses is a lot less trouble than the 7-speed DQ200, but the cost of replacing a faulty Mechatronic unit (the control centre of the gearbox) is the best argument for having a good warranty in place. Oil and filter changes every 40,000 miles are another very good idea.
If you're fishing at the cheaper end of the R pool you might want to go down the manual route. These six-speeders are tough but they still use the dreaded dual mass flywheel system. Only 'dreaded' when they go wrong, to be fair, but when they do it's a four-figure bill as you'd be a mug not to replace the clutch at the same time. If you're doing any sort of remapping on a Golf R you should think hard about uprating the clutch.
Haldex all-wheel drive systems are generally pretty reliable but early Mk6 Rs did suffer from pump failure, sometimes as a consequence of corroded wiring. When that happens you'll have no hydraulic pressure to force the centre diff plates together and therefore no torque will go to from there to the wheel with the most grip, as is supposed to happen.
The test to find out if you have this problem is to boot it hard in the lower cogs. If you notice more than a tiny amount of wheel spin then suspect the worst. VW replaced a lot of these pumps first time round with no questions asked, but if this fault visits you as the secondary owner the pump will be £250, the total job cost being around twice that, and you should definitely replace the rear propshaft coupling bush (the 'doughnut') at the same time.
Again, make sure to keep on top of fluid and filter changes on the Haldex - every 20,000 miles if you're using the car hard, and no later than every two years. That will be about £100.
The more stiffly sprung R sat 25mm nearer to the ground than the GTI, flattening roll and stabilising the car at high speed. If you hear knocks and creaks and they're not coming from your granny's hips in the back seat it could be that the front top mounts are on the way out. The dampers can leak too - as can the electrically regulated ones in ACC (Adaptive Chassis Control) equipped cars.
ACC was an £800 extra. In this setup the dampers and steering could be put into one of three ride settings: Normal, Sport and Comfort. Taking data from wheel sensors as well as from the steering, braking, engine, transmission and driver assist systems, the damping adapts itself to road conditions, reacting up to a thousand times a second to bumps in the road, changing lanes or bendy roads, reducing pitch and roll motion and providing the optimum settings for every driving situation.
In a nutshell, what you've just read there is what VW said about ACC. If you drive on sealskin-smooth roads in Dubai or some such place it might be worth having, but if you're on UK roads you shouldn't worry too much if it's not part of the spec of a car you're thinking of buying. In fact you might be glad to learn that ACC is not on the spec list because the leccy dampers can be troublesome and will be expensive to replace if they go wrong.
If your car does have ACC you might find yourself hardly ever using Sport mode as it is quite firm, and not everyone can tell the difference between Normal and Comfort. Use the virtual money you would have wasted - sorry, spent - on ACC if you had been the car's first owner on normal suspension tune-ups like front and rear anti-roll bars, adjustable coilovers and new bushes.
Standard wheels were 18s (or optionally 19s) in the Talladega style to mark them out from the GTI. These Talladegas are easily kerbed. The 345mm front brakes were bigger than the GTI's too and had 'R' monogrammed calipers. If the ABS or traction control light comes on, that might not be such a disaster as it could simply be a sensor fault. Pray that it is, because a blown pump control unit will be a four-figure bill to sort.
Some performance car owners like everyone to know that they're driving something quick, but if you're the type who prefers to speak softly and carry a big stick then the R should be right up your rarely-used back street. The tinted rear windows, LED daytime lights and subtly restyled black door mirrors could be on any high-spec Golf. Only the centred tailpipes exiting through a gloss black diffuser and a barely noticeable boot spoiler suggest that summat might be afoot. This visual mismatch between the looks and the performance (especially in the five-door bodystyle) makes an R just the ticket for stealthy progress along conventionally policed roads. Not that we're advocating that sort of thing, of course.
Check panel gaps and suspicious overspray on window seals or behind door handles for evidence of previous owners banging into hard parts of the environment. Door drainage holes can get blocked. Colours are always a matter of taste but the Rising Blue is rather smart.
The Mk5 Golf attracted more than its fair share of quality complaints with the interior especially coming in for harsh criticism, often from owners of Mk4s. Although the Mk6 was really no more than a reskin of the Mk 5, Volkswagen did try to improve things on the inside. You might think that even a sub-par Golf offers more cabin quality than a few of its mainstream rivals, but there's nothing sub-par about an R. It's a lovely place to be.
Many Rs had leather upholstery, with racey Recaro wingbacks as a very expensive (£3,500) option, but you could also get Rs with alcantara/cloth insert seats. Like all performance Golf seats, these wear very well indeed, better than the leather ones by most accounts, especially if you apply some Scotchguard, Gtechniq or similar protectant to the fabric.
If a car's fabric seats do seem to be unusually worn, that doesn't necessarily mean that the previous owner was a rock ape. Worn bolsters often turn out to be not worn at all. A light shave with the edge of a razor blade will take off the fluffs of dirt that you might be mistaking for wear.
The RNS510 satnav is a nice thing to have, as is the Dynaudio sounds upgrade. Test everything that runs on electricity as there can be problems there. Fold down the rear seats and there's nearly 1,300 litres of cargo space.
Growing up is something we all do. Some of us are happy to do it, others less so. There's merit either way, but if your ambition is to achieve a state of Zenlike satisfaction not just with your motoring choices but also with your life, then a Golf R should definitely be on your shortlist.
Before the R came along, the GTI often found itself being apologised for because of its relatively low horsepower figure relative to stuff like the Focus RS and the hot Megane. The reality was that the GTI could more than keep up with these gruntier rivals thanks to its well-judged combination of power, torque, gearing and chassis integrity, but still the numbers weren't something owners felt able to brag about.
The Golf R had all that the GTI had, but it no longer needed to be apologised for in terms of power. Better yet, it managed to get around the degradation of driving delicacy that had previously seemed to be an unavoidable downside of all-wheel drive. Speed, comfort and crampon-like traction allied to a very dynamic powertrain is a very good recipe for enjoyable motoring and could explain why satisfied Mk6 R owners don't put their cars up for sale that often.
In addition to that, a production run of only a couple of years means that there really aren't that many of these Mk6s to be put on sale in the first place. Enter '2009-2013' in your internet search criteria and you'll see a clear dip in the number of cars available compared to the number of Mk5s and Mk7s on either side of that time frame. That's why finding a used Mk6 Golf R can become a short but repetitive process of patiently trawling through the ads on a regular basis until your dream car comes up.
Outside PH you'll find higher mileage examples for as little as £8,500, but they'll be knocking hard on the 150,000-mile door. Lower mile cars can go for £18,000 or even more, but the average price for mid-milers is between £11,000 and £13,000. Our own trawl through PH Classifieds turned up this 2011 75,000-mile 3-door in white with black leather at £12,000, smack in the middle of that range.
Owners of wingback-seat cars seem to want to get a good proportion of their outlay back in the asking price, which can be a barrier to selling if you're not that bothered about them. Given the short production run, year of manufacture is nowhere near as important as condition and mileage. Get one now before the prices go up.