At the start of the year we spotted a Mk7 Golf R much like this one: a 2018 three-door model with the lesser seen six-speed manual and 310hp. In other words, it was everything the new five-door, DSG-only Mk8 couldn't be. Back in January we wondered how much we might come to miss the classic hot hatch template when the new model finally appeared on UK roads. True, you could argue the Mk7 itself was better (and definitely more usable) with back doors and seven automatic ratios - but a clutch pedal and slightly awkward egress is hardwired into Golf lore. How hard was the Mk8 going to have to work against the muscle memory?
Well, to begin with, not very hard at all. We got so excited about the Mk8's super-clever torque-vectoring rear differential that we (almost) forgot all about its patent lack of a gear lever and obvious surfeit of doors. Where the Mk7's 4Motion system always tried its best to be helpfully neutral, the Mk8's optional Performance Pack delivered 'Drift' mode plus the technical nous to make good on the description. Of course the idea of a slidey hot hatch wasn't exactly novel, yet to discover such an accommodating all-wheel drive setup under a Volkswagen badge seemed to make it newly extravagant.
But tyre smoke can only cover up so much. The latest Golf R might very well be the most engaging version yet, but that didn't stop it from being less likeable within, and quite possibly not quite as good looking without. We won't dredge up the familiar list of complaints about the Mk8 interior, except to say that one look at the advertised Mk7 brings it all back into sharp focus if only because you tend to recall just how fundamentally good the previous model was at placing everything right where it needed to be. Which, of course, included all the physical switchgear, and, notably, the gear lever that the Mk8 did away with.
While it's hard to deny that some of the ineffable Golfness has been lost inside, you couldn't argue that the Mk8 fails to look like a direct descendent. There's no mistaking the Mk8 for anything other than a Golf, and Volkswagen has wisely continued the trend of making the flagship the most handsome variant. Nevertheless, there's still something about it which fails to conjure the roundedness of the Mk7's bodywork, which, on the optional 19-inch wheels, seems to be pulled tautly down over its gently flared wheel arches. Perhaps the three-door model's proportions weren't quite so sweet - but it still managed to conjure a feel-good vibe in every shop window reflection.
Granted, its appearance did have a long time to bed in. Its successor has barely been with us a year, and, going on the anecdotal evidence of its almost total absence from the local high street, it's probably safe to assume that Volkswagen is having a trying time getting new cars to customers. Needless to say it is not alone in suffering that issue, but, as it has done across the board, the logjam has inevitably helped keep Mk7 prices rather more plump than otherwise might have been expected.
The car we highlighted back in January admittedly had a few more miles on it than today's spotted - 53k versus 32k - yet the modest price difference would suggest that demand remains robust despite the passage of nearly 12 months. The slightly leggier Golf R was available for £22,295; the one in the pictures, at a franchise dealer, is up for £25,290. Now, we're not saying the door count or a manual gearbox has much to do with that - but we will say that neither time nor the Mk8's introduction has overwritten what made the last Golf R of its type one of the great performance car box-tickers of the last twenty years.
SPECIFICATION | VW GOLF R (MK7.5)
Engine: 1,984cc 4-cyl, turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 310@5,500-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@2,000-5,400rpm
MPG: 35.8 (NEDC combined)
First registered: 2018
Recorded mileage: 32,000
Price new: £36,345 (before options)
Yours for: £25,290
1 / 5