Test drive: VW Golf R

By daryl, 24 October 2018
VW Golf R

Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia (VPCM) launched the full range of its latest Mk7.5 Golf earlier this year. When the time came for us to pick one for a proper sampling, we aimed for the one at the top of the food chain, the Golf R. It was the promise of 10 extra horses and the dynamic tweaks to match that called out to us.

The Mk7 Golf R was already a brilliant car to begin with and, we thought, every littlest shred of improvement in the new R would only make it an even hotter hatch. Things started out a little more tepid instead.

The first five minutes behind the Golf R’s flat-bottomed steering wheel failed to yield the thrills we expected. Our right foot was bouncing on and off the throttle like a cat on a hot tin roof, but the car responded in the most linear way possible, its powertrain’s composed output to all four wheels seemingly oblivious to our erratic inputs. It was an impressive quality, just not the kind we expected from something packing 286bhp. If someone had told us we were driving a Golf TSI dressed in R-Line bits, we would have eaten it all up. It had the comfort to match, after all.


We soon identified the R’s Eco mode – one of five modes – as the mastermind of this great deception. Why someone would even put it in Eco in the first place was beyond us. But to know that the Golf R can completely switch off and behave like a 1.4 TSI on demand is good because its two-litre mill sure knows how to light up the fireworks when you switch it to Race. That’s what the R stands for after all, right?

With all systems on maximum, the Golf R breathed louder than usual and responded to our slightest input changes with much more zeal. There’s a sense of manageable hypersensitivity to its throttle and steering in Race mode as the car tightens up and feels better geared to do multiple 0-100kph runs within its 5.1-second claim while still maintaining a sense of order for the driver to enjoy the considerably heightened performance in relative comfort.

VW Golf R

In that state, we had no doubt the Golf R was primed to set competitive lap times on any given circuit. But in the real world, the effortlessness underlying its track-ready athleticism means you’ll be racking up one speeding ticket after another if you don’t pay close attention to the speedometer. There’s plenty of refinement on the move coupled with ease of steering at high speeds – a by-product of the R’s clever Haldex AWD setup – to make the most timid driver feel like a seasoned pro in the hot seat.

The Golf R’s user friendliness is also due to the slick shifting of its wet-clutch DSG, which reduces by one the number of key components in play (seven if you count each forward gear). It operates with the silkiness of a freshly groomed Persian and probably shifts quicker than humanly possible. That didn’t keep us from playing with the paddleshifts, though. You’ll want to keep the revs building (the engine peaks between 5,500 to 6,500rpm) before upshifting manually if you can hear the R’s intoxicating blow-offs and burbles.

Be careful not to overdo it, though. After too many attempts, the exhaust theatrics can become a bit predictable and repetitive. You’d probably be getting a few cold stares then too. Dialling things down to Normal with the gear lever stuck in S – this sharpens the powertrain without affecting DCC (Adaptive Chassis Control) settings – tones down the gimmicks and lets the driver enjoy the car’s dynamic talents in much more comfort. It almost feels like a GTI in this configuration, so you’re really getting three rounds of Golf in a single package here.

Should you choose to revert to TSI-like driving conditions, you’ll be happy to know the Golf R is one of the most practical cars in its class for the daily grind. You get the functional dimensions of a regular Golf paired to a powertrain and adaptive dampers that know how to be smooth and civil when necessary. Our only issue with driving the R into the heart of traffic are its brakes, which can get a bit bitey. There is a fine line separating too little brakes from too much with the R’s massive rotors, but you should be able to find it with enough time behind the wheel.

VW Golf R

The Golf R’s wealth of tech and creature comfort is also best experienced at a tamer pace. Inside, it packs a new 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which is glorious. Mobile phone connectivity is seamless too. Even the instrument cluster is digital like that of the Passat Highline and Audi models higher up the food chain, which is nice. Our only gripe here is the pixelated reverse camera feed, if we were nitpicking. The aforementioned gadgetry does set the bar pretty high after all.

For a car costing less than RM300k to be able to take its driver through a wide range of driving sensations – from a calm and comfortable coast to a spirited high speed run – with such deftness is quite a feat. This do-it-all gift was already prevalent in the Mk7 Golf R but is more apparent in the Mk7.5, which comes out feeling like a more cultured all-rounder in the end.

Whatever kind of journey you choose to take in the R, you’ll hear the fans under the hood running at full blast when you eventually kill the ignition. It may sound like an induction cooker, but we take this as Volkswagen’s reminder of the Golf R being one hot, hot hatch.

Make sure you don’t get burned.


Honda Civic Type R

Lighter FWD setup, more power and a manual gearbox might do a better job of enticing purists.


Aesthetically understated, but still one of the most defining hot hatches of this power-obsessed generation. A brilliant all-rounder.


  Engine   1,984cc 4-cylinder turbo, 286bhp, 380Nm
  Performance   0-100kph in 5.1 secs, 250kph
  Economy   6.9L/100km, NA g/km CO2
  Weight   NA