Review and road test of the Volkswagen Golf R (2009 - 2012)
By Andy Enright
Think Volkswagen Golf and you're probably thinking sober, buttoned-down respectability. Even the GTI hatchback is a most grown-up kind of sporting hatch, presentable in every office or golf club car park the length and breadth of the land. It's smart, sophisticated and in every way inoffensive, which isn't a bad thing but sometimes it would be nice if the car had a bit more snarl, a bit more attitude and a bit more excitement. Providing just that was the concept behind the Volkswagen Golf R. Here's what to look out for when shopping used.
3/5dr hatch (2.0 petrol [R])
We've had uber Golfs before of course and they've worn the R32 badge. Originally a six-cylinder 3.2-litre car that made a fantastic noise but which didn't handle all that brilliantly, the Mk 5 R32 morphed into a car that was a lot more competent, if a little less exciting. Volkswagen's aim with the R was to mix the thrill of the first R32 with the composure and polish of the later Mk5 model. Introduced at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, it arrived in British dealerships in mid-December of that year and was an instant success. Sold alongside its mechanically similar Scirocco R sibling, the Golf R lasted until the end of 2012, when the Mk 7 Golf appeared and duly pensioned it off.
Along the way the Golf R picked up a few gongs, most notably the Top Gear Hot Hatch of the Year award in 2011. It was also updated in October 2011, getting leather upholstery fitted as standard.
What You Get
Volkswagen isn't known for its flamboyant styling but to underline the potency of the Golf R, it edged the car in a more dramatic direction. The quickest Golf MK6 features a deeper front bumper with enlarged air intakes, along with a revised rear bumper that incorporates centrally-mounted exhaust pipes and a gloss black diffuser. The main front grill and the wing mirrors are also finished in black, while all R models get xenon headlamps, specially designed rear light clusters and LED running lights. Along the sides, sill extensions further lower a car which already sits 25mm closer to the ground than a GTI thanks to its revised suspension.
There are also 18" alloy wheels as standard, with the option of upgrading to a set of 19" items and peeping out between the spokes are the callipers and enlarged discs of an upgraded braking system. The R badge that crops up on the grille is mirrored inside on a set of aluminium kick plates but the cabin is dominated by the grey Alcantara and black cloth sports seats on early cars and leather on post October '11 models. There's more gloss black detailing and revised instruments feature needles that illuminate in blue. In general, the classy feel of the Golf's interior continues to shine through.
If the Golf R formula sounds familiar, that's because the same mix of engine and transmission was originally made available on the Audi S3. As with that car, there's a choice of either three or five-door bodystyles. In addition to the upgraded braking system, the Golf R features its own ESP stability control settings which allow the safety net to be disabled in two stages, allowing the driver greater freedom to approach the limits of grip.
What To Look For (used_look)
What to Look For
Keep a look out for cars that have been flogged by corporate users. Although this engine handles higher mileages well, prices on Golf Rs fluctuate quite widely, so you can often find a car with 20,000 miles for less than one with 50,000. Front tyres can take a beating and the Alcantara seat material fitted to the early Golf Rs can look a bit tired with frequent use. Look for kerbed alloys and make sure that all oil servicing has been performed.
(approx based on a 2010 Golf 2.0 R) Parts aren't priced too badly with an alternator around £135, front tyres £220 each while brake pads front and rear are about £75 and £55 respectively.
On the Road
Rather than a 3.2-litre V6 as favoured by the R32, the Golf R uses an upgraded version of the Golf GTI's 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. With 270PS, it still develops 20PS more power than the old R32 and it's 35kg lighter. More grunt and less weight will be like music to the ears of performance car fans and the resulting 5.7s 0-60mph time made the Golf R the fastest accelerating Volkswagen the MK6 model line-up could offer. Find yourself an example with the DSG gearbox and that sprint time is lowered to 5.5s courtesy of the twin-clutch unit's ultra-fast gear changes and the top speed is limited to 155mph regardless of the transmission that's installed.
The job of deploying the power emanating from the Golf R engine bay falls to a clever four-wheel-drive system. It's a hydraulic arrangement that can react to differing grip levels more swiftly than the system used on the old R32. If necessary, 100 per cent of the available torque can be directed to the rear wheels to optimise forward progress and there's a lot of torque to manage with the 350Nm maximum generated at just 2,500rpm. The GTI's electro-mechanical steering system was also sharpened up for use in the R model.
The Volkswagen Golf R isn't cheap but then its reputation somewhat precedes it. It's the GTI for the person who has grown out of GTIs. Used examples are on the market in decent numbers and although true bargain hunters might be put off by the pricing, it's nevertheless one of the best used hot hatches money can buy. Overall, a lot of style and capability for your money.
Volkswagen Golf R (2009 - 2012) review by Andy Enright