The current Volkswagen Golf R is a legend in its own lifetime. Many previous versions of fast, four-wheel-drive Golfs might have had seemingly more exotic V6 motors, but it’s the 2014, Mk7 generation with its 296bhp, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that really proved how spectacular the hottest Golf could be.
Priced at around £30,000 when new, many used examples of the Golf R are now into half price hot hatch territory. There are plenty to choose from, too, thanks in part to some very tempting PCP deals during the first couple of years the car was on sale. Further cause for its success was the fact it is not only fast, but also comfortable, spacious, frugal (you’ll see 30mpg on a long run if you’re careful) and easy to drive when you want it to be, as well as being available with a slick-shifting, six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic or a more hands-on manual gearbox.
Alongside the five-door hatchback, there’s also a three-door model and, since 2015, even an estate version (pictured below) if practicality is your priority.
A facelift in 2017 resulted in the Golf R getting subtly sharper looks, another 8bhp, an extra gear for the DSG automatic, and further advances in infotainment including Apple CarPlay – but ultimately it’s hardly changed. And why would it? It still feels fresh, it’s still great value and it’ll still give rivals such as the Honda Civic Type R, Renaultsport Megane, Seat Leon Cupra and Audi S3 (which used the same running gear and platform) a serious run for their money.
The Golf R is arguably the first of the fast, four-wheel drive Golfs to truly rival the GTI for outright fun and driver involvement. It isn’t just fast and grippy, it is mobile, playful, and willing to be steered on the throttle in a way that its more straightforward, point-and-go predecessors never were. Sure, a Renaultsport Megane 265 of the same era would out-dazzle for driver kicks, but the Golf delivers its thrills in a package that is easier to live with on a day-to-day basis.
With a 0-62mph time of 5.1sec and an active four-wheel-drive system, it really does offer supercar point-to-point pace, while at the same time feeling approachable and secure. Admittedly, the free-revving 2.0-litre engine isn’t as sonorous as the old V6, but it still has a good four-pot bellow, and the breadth of performance is amazing.
Of the options to look out for, those seeking the most comfortable Golf R possible will want to avoid the 19-inch wheels and perhaps also seek out a car with adaptive dampers, known as Dynamic Chassis Control. That said, even on the standard suspension the Golf R is comfortable enough to rank as one of the best daily commuter hot hatches around.
It’s worth doing your homework on a used Golf R, and paying for a proper inspection. There are plenty out there (they sold in big numbers, not least thanks to those seriously cheap monthly PCP deals), and of course a lot of them will have been driven hard. Sadly, they’re also a prime target for vehicle theft, so it’s worth being sure that the car you’re looking at has verified mileage and history, and hasn’t been in an accident or have outstanding finance on it.
The Haldex four-wheel drive system should be serviced every 40,000 miles – some specialists recommend an oil change every 20,000 miles – and the DSG dual-clutch automatic should also be serviced every 30,000 miles. After all, while it is ultimately still a Golf, it also has some heavy-duty performance that puts a lot of strain on these parts. Otherwise, reliability is good, with most owners claiming very few issues, mechanical or electrical.
Volkswagen Golf R
Built: 2014 – 2016
Power: 296bhp @ 5,500–6,200rpm
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
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