The company’s hottest hatch yet gets mild updates

The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf was introduced in 2012 in Europe, but it didn’t make it to U.S. soil until 2014, when it was launched for the 2015 model year. Slightly larger and sportier than its predecessor, the Mk7 also gained a revamped interior, new convenience and safety features, and a wide range of gasoline and diesel four-cylinder engines. The new-generation Golf also spawned a new GTi model, but a more powerful R version was also launched for 2015. With the regular model having received a facelift in 2016, an updated version of the Golf R followed for 2017.

As it is the case with most Volkswagen facelifts, the mid-cycle update doesn’t bring too many features. However, the Golf R is a bit sportier on the outside and benefits from the many technological improvements made to the lineup. The turbocharged engine was also uprated, but while the Golf R is now slightly more powerful than the Honda Civic Type R, it’s nowhere near as brawny as the impressiveFord Focus RS. How does it compare to the competition? Let’s find out in the review below.

Continue reading to learn more about the Volkswagen Golf R.

Volkswagen Golf R Exterior

- * Sportier bumper
- * New LED lights
- * New wheels
- * Revised side skirts
- * Not aggressive enough

2018 Volkswagen Golf R Exterior Wallpaper quality
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The Golf R gets its visual updates from the standard model, including new bumpers and fenders, and revised LED lights

The Golf R gets its visual updates from the standard model, including new bumpers and fenders, revised LED lights, and model-specific cues.

Up front, two features stand out. For starters, the Golf R gets the nameplate’s new headlamps, which have a more angular design and revised LED lights inside. The thicker bottom slat in the grille is still there, as is the "R" badge on the left side. Bigger changes are noticeable below in the form of revised air vents. Slightly larger, the center intake now has vertical slats too and it’s connected to the side vents. The latter are also new, featuring revised black trim with sportier flics.

2018 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Exterior
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The rear fascia appears to be the same above the bumper

Not surprisingly, the profile carries over unchanged except for the new wheel design and the mildly revised side skirts. Fortunately, the black window trim and silver mirror caps are still, so the Golf R retains its specific look.

The rear fascia appears to be the same above the bumper, with the tailgate and the taillights featuring similar designs to the outgoing model. However, the taillights, which now come standard with LED technology, have a new cluster arrangement with the reverse lights moved to the bottom. Bumper changes were kept to a minimum too, with only revised lights on the sides and a slightly sportier diffuser.

Volkswagen Golf R Interior

- * The same design
- * Revised instrument cluster
- * Bigger infotainment display
- * New technology
- * Gesture control

2018 Volkswagen Golf R
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There are significantly more changes to talk about here, especially in the technology department

Although the interior continues with the same design, there are significantly more changes to talk about here, especially in the technology department. Arguably the most important upgrade is the integration of gesture control, a first for a production Volkswagen model. Through this feature, both the driver and front passenger can operate various infotainment system features using swipe, flip, and scroll hand motions, which eliminates the use of conventional buttons and knobs.

Volkswagen also added a new instrument cluster screen called Active Info Display. Likely based on Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system, it includes a 12.3-inch display and five individual information profiles, including one that shows 3D navigation.

2018 Volkswagen Golf R
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The new Active Info Display includes a 12.3-inch screen and five individual information profiles

The infotainment display is also new, with the previous five-inch screen replaced by a 6.5-inch unit. Optionally, you can get an eight-inch or 9.2-inch screen, depending on trim.

Other updates include a new external antenna for better reception, Qi inductive charging, and the ability to use the Wi-Fi hotspot to turn your mobile device or tablet into a media control panel. The key fob can now automatically adjust the seating position, ambient lighting, driver assist systems, climate control, and display settings. New trim and fabrics were added too, but the layout remains unchanged and the Golf R continues to have a predominantly black interior.

Volkswagen Golf R Performance

- * Updated 2.0-liter engine
- * 310 horsepower
- * Not as powerful as the Focus RS
- * Manual or automatic gearboxes
- * Standard AWD
- * 0 to 62 mph in 4.9 seconds

2018 Volkswagen Golf R
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Like the rest of the Golf lineup, the R got a mild power bump

As expected, the facelifted Golf R uses the same turbocharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine as its predecessor. Like the rest of the Golf lineup, the R got a mild power bump from 300 to 310 horsepower. Granted, it’s not much, but at least it keeps it above the Seat Leon Cupra R and the Honda Civic Type R. On the other hand, the German hatch is no match for the Ford Focus RS, which comes with 350 horsepower on tap.

The seven-speed DSG automatic transmission is still standard, but you can opt for a six-speed manual gearbox. Like the outgoing model, the revised Golf R is fitted with an all-wheel-drive system. Performance remains unchanged despite the horsepower increase, so expect the Golf R to hit 62 mph in 4.9 seconds. Top speed remains locked at the usual 155 mph.

Volkswagen Golf R Pricing

2018 Volkswagen Golf R
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Pricing for the Volkswagen Golf R starts from $39,785. That’s a $13,370 premium over the Golf GTI.

Volkswagen Golf R Competition

Ford Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
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Until 2016, the Golf R was pretty much alone at the top of the hot-hatch segment, but things have changed with the arrival of the Focus RS. Equipped with a beefed-up version of the Mustang’s 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine, as well as an all-wheel-drive system, the Focus RS comes with 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque in the U.S., significantly more than the Golf R. This configuration enables the hatchback to hit 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds, while top speed is rated at 165 mph, 10 mph more than the Golf R. What’s more, the Focus RS looks a lot more menacing than the Golf R, which isn’t that much more aggressive than the GTi. The Focus RS is a bit more expensive than the Golf R, retailing from $41,120.

Read our full review of the Ford Focus RS.

Honda Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R Exterior High Resolution
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Launched for the 2017 model year, the current-generation Civic Type R arrived in the U.S. for the first time ever and created quite the commotion, with deliveries taking months due to big demand. The Japanese hatchback definitely wins the battle on the styling front, boasting more aggressive looks and a rally-inspired design. It also comes close to the Golf R in terms of output, with its turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder generating a solid 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet on tap. On the other hand, it’s significantly slower, due to not having an all-wheel-drive system, needing 5.7 seconds to hit 62 mph from a standing start. On the flipside, the Civic Type R is significantly more affordable at $34,100 before options.

Read our full story on the 2017 Honda Civic Type R.

Seat Leon Cupra R ST

2018 Seat Leon CUPRA R ST Exterior
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Built on the same underpinnings, the Leon Cupra R is pretty much a rebodied Golf R. Unfortunately for Volkswagen, the Spanish hatchback looks decidedly more aggressive thanks to its sharp, Audi-inspired design cues. Power by the same engine as the Golf R, the Cupra R comes with 300 horsepower and 280 pound-feet on tap. These figures are available for the model equipped with the DSG automatic transmission, while the manual version gets 310 horses. But despite having similar specs and optional all-wheel drive, the Cupra R is more than a half-second slower than the Volkswagen Golf R. Also, unlike the competition, it’s not available in the U.S.

Read our full review of the 2018 Seat Leon Cupra R.

Conclusion

2018 Volkswagen Golf R Exterior
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While most Volkswagen fanboys will argue that the Golf R is the hottest hatchback you can buy in showrooms, the arrival of the new Ford Focus RS made the German car look rather dull and slow. Volkswagen made some improvements in these departments with the facelift, but the Golf R still is no match for the Focus RS. Itss appearance isn’t be significantly more aggressive, while output ratings increase very little. Sure, it’s a solid options against the Civic Type R and the Leon Cupra R performance-wise, but it still looks a bit too dull for this niche. The Focus RS is definitely out of the Golf R’s reach for now, but hopefully Volkswagen will do something about it with the next-generation hatchback.

  • Leave it
    • Slower, less powerful than the Focus RS
    • Not so many changes inside and out

References

2018 Volkswagen Golf Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2018 Volkswagen Golf.

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Read more Volkswagen news.

Spy Shots

October 4, 2016 - Volkswagen Golf R caught testing at Nurburgring

2018 Volkswagen Golf R Exterior Spyshots
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2018 Volkswagen Golf R Exterior Spyshots
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2018 Volkswagen Golf R Exterior Spyshots
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September 16, 2016 - first testing session

2018 Volkswagen Golf R Exterior Spyshots
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2018 Volkswagen Golf R Exterior Spyshots
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2018 Volkswagen Golf R Exterior Spyshots
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