The king of the Golf lineup has been spotted in the wild!

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen! It’s been a long road to get to this point, but now we’re finally getting our first look at the next-generation Volkswagen Golf R. A test mule of the big daddy Golf R was recently spotted doing some test runs in the snow, and yes, this particular prototype is wearing nothing but fresh paint.

There’s no camouflage in sight, allowing us to see the next-generation Golf R in all its glory. Specific details in the prototype present clear markings of the Golf R’s DNA so unless Volkswagen has a surprise for us with a different Golf-based hot hatch, what we’re looking at here is the next-generation Golf R.

There’s no set timetable on when the Golf R is expected to arrive, but with the just-as-new Golf GTI expected to debut at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show, Volkswagen could hold off the Golf R’s debut for later in the year. Or it could join the Golf GTI in Geneva. Either way, the all-new Golf R is here.

Exterior

  • Large air intakes on the bumper
  • Blue brake calipers, a trademark of the Golf R
  • Four tailpipes mean something sporty is hiding underneath that hood
left right

It’s great to see a test mule wearing absolutely no camouflage, isn’t it? I don’t know what Volkswagen was thinking taking out the next-generation Golf R prototype wearing its birthday suit, especially with so many Peeping Toms out in the wild, cameras on-hand, ready to take photos of the hot hatch in all its glory.

So, how do we know that this is the Volkswagen Golf R?

One big hint can be found in the front fascia of the prototype. It’s had to miss those large air intakes sitting on opposite ends of the front bumper.

OK, so they’re not exactly large, but they are present in the hot hatch, something that we can’t say for the regular Golf Mk8. Likewise, we don’t expect the Golf GTI Mk8 to have big intakes. Unless Volkswagen has an entirely new performance variant for the Golf that it hasn’t revealed, there’s a good chance that the prototype we’re looking at is the upcoming Golf R Mk8.

2021 Volkswagen Golf R Mk8 Exterior Spyshots
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Obviously, we’re not hitching our wagons on the sight of two large intakes. That’d be foolish. Move to the rear section and you’ll see the test mule sporting, not one, not two, not three, but four tailpipes flanking the rear diffuser. Volkswagen’s not a company of excess, and it certainly wouldn’t slap that many pipes on the back of a Golf if said version of the hatchback isn’t properly sporty and performance-oriented.

Check the up-close photos of the test mule’s wheels and you’ll see another piece of equipment that’s normally associated with the Golf R: the blue brake calipers.

Not only are the calipers blue, but they’re also noticeably bigger than the red calipers we saw from what we believe to be the test prototype for the next-generation Golf GTI.

Interior

  • digital infotainment and guage cluster
  • enhanced sports seating
  • improved materials
2020 Volkswagen Golf Interior
- image 868344
We don’t get to see the interior of the Volkswagen Golf R test mule. For now, we do know that the Golf R’s interior will look largely similar to the tech-heavy cabin of its “standard” Golf counterpart.

This is where Volkswagen’s entire lineup of Golf models, including the Golf R, will shine. The interior of the next-gen model is completely new, designed from scratch as Volkswagen likes to remind us. It’s the first time we’re seeing a fully digital interior in a Volkswagen Golf, and we still can’t get past how clean, modern, and all-around incredible it looks.

2020 Volkswagen Golf Interior
- image 868349

We also expect the next-generation Golf R to carry a lot of the same design details. From the two-tier dashboard to the extensive digital display setup, this is an interior that you normally don’t see in a hatchback, let alone one that’s specced for performance.

We’re particularly intrigued by the what the Golf R’s dashboard will look like. The standard Golf Mk8’s interior comes with two digital displays, including an 8.25-inch screen in the center for access to the infotainment system. There’s an option to upgrade both displays to 10-inch versions, creating what Volkswagen calls the Innovation Cockpit. Among other things, we’d like to see that option available to the Volkswagen Golf R.

In terms of tech, the Golf Mk8 comes with a new voice control feature that responds to natural voice command. It’s also equipped with Alexa integration, which you can use for a variety of functions. Expect the Golf R to receive something similar.

2020 Volkswagen Golf Interior
- image 868347
Don’t expect the performance-spec Golf to carry loads of interior space. It is, after all, still a hatchback.

The previous-generation Golf comes with 13.4 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. Fold those seats and the space increases to 44.8 cubic feet. Don’t be surprised if Volkswagen manages to squeeze more cargo space out of the new Golf, including the Golf R.

Drivetrain

  • Updated 2.0-liter Engine
  • As much as 329 horsepower
  • AWD standard
  • as fast as 4.5 seconds to 60 mph
2021 Volkswagen Golf R Mk8 Exterior Spyshots
- image 885722

Though nothing has been confirmed as far as the Volkswagen Golf R’s power and performance figures are concerned, a leaked slideshow from Volkswagen revealed that the hot hatch would be powered by a more potent version of VW’s existing 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The turbo-four is said to produce 329 horsepower going to all four wheels through a dual-clutch transmission.

Not only does the output represent a decent power bump from the Mk7-generation Golf R — the turbo-four from that model produced 288 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque — but the all-wheel-drive setup would once again give the new Golf R a distinct advantage over its front-wheel-drive rivals in the segment. I suppose Honda’s Civic Type R will have something to sweat over now.

More power, especially when it’s spread over four wheels, equates faster performance times. This is what we’re most looking forward to.

In the never-ending quest to be the fastest hot hatch in its segment, the Volkswagen Golf Mk8 should be faster to 60 mph than its predecessor, which could do the deed in as quickly as 4.6 seconds with a DSG double-clutch transmission.

It’s not unreasonable, then, to think that with all the expected improvements in tow, the Golf R Mk8 can do that sprint in under 4.5 seconds.

The spy photos also don’t reveal anything that could serve as hints on the Golf R’s mechanical setup, but there is one photo in particular that shows snow being flung upwards from the back tires. That’s a good indication that the rear axle is receiving power from the Golf R’s turbo-four engine.

2021 Volkswagen Golf R Mk8 Exterior Spyshots
- image 885719

In addition to the more potent turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Golf R Mk8 should also benefit from improvements to its chassis and suspension. We already saw hints of the large blue calipers and the quad exhausts from the spy photos. More surprises could be on the way ahead of the Golf R Mk8’s launch.

Prices

2021 Volkswagen Golf R Mk8 Exterior Spyshots
- image 885714

Pricing details for the Volkswagen Golf R Mk8 won’t be revealed until the hot hatch’s release. In the absence of a concrete price tag, we can look at the pricing details of the previous-generation Golf R to make, at the very least, an educated estimate on how much the next-gen model is going to cost.

The starting price for a 2019 Volkswagen Golf R Mk7 is $40,395. With all the new features and technologies it’s packing, don’t be surprised if the Volkswagen Golf R Mk8 gets a starting price of around $45,000.

With that starting price, the Volkswagen Golf R Mk8 could be looking at an entirely new crop of competitors that includes the more premium Mercedes-AMG A 35 and the BMW M135i xDrive.

Competition

Mercedes-AMG A 35

2019 Mercedes-AMG A35 Exterior
- image 796031

The Mercedes-AMG A 35 has proven its worth as one of the best entry-level premium performance cars in the market. Coming in either sedan or hatchback form, the AMG A 35 isn’t your typical pocket rocket. Sure, it boasts a lively 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It also carries a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that sends power to all four wheels courtesy of Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. In full bore, the AMG A 35 can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds, a lively number for a car of its ilk. You can even choose from five driving modes that provide different levels of ride and handling. But to say that the AMG A 35 is all about power and performance is to push aside all of its other important characteristics. Just as the Volkswagen Golf R Mk8 is loaded on the tech front, so too is the Mercedes-AMG A 35. Despite its size and placement in Mercedes-AMG’s hierarchy, the AMG A 35 comes with a fully digital cockpit that includes, among other tech goodies, the latest MBUX infotainment gear. Unfortunately, the AMG A 35 isn’t available in hatchback form so if we’re looking to buy one, our only option is to score the sedan model. That shouldn’t be a problem for those who are in it for the thrills because the AMG A 35 provides those in spades. Pricing for the Mercedes-AMG A 35 starts at around $45,000, right where we expect the Volkswagen Golf R Mk8’s price to start as well.

Read our full review on the 2020 Mercedes-AMG A 35

BMW M135i xDrive

2020 BMW 1 Series
- image 841368

As fanciful as the Mercedes-AMG A 35 and the Volkswagen Golf R Mk8 are — or expected to be, in the case of the latter — the BMW M135i xDrive is just as mean, just as potent, and just as packed with all of BMW’s latest technologies. Under the hood of this menacing hot hatch sits a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 302 horsepower and a whopping 332 pound-feet of torque. All four wheels receive power from the engine courtesy of an eight-speed automatic transmission. When let loose, the M135i xDrive can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in around 4.7 seconds before peaking at a top speed of 155 mph. There’s no need to feel inferior when you’re behind the wheel of an M135i xDrive, especially when you’re lined up together with a Mercedes-AMG A 35 and, soon enough, a Volkswagen Golf R Mk8. The Bimmer can handle its business against its rivals. Beyond its power and performance capabilities, the M135i xDrive also comes with a suite of new tech that should get you excited. The dashboard layout looks familiar, sure, but it’s also the place where you can find a 10.25-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system. A fully digital instrument cluster of the same size creates a long display akin to what you’ll see in the Bimmer’s counterparts from Mercedes-AMG and Volkswagen. And for all of that, the BMW M135i xDrive retails for €48,900 in Europe. Unfortunately, the model isn’t available in the U.S. market.

Read our full review on the 2020 BMW M135i xDrive

Conclusion

2021 Volkswagen Golf R Mk8 Exterior Spyshots
- image 885717

Holy smokes. We expected great things out of the next-generation Volkswagen Golf R, especially after the launch of the Golf Mk8 revealed a completely different model from its predecessor. Everything about the hatchback screamed fresh, modern, and brimmed with state-of-the-art technology. We expected a lot of the new Golf’s DNA to carry over to its range-topping model, but seeing the prototype of the Golf R completely undisguised is raising our expectations to levels that we can’t contain.

The full details of the next-generation Golf R have yet to be unveiled, but let it be said this early: if the Golf R Mk8 lives up to the growing hype it’s receiving, we could be looking at one of the greatest hot hatches of all time. Too much? I don’t think so.

  • Leave it
    • Plenty of questions to be answered
    • Sky-rocketing hype and expectations
    • Rival models offer compelling options
Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read More
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