What is it?
The Volkswagen Golf R cabriolet is the fastest and most powerful drop-top Golf ever. At £38,770 – some £1181 more than the entry-level Porsche Boxster – it is clearly the most expensive, too.
Following on from the launch of the Golf GTi cabriolet last year, Volkswagen has upped the open-top ante even further with the introduction of the Golf R cabriolet.
As its styling suggests, the go-fast soft-top is based around the previous sixth-generation Golf, not the latest seventh-generation model. That’s because the third-generation cabriolet, with its traditional fabric hood and four-seat layout, was only launched in 2011, so it is essentially a two-year-old car even if its appearance suggests otherwise.
Power comes from Volkswagen’s older EA113 engine, not the newer EA888 that both powers the Audi S3 and will also serve the new Golf R later this year.
The transversely mounted turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit runs a maximum 1.2bar of turbo boost pressure and delivers 261bhp and 258lb ft – some 55bhp and 52lb ft more than the Golf GTi cabriolet’s less heavily tuned version of the EA113 engine.
Power is fed through a standard six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox to the front-wheels. The set-up mirrors the Scirocco R, with an electronic differential included to keep wheelspin in check and ensure traction.
The Golf R cabriolet also receives stiffened springs and dampers, while the anti-roll bars have gone up in diameter, the ride height lowered by 25mm and 19in wheels fitted as standard. UK buyers may be able to specify 18in wheels as a no-cost option.
Along with its added performance, the primary appeal of the range-topping Golf cabriolet comes with its excellent fabric hood. Developed in partnership with Karmann, the electro-hydraulically operated structure opens at speeds of up to 18mph in just 9.0sec.
Standard kit includes bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, a multi-function steering wheel, front sport seats, leather upholstery, climate control and parking sensors. Leading the options is an adaptive chassis control system providing variable damping in three distinct modes: Normal, Comfort and Sport.
What is it like?
The Golf R cabriolet lives up to its billing as the fastest Golf cabriolet. In a straight line and on dry roads it delivers impressive acceleration and genuinely exciting in-gear qualities up to posted limits. This is largely down to its strong low-end torque and overall efficiency of its standard dual-clutch gearbox.
The engine might be on its way out due to the amount of work required to ensure EU6 emission compliance, but it still manages to deliver urgent and lively performance. It sounds good, too, although the raspy exhaust note is less prominent here than in other R-badged models.
At 1539kg, the new front-wheel-drive, two-door soft-top weighs 94kg more than its four-wheel drive, three-door fixed-roof hatchback sibling, with the result that it can’t match that car's standing start performance.
Volkswagen quotes a 0-62mph time of 6.4sec, or 0.9sec slower than the three-door Golf R. Top speed is limited to 155mph.
While it delivers impressive straight-line speed, the excitement sadly doesn’t extend to the Golf R cabriolet’s chassis, which lacks the directness and response of the excellent Golf R hatchback.
Driven at eight-tenths and with optional adaptive chassis control switched to Sport, it is appealing; the taut suspension delivers good body control, and the electronic diff keeps understeer nicely in check when pushed hard through tightly apexed corners.
But while the body structure is stiff by open-top standards, there’s no escaping the fact that it lacks the integrity of a fixed-roof design.
The steering, while superbly weighted, is devoid of meaningful feedback. Some subtle scuttle shake is also evident on pockmarked surfaces, while on wet roads, the Golf R cabriolet fights to get its not inconsiderable power to the road cleanly.
We’ve got no qualms with the overall ride quality, though. With the adaptive chassis control in comfort mode, it is well resolved, offering reasonable travel, progressive vertical movements and excellent refinement. Another positive point is the overall lack of wind noise when cruising with the roof up.
The interior, while boasting an old design, is also superbly built, with a level of fit and finish that would shame many more expensive open top cars.
Should I buy one?
In dry conditions, the Golf R cabriolet is a lot of fun. But while it is impressively quick, its dynamic properties are limited by its open-top design and the fact that its reserves are channeled through the front wheels – that latter making it something of a handful in wintery conditions.
Those seeking added performance potential and a practical four-seat layout in the open-top ranks would be best advised to have a look at the Golf GTI cabriolet before committing signature to sales contract.
On overall balance, it is a better car. If not quite as fast in a straight line, it is more resolved in the handling department and every bit as impressive in terms of quality. And at £30,610, it’s a good deal cheaper, too.
If you don't need the rear seats and have the money to splurge on options, buy the Boxster.
Volkswagen Golf R cabriolet
Price £38,770; 0-62mph 6.4sec; Top speed 155mph (limited); Economy 34.5mpg; CO2 190g/km; Kerb weight 1539kg; Engine 4-cyls in-line, 1984cc, turbocharged petrol; Installation front, transverse, FWD; Power 261bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 2500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch automatic