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The Mk7 Golf R departed as a legend, so where can the new one possibly go from there?

Whatever next? That’s the question Volkswagen would have asked itself when putting pen to paper during the development of this latest ultra-hot Golf.

The problem was that the previous version – the Mk7 Golf R, introduced as far back as 2014 but updated in 2017 before being put out to pasture in 2019 – was just so good. A blend of striking looks melded with an appealing degree of subtlety but also expensiveness, and fluid handling matched with broadly excellent ride quality, made the Mk7 Golf R the defining hot hatchback of its generation. It was also indecently quick. So how to improve it? Indeed, whatever next?

Mk8 receives the now-customary quad-tip exhausts. It’s a passive system, reliant on cabin synthesisation for added drama, unless you upgrade to the £3100 Akrapovic titanium sports exhaust

The subject of this week’s road test is the answer, and it’s fair to say that while the Golf R remains traditional in many ways, there are one or two bold innovations. But before we delve into the details, know that the priorities in Wolfsburg have changed over the past few years.

The fast four-wheel-drive Golf can be traced back to the Mk2 Rallye of 1988, although it was only in the 2000s and with the advent of the V6-engined R32 of the Mk4 and Mk5 generations that the recipe began to take hold with the broader public. A switch to four cylinders for the Mk6 generation then brought about not less power, but more, and allowed VW to hone the handling. The car’s popularity grew further, and by the time of the Mk7, the Golf R wasn’t simply the flagship Golf but arguably the flagship of the entire company. It was pragmatic yet aspirational and came loaded with driver appeal.

In the UK, VW still expects one in every 10 Golfs to be sold in R spec, which is an amazing statistic, but just how important is this car now to the company that builds it? The true apple in the eye of the world’s second-largest car maker is its all-electric ID sub-brand, which, VW hopes, will pivot the company into the next chapter of its hopefully long future.

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Where does that leave the Golf R, you may wonder. As something of an anachronism? Well, yes. But a brilliant one all the same? Let’s see.

The VW Golf line-up at a glance

Non-performance variants are available in Life, Style and R-Line trims. GTE, GTD and R variants exist as standalone models, while the GTI can also be had in sharpened GTI Clubsport guise. Petrol, diesel, mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid engine options are all available.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - VW Golf R

First drives

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