The Volkswagen Golf R is based on the Audi S3, but is rated below it due to less standard equipment and extra cost

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The Volkswagen Golf R is the quickest, most expensive version in the Golf line-up. Thanks to its potent 267bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, plus VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, the R will accelerate to 62mph from standing in just 5.7sec (or 5.5sec with the optional DSG transmission) and go on to a top speed of 155mph.

Despite the Golf R’s ferocious bite, however, restrained styling makes the hot hatch a real wolf in sheep’s clothing. External features of the hottest Volkswagen Golf yet include twin exhausts, mildly restyled black door mirrors, LED daytime running lights and an inconspicuous rear boot spoiler; in reality, a GTi on 19-inch wheels would probably look meaner in the raw, despite the R’s tinted rear windows and its almost too-subtle badging front and rear.

Refinement is impressive, but a little rawness would appeal

The most notable difference between the 'R' and GTi version is the 25mm reduced ride height and stiffer spring rates, which gives the quicker car enhanced stability at speed and enables flatter cornering.

Driven in anger, the Volkswagen Golf R is naturally a very rapid machine. But it’s also a smooth, grown up, refined kind of hot hatch, and one that feels as refined as a Passat, or, indeed, a more regular member of the Golf family, when driven on a motorway.

It rides extremely well for such a rapid hot hatch, too, and the noise emitted from its large 225/40 18-inch tyres is unusually well suppressed.

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This same restrained, well thought out, but slightly plain approach also applies to the interior, which comprises a great pair of front seats and the odd R logo to distinguish it above other Golf, but not much else. Build quality is exceptional, adding to the Golf R’s mature feel.

Choosing between the standard six-speed manual gearbox and optional seven-speed DSG ‘box is a no-brainer. In real-world conditions, the manual version falls some way short of its claimed 5.7sec 0-62mph sprint time.

By comparison, the smoother DSG ‘box hits its 5.5sec marker more accurately. The latter option is also more economical on the combined cycle (33.6mpg vs 33.2mpg) and slightly less harmful to the environment, emitting 195g/km CO2 against the manual car’s 199g/km figure. 

The question is remains, what type of buyer will the Volkswagen Golf R appeal to? If you’re a Ford Focus RS kind of person or Renaultsport Megane buyer for that matter, then the R is unlikely to appeal. But if you like a more subtle approach and don’t want the rest of the world to know how fast your car really is, the R could be right for you.

You will need to like its subtle approach an awful lot, however, because it costs significantly more than its obvious competition, most of which is more exciting to drive.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Volkswagen Golf R 2010-2012 First drives