From £30,3459
VW's mega-hatch gets a bigger boot, but keeps its bombastic handling

What is it?

The Volkswagen Golf R took us all a bit by surprise. Sure, with 296bhp and active four-wheel drive, we expected the rampant all-weather performance, but many of the mega-fast, four-wheel-drive hatches from the Volkswagen Group and elsewhere have generally proved to be the Schwarzeneggers of their ilk - in other words, all muscle and not much character.

That's where the Golf R marked a departure from the norm, however, serving up surprisingly adjustable, bombastic handling. So can the automatic-only Golf R estate match the hatchback's handling finesse? 

What's it like?

Despite having gained 32cm in length and 79kg in weight over the hatch in the process of upping boot capacity from 380 to 605 litres, the Golf R estate remains a total riot to drive.

It gets all the same tricks as the hatchback, including the Haldex four-wheel drive system that can send everything to either axle, and also the XDS+ torque vectoring system, which brakes both inside wheels when it's deemed necessary in order to help battle inevitable understeer.

It does a damn good job of it, too. Stick all the adaptive systems - which included the optional £815 dampers on our car - into all-out Race mode, and the estate turns in to corners with the sort of veracious precision that comes close to something of which Renaultsport would be proud, and sticks with dogged determination to your chosen line.

Even better, if you do find the R bleeding wide through a corner, the throttle is communicative enough and the back-end mobile enough that you can easily provoke some lift-off oversteer to get the nose tucked back in (or frankly, just to have a bit of fun if you want).

It's a joyous blend of forgiving playfulness that works on road or track, and which avoids the slightly dead-eyed, stoic immovability of some less entertaining rivals - including the Seat Leon Cupra ST.

Generally, the fact that the Golf R has grown an estate boot really doesn't seem to have made much of difference. There's even an element of enjoyable incongruousness to seeing a Golf estate - even one with quad exhausts and evidently meaningful styling - pull a four-wheel drift through the chicane at Ascari before hooning up the track with a wonderfully rude exhaust note on the upshift. I imagine it's how I'd feel if I saw my nan stick two fingers up at someone.  

For all that handling vivaciousness, the Golf R estate is still as easy to drive and live with as any Golf. Despite having slightly stiffer springs at the rear to account for the extra weight (the only alteration to the suspension over the R hatch), the ride on our adaptive-sprung car felt very similar to that of the hatch.

You do get slightly more unforgiving compression and bump-absorption over potholes and the like than you would in a softer version, but it's never tiresome or uncomfortable, and there's unlikely ever to be a moment when you wish you hadn't gone for the R in favour of a more 'everyday' model. You want to get home without fuss? You can do just that. 

The only thing that might frustrate some buyers is the lack of a manual gearbox option. The six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox is great in general and mostly spot-on with its responses if you use the paddles, but it can sometimes be a bit slow to respond - especially if you've got the stop-start in action.

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There are moments when you want it to change up and it doesn't, so you go for a paddle-pull and the next thing you know you've jumped two ratios unintentionally. It's annoying, if a minor niggle, and the vast majority of Golf R hatch buyers in the UK have gone for the auto despite having a manual available, so it's hardly surprising that VW didn't bother on the estate. 

The cabin is identical to that of the Golf R hatch, so you get chunky sports seats which hold you in place, a fairly comprehensive multimedia system (albeit one that doesn't get sat-nav as standard, which seems fairly out of order at this price), some tasteful blue 'R' lighting and badging, and plenty of room for those in the front and back.

Of course, the boot is way more practical. Not only is it much bigger but you also get some neat standard touches including a variable-height boot floor, while the fact that folding the rear seats leaves an uninterrupted, 1.8-metre loadbay means the boot should be up for fairly industrial use.

It's a boot that's actually verging on the same space and usability as that of a Skoda Octavia estate, so you can be sure that this ticks the 'practicality' box.   

Should I buy one?

Absolutely. If you want a fast estate in this price region, this should be top of your list, if not the only one on it.

The front-wheel-drive Seat Leon Cupra ST is not much slower and is a hell of a lot cheaper, so don't discount that as a more affordable option, but it's also nowhere near as much fun. If that matters to you, then buy a Golf R estate. It's as simple as that. 

Volkswagen Golf R Estate

Location: Malaga; On sale: Now; Price £33,585; Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 296bhp at 5500-6200rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1800-5500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1574kg; Top speed 155mph; 0 62mph 5.1sec; Economy 40.4mpg (combined); CO2 rating & BIK tax band 164g/km, 27%

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jer 21 April 2015

I'd like to see

A passat estate with the same running gear.
Deputy 21 April 2015

Where does 4WD go?

Geek Question: I was looking at a Golf R but the hatch boot is 10% or 37 litres smaller than the GTI hatch due to 4WD. However the R estate capacity is the same as the normal Golf estate - how? (I couldn't squeeze the family kit into the hatch R boot)
scrap 20 April 2015

Tremendous. To me it looks a

Tremendous. To me it looks a lot less desirable than the 5 door hatch, but as it drives the same I imagine I would get over this fairly quickly if I owned one. It needs a few choice options, but say £35k for a fast, fun and very useful estate is still tempting.