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Enhanced practicality and handling dynamism give load-lugging Golf R a slightly different character than the last

What is it?

If the Volkswagen Golf R was a fictional character rather than a fast family car, it would have to be some kind of Marvel’s Avenger. It does everything. It’s fast. It’s fun. It handles. It’s adult-four-seater practical but doddle-to-park compact. It’s got four-wheel drive usability. And yet the Volkswagen is not so performance-focussed that you’d ever think twice about using it for daily driving.

It’s even desirable, though a little bit understated with it. Special both on the ear and the eye if you know where to look, but capable of avoiding unwanted attention when you would prefer.

Adding an estate derivative to the Golf R lineup therefore makes a lot of sense for VW, since it brings even more practicality and usability into the above equation without really detracting from any of the car’s other qualities. It’s something that VW did for the mk VI and VII Volkswagen Golf ranges, and has just done for the Volkswagen Golf mk VIII.

What's it like?

The car’s mechanical makeup changes only in the fine detail in the transformation from hatch to wagon. The R Estate uses the same 315bhp, 2.0-litre turbo engine and hydraulically-controlled four-wheel drive system as the regular Golf R, and has the same uprated suspension and brake hardware that made the hatchback slightly wider-tracked, firmer-sprung and keener-handling than the previous version. Because it’s longer, the estate has a slightly more even weight distribution and therefore has its own suspension settings, but they are only very slightly different from those of the five-door.

You get VW’s torque-vectoring active rear differential as standard (although only the car’s special ‘drift’ driving mode if you option up the £2095 R Performance pack). A ‘progressive’ steering system is standard-fit, whose gearing quickens as you add lock; DCC adaptive dampers are optional (which our test car had); and 19in wheels with semi-slick trackday tyres are likewise optional (although if you stick with the standard 18s, VW will supply the car on winter tyres instead if you prefer).

VW has made a better fist of the R Estate’s design this time around, without totally nailing the end result. The funny proportions of the mk VII Golf R wagon have, at least, been banished. Unlike its predecessor, the mk VIII has a longer wheelbase and longer rear side doors than its hatchback relation, so its extended rear overhang doesn’t look quite so conspicuous as the last version’s did. The Golf’s stubby, high bonnet means this car is never going to look classically handsome; but the bigger problem is that VW’s design language for the current Golf model generation is just a bit too shapeless and derivative, in this tester’s view, to conjure much visual identity or kerbside appeal for the R.

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The interior is more convincing. Avoid the optional panoramic sunroof and there should be more than adequate leg- and headroom for adult passengers in both rows, and a really useful-sized boot that offers some under-floor stowage space, with a pretty expansive loadbay area above it that looks easily big enough to swallow bulky loads. 

The driving position is mostly good, and the primary control layout likewise. Perceived cabin quality is fairly high, although some dashboard mouldings are harder and plainer than VW’s old standards for such things may lead you to hope they might be. Like all Golfs, the R goes pretty big on digital technology, with configurable digital instruments, and a central touchscreen infotainment system that you can’t avoid regularly interacting with when changing drive modes or toggling active safety systems, whether you like it or not. Even with practice, I didn’t particularly like it, I must say.

To drive, the Golf R is in large part the same multi-talented all-rounder that it used to be. Those stiffer suspension rates and 19in wheels do make for a little bit more roar and thump from the car’s ride than Golf R devotees may be used to, but not so much as to change the defining strength of this car: its adaptability. On those optional adaptive dampers, it can be absorptive, comfortable and easy-going when set for those priorities; and then, in ‘Race’ mode, it’s a much meatier-, meaner-, tauter-feeling customer. Here, outright grip, agility and driver engagement aren’t quite in fast Renault Megane or Honda Civic Type R territory, but they don’t miss by much. That clever diff doesn’t seem to actively rotate the chassis when cornering hard; rather it works effectively to keep the car stable and true to its course and line even when you’re pouring on the power - and there’s plenty of that for the pouring.

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The Golf R makes a slightly contrived five-cylinder-style imitation engine noise in its sportier drive modes, but this can be disabled once you devise your own combination of steering, suspension and powertrain preferences in the ‘Individual’ drive mode. This tester would just have preferred a slightly cleverer, better-integrated regime for swapping and ‘saving’ your preferred settings than the Golf R offers, though. As it is, the car’s ESC settings and its gearbox modes have to be managed independently of the ‘Individual’ drive mode configuration, and so juggling between settings as the road changes ahead of you isn’t as quick or easy as it could be. VW could still learn a bit from BMW ’s M Division on that score.

Should I buy one?

The Golf R Estate retains a strong claim to be considered the perfect performance car for every possible need and occasion. While a marginally stiffer and more purposeful chassis has traded a little of the any-Tarmac-surface-suitability of the mk VII’s ride for more adhesive and better-balanced handling on better roads, you wouldn’t say the new car loses much in the end. It’s just different; less fluently carefree over a really testing route, perhaps, but keener to keep you interested through the corners in any case. Still a really compelling car, in other words.

The one thing that has changed, problematically for some I dare say, is the price. When VW revised the mk VII R Estate in 2019 (in light of changing WLTP emissions regulations), it reissued the car with a price some £6000 lower than the new model’s £43k asking price. Today, while you’re getting a Golf R wagon with slightly greater dynamic purpose than the last, you’re not getting one with any greater outright performance. And you’re being asked to pay what, to fans of premium-branded German driver’s cars, may accurately be thought of as BMW 330i M Sport Touring money, when your last Golf R wagon might have been yours for the price of a 318i.

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That’s quite the leap, isn’t it? Blame it on the establishment of proper premium automotive brands within the hot hatchback ranks, if you like; but what it means, for me at least, is that one of the most appealing real-world driver’s cars of recent times has become that little bit less of a go-to recommendation.

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PH135 15 March 2022

"Adding an estate derivative to the Golf R lineup therefore makes a lot of sense for VW, since it brings even more practicality and usability into the above equation without really detracting from any of the car’s other qualities. It’s something that VW did for the mk VI and VII Golf ranges, and has just done for the Golf mk VIII."

I don't remember ever seeing a MK6 R estate. Probably because VW never made one.

The touchscreen interface is seemingly a complete nightmare to use in the hatch and is riddled with bugs. Much like the autocar website interface.

I'd take a MK7.5 310hp estate over this car every time.

Ski Kid 15 March 2022

Yes and once over£40k you pay the extra £335 each year which annoys me, fair enough if you spend £100k but just over £40k to £60k I would keep under this as have paid nearly £600 for years it is payback time.

MrJ 15 March 2022

Not exactly a style-setter, and pricey with it.

Mind you, decent estates are starting to get a little thin on the ground.

SUVs are no replacement, so I think perhaps the VW Arteon might be a better bet than this Golf.