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The end of the Volkswagen Golf era?

The fastest letter of Volkswagen’s alphabet is celebrating its 20th birthday with the exclusive Golf R “20 Years” anniversary model. Although the new “R” isn’t the most powerful Golf that has ever been produced with 8hp less than the iconic VR6, it is the fastest road going Volkswagen Golf that has ever left the Wolfsburg factory in Germany. But the real question is if the Golf R is still able to deliver some proper characteristics despite it’s filled with electronics.

What is it all about?

It’s 20 years since a Volkswagen was wearing an R badge for the first time. Not an R in the sense that we’ve come to know them because that first Golf R32 that debuted in 2002 took the 2.8-litre Mk 4 Golf 4Motion as its basis, and the resultant 3.2-litre engined car, forever the most unique of all the R models, was something of a tiny hot iron, made to impress. An engine with loads of characteristics, wider fenders which were beautifully integrated and only got recognized by the enthusiasts.

The idea continued into the more sober and talented Mk5, although the R32 struggled to distance itself from the superb GTI of that time. The struggle continued with the Mk6, which also junked the expressive but sadly lost its VR6 engine for a stronger version of the GTI’s four-cylinder turbo motor and was now simply known as the Golf R. The seventh generation Golf R continued the predecessor’s recipe, and the rest, as they say, is history. So, the new Golf R has quite some footprints to follow. And is it worth the extra money for the “R” badge, even though the 20 Years celebration edition?

First impressions

Let’s have a first look. The Golf R 20 Years is based on the Golf R Performance, starting its price tag at CHF 70’400.- instead of the CHF 66’000.-. The extra charged CHF 4’400.- deliver a more bespoke car with exclusive blue badges, specially trimmed and painted wheels (Estoril) and the first ever Volkswagen with real carbon-fiber applications used in the interior. So, Volkswagen always fooled us in their previous sports vehicles by using “Carbon trim”? Plus, the R 20 Years receives a 13hp power upgrade to 333 horsepower and 420Nm or torque. Thanks to refined software parameters and turbocharger-upgrade. Couldn’t find any more detailed information. But honestly, as the extra bespoke trim is recognizable, the CHF 4’400.- extra charge seems reasonable to me although it isn’t a cheap car at all.

On the other hand, the Golf’s sporty versions still have the same body panels as the standard cars (except the front and rear end of course) with a very minimalistic design language. Therefor it misses some extra drama and emotions. In comparison, the Audi RS3 is a completely different pair of shoes.

Let’s have a seat.

Alright, alright. Once you snugged into the comfortable sport seats, the Golf R doesn’t really give you the feeling of sitting in a top-of-the-line car. Despite Volkswagen claims the new Golf R 20 Years is the first ever Volkswagen with real carbon-fiber applications, there’re still loads of cheap plastics to be found in the cabin’s bottom section.

The infotainment controls are still a middling disaster, and the facelift was only able to patch up the gaping wounds in a makeshift manner. At least the infotainment system is now stable and no longer crashes every dozen driven kilometers. However, all the touchscreen stuff for climate control and on the steering wheel is still there. The sliders to adjust the volume and temperature drive me crazy. It’s been in discussion for too many times. At least, the Golf has a few shortcut buttons in the center console which help to get through the menus a lot quicker. Grit your teeth and get through it, friends. Volkswagen has now recognized the problem and is bringing a hoped-for solution with the new 2024 Tiguan and the other upcoming models.

The amount of space in both rows of seats is also sufficient for tall people, even if the leg rests in the rear are a little too short. The trunk holds a solid 380 liters. So, 15 liters less like a Hyundai i30, but 20 liters more than a Audi e-tron GT!

Bad infotainment system equals bad driving agility?

NOT AT ALL! To my surprise, the new Volkswagen Golf R is a real weapon. It is a really nimble hot box, always ready for the next sprint. The "R" has hardly any turbo lag. On the other hand, it somehow runs out of breath at higher speeds. As if its neck tightens the faster it goes. Somehow logical. This is due to the rather small turbochargers, which cannot deliver more charge and have their maximum torque somewhere in the middle of the rev range. The Golf R was given two additional driving modes called "Drift" and "Special".

The response of the accelerator pedal was retuned. The Golf R 20 years has a slightly sharper throttle response thanks to a turbocharger that is permanently kept at speed. This means that the boost pressure is built up much earlier, especially in the partial load range.

The torque vectoring all-wheel drive system does a phenomenal job on dry, wet and icy roads. For me personally, the steering is the only negative point when talking about the R's handling characteristics. It could give a little more feedback and should be a little more precise to keep up with the top model of the Volkswagen Golf R.

What should I buy?

I only mentioned the Golf R 20 Years base price above. With all its added options, the car shown costs a fortunate CHF 81’110.-! For a fast Golf?


Empty swallow


Yes, it has some bespoke features. Yes, it is equipped with loads of tec. Yes, it is a truly quick and a very good handling machine. And yes, it is still a Volkswagen Golf. Cost savings here and there, an infotainment system with wasted potential and a design language, which could have gone a slightly bit more extraordinary. For this amount of money, I might still consider buying something fun but more engaging and dramatical in the used car market.


To end this review, I wanted to thank Volkswagen Switzerland for lending me their Golf R 20 Years to properly test drive for an extended weekend. The infotainment was way less bad that I’ve expected thanks to the shortcut buttons. But this doesn’t mean Volkswagen hasn’t got some serious problems to get rid off.

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