Volkswagen is wishing the Golf R a happy belated birthday.
When the Golf R 20 Years was revealed for Europe last year it had been two decades since the first Golf R32 was introduced to sit above the GTI; by now the idea of a hotter Golf is old enough to legally have a beer in the USA.
Why the delay for Australia? Volkswagen has been struggling to build enough Golf Rs for our market, and decided to hold the 20 Years back as it worked through a significant backlog of orders.
Just 50 are bound for our market, and they go on sale today. First in, best dressed.
So, what differentiates the 20 Years from the regular Golf R?
The headline act is an Akrapovic exhaust – the only way to get one from the factory in Australia – but there are plenty of special bits and pieces on hand to justify the steep sticker price. After all, this is the most expensive Golf ever sold in Australia.
We put it through its paces at Sydney Motorsport Park to see how it stacks up with the regular car.
The Golf R 20 Years is the most expensive Golf ever sold in Australia, with just 50 units coming to our shores.
Priced from $77,490 before on-road costs, it’ll be sold through the Volkswagen Australia website.
The first 50 customers to get online will be given the chance to snap up one of the 32 blue or 18 white cars; those who miss out will be put into a waiting room in case one of the first 50 buyers isn’t able to complete their transaction.
That sticker price represents a $8500 impost over the regular Golf R Hatch, although the 20 Years packs some additional equipment (and the allure of scarcity) to justify it.
There are a few changes relative to a regular Golf R, but the fundamentals are the same – for better and worse.
What’s new? The carbon-fibre trim on the dashboard is real, not plastic with a racy print on it, and all the options from the regular R have been fitted as standard. That means you get a Harman/Kardon sound system and a sunroof.
It has blue wheels and a racy exhaust, but this isn’t a stripped-back special edition in the vein of the Renault Megane RS Trophy line.
The fundamentals are good, as we learned during our time with the Golf R on the road. The seats with their one-piece backrests are comfortable on long drives, and it’s easy to get comfortable as a tall driver. Even with a helmet on, there’s plenty of space.
But there are a few gripes on track that just weren’t apparent on the road. The seats could use more upper body support, because in some higher-speed corners it feels like you’re spilling out the top of them, and the plastic paddles fall easily to hand… but don’t feel particularly special when you consider the price.
A set of metal units, or at the very least some little rubber add-ons like the ones you get on BMW M cars, would be a welcome upgrade.
While we’re having a whinge, the touch capacitive buttons on the steering wheel are every bit as silly on the track as they are on the road. I’m already pushing hard and gripping the wheel tightly, turning on the steering wheel heater by accident isn’t going to help.
At least the R button is within easy reach. Rather than having to dive deep into the touchscreen to flick into Race mode, it’s within easy reach. If only the broader technology suite was so simple.
There’s no questioning the showroom appeal, and with familiarity you learn how to navigate through the layers, upon layers, upon layers of menus. The graphics look modern, and it responds sharply to inputs.
Simple tasks are too complex to execute, though. It used to take one button press to turn on your heated seat, for example, now it takes two – and on a bumpy road at 100km/h, the place you’d naturally rest your wrist to stabilise it is on the touch slider that controls the temperature.
It’s less of an issue on track, where your hands are firmly on the wheel, but a core part of the Golf R’s appeal is the fact it’s not just a track car.
On the practicality front, storage spaces abound in the first row – from the covered wireless charge pad to the cupholders, big underarm storage bin, and felt-lined door pockets. The cubby to the right-hand side of the steering wheel, which was perfect for garage keys or coins, is notably absent though.
The rear seats are very usable for kids or average-height adults, but the chunky one-piece backrests on the bucket seats in the R do loom large in your vision back there.
The Tiguan R is a more natural family hauler, but you already knew that.
Boot space is a claimed 374 litres with the rear seats in place, expanding to 1230L with the 60/40 rear seats folded flat.
Along with the three top-tether mounts, there are ISOFIX points on the outboard rear seats.
The Golf R 20 Years has a more powerful version of the regular R’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, producing 245kW (+10kW) and 420Nm (+20Nm) thanks to a fettled turbocharger.
Volkswagen says the turbocharger now features a preload system, and has a throttle valve that stays open during the over run – meaning the turbochargers spool before you demand full performance, and stays on the boil when you lift off the accelerator.
It also starts up with more flair than the regular car, thanks to a revised ignition sequence and the new exhaust.
It’s sent to all four wheels through a 4Motion all-wheel drive system packing the ability to shuffle torque between the front and rear axles, and this latest version is able to split the torque sent rearward between the individual wheels.
There’s a new exhaust, some new blue highlights, and a dash of extra power, but the Golf R 20 Years still feels like a Golf R.
It’s a planted, punchy little beast that feels friendly at full tilt – and one that’s packing some clever technology under the skin to up the involvement compared to its predecessor.
Driven back-to-back with the broader range, from the Polo GTI through to the Tiguan R, it clearly feels like the most focused. It still has some softer, more polished edges in a nod to the fact it’s meant to be an all-rounder though, which also shines through at full noise.
The car has always been defined by its all-wheel drive system, and the extra tricks on offer from the latest R make it very capable.
Through the high-speed turn one at SMP it’s rock solid, erring more on the side of stability than edgy rear bias, but through the slower second-third complex you’re able to get on the power as soon as the car is turned and the 4Motion system just drags you out and slingshots you down the next straight.
Rather than trying to push wide at the first hint of throttle, it’s clever enough to shuffle torque to the outside rear wheel when you start feeding the throttle in with a bit of steering lock applied. It’s still a Golf R, but the latest model has a few new tricks.
Although it’s lightning quick when it does shift, the dual-clutch transmission could be a bit more aggressive on downshifts.
Stamp on the brakes and the R stands on its nose, but the DSG doesn’t rip down through the ratios in the way the transmission in an AMG A45 S or RS3 does, which means you can be caught a gear too high when it comes time to accelerate out of the lower-speed stuff.
Taking charge with the paddles solves that problem, and the transmission is every bit as snappy as you’d expect.
While we’re talking brakes, the R stood up to a track session at the hands of journalists nicely.
It’s very stable from high speed, but you can trail brake to get the car turning and it responds. It’s not the last word in adjustability, an allegation that’s forever been levelled at fast Golf products, but it’s not a one-dimensional destroyer of wet roads either.
As for the changes? It’s hard to feel the extra power and torque on the track, and the new exhaust is most noticeable from the outside – inside, with a helmet on, it’s hard to differentiate it from the regular Golf R.
It looks fantastic though, and is a pretty desirable option.
Golf R highlights:
- 4Motion all-wheel-drive
- Torque vectoring
- 19-inch Estoril alloy wheels
- Performance front brakes (358mm discs)
- Six drive modes (incl. Drift and Special)
- Extended rear roof spoiler (hatch)
- Adaptive dampers
- Sports exhaust
- 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro with R modes
- IQ.Light Matrix LED headlights
- Nappa leather upholstery
- Heated, ventilated front sports seats
- Electric driver’s seat with memory
- Ambient interior lighting
- Tri-zone climate control
Golf R 20 Years adds:
- Akrapovič titanium exhaust system
- Carbon inlays across the dashboard and doors
- ’20 Years’ B-pillar badging
- Blue wheels/mirrors on white cars
The Volkswagen Golf wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on tests carried out by Euro NCAP in 2019.
It scored 95 per cent for adult occupant protection, 89 per cent for child occupant protection, 76 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 80 per cent for safety assist.
Standard safety equipment includes:
- 8 airbags
- AEB incl. Pedestrian, Cyclist detection
- Multi-collision brake
- Lane-keep assist
- Travel Assist
- Adaptive cruise control
- Active lane centring
- Front cross-traffic assist
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Front, rear parking sensors
- Reversing camera
The Golf R is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Maintenance is required every 12 months or 15,000km – whichever comes first – and Volkswagen offers three- and five-year prepaid service packages.
A three-year service plan costs $1700, and a five-year plan will set you back $3000.
The Golf R 20 Years doesn’t rip up the R rulebook and start again. Instead, it builds on it with a few choice upgrades.
The titanium Akrapovic exhaust in particular has some serious cool factor, and anyone who opts for the white exterior is getting a pretty cool-looking car thanks to the blue add-ons. They’re love or hate, but I’m firmly in the first camp.
Asking for it to go a bit further is probably a waste of energy, given the 50 cars coming to Australia will be snapped up in a heartbeat… but I wish Volkswagen had pushed things slightly more, with at least a set of properly racy seats on board.
Still, if you’re keen on a Golf R that will stand out from the fast-growing crowd of blue Volkswagen performance cars on Australian roads, the 20 Years is a unique take on the formula.
You’d best get in quick.
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