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New Volkswagen Golf R: 329bhp super-hatch details and prototype drive

The hottest Golf gets even faster this year – and we’ve driven the prototype

  • Power increased to 329bhp
  • Updated exterior design
  • Interior tech from latest Golf

Details for the new Volkswagen Golf R have been revealed, and it’s shaping up to be the most performance-focused version yet. With a more powerful engine, new tech and updated bodywork, Volkswagen is hoping the latest Golf R will be able to maintain its place as one of the most capable hot hatchbacks currently on sale. If our initial prototype drive is anything to go by, it looks like Volkswagen won’t have anything to worry about.

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The Volkswagen Golf is turning 50 this year and the celebrations are already in full swing. The facelifted Golf ‘Mk8.5’ made its debut earlier this year, swiftly followed by the sporty Golf GTI and, most recently, the hardcore Golf GTI Clubsport. The new Golf R rounds off the quartet of new Golf models, and is due to go on sale in July 2024 in both hatchback and estate form. Prices are yet to be confirmed, but don’t expect change from £45,000.

What do I need to know about the new Volkswagen Golf R?

The new Golf R uses the facelifted Golf as its base, meaning you get the same host of exterior and interior upgrades. There are new LED headlights and tail-lights, complemented by a set of illuminating VW badges front and rear. Inside, you’ll find the new 12.9-inch infotainment display in the centre of the dashboard, while the 10.2-inch digital driver’s display is carried over from the outgoing model.

Like we’ve seen with the facelifted Golf, the touch-sensitive slider controls for temperature and media volume are now backlit, which should make them easier to use at night. However, the Golf R misses out on the regular Golf’s new steering wheel, meaning that drivers will have to make do with the same fiddly capacitive touch buttons from before, although their sensitivity has been adjusted to reduce the likelihood of pressing one accidentally.

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That’s about where the similarities end between basic Golfs and the new Golf R. The latter gets more aggressive bodywork, consisting of bespoke bumpers, blue styling accents and a roof spoiler. There are 18 and 19-inch wheels, including a new optional forged 19-inch wheel that shaves up to 8kg off each corner. As is now customary for Volkswagen R models, there are four exhaust pipes at the rear, while an Akrapovic titanium system is optional.

Open the bonnet and you’ll find the ubiquitous EA888 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine used across the VW Group, but power has seen a bump from 316bhp to 329bhp, matching the output of the old Golf R 20 Years edition. 0-62mph acceleration times have improved as a result, dropping to just 4.6 seconds for the hatchback and 4.8 for the estate. As before, the Golf R uses VW’s 4MOTION four-wheel drive system and will only be available with a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox. 

Tick the box for the optional Performance Package and the top speed rises to 167mph, making the new Golf R the fastest VW you can currently buy, alongside the Arteon R. The Performance Pack has been designed with track use in mind – you get a GPS lap timer, a G-force metre, as well as ‘Drift’ and ‘Special’ driving modes. There’s a bigger roof spoiler, too.

How much will the Volkswagen Golf R cost and when can I buy one?

The Golf R has always resided at the top of the Golf food chain, and that’s not set to change for this facelift. As a result, it’s expected to cost more than the new GTI and GTI Clubsport, with a starting price in the region of £45,000. Customers will be able to place an order from July 2024.

Volkswagen Golf R prototype drive – John McIlroy

We’ve had the chance to drive a prototype Golf R in Germany before its official launch, giving us a sneak preview of Wolfburg’s latest hot hatchback.

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Immediately after setting off, the new Golf R feels more performance-focused than before. It seems that Volkswagen has tried to distance the R further away from the GTI, with noticeably more exhaust burble making its way into the cabin. The 2.0-litre engine has been engineered to deliver a “rougher” note this time around, and our test car’s optional titanium Akrapovic system delivered a deep-chested, if not sonorous, soundtrack.

Once up to speed, the Golf R’s wide-ranging talents come into full effect. Put your put down and the engine feels more responsive than that of the old car, with startling acceleration as you shift up through the gears. The DSG gearbox swaps cogs even more urgently than before, while downshifts are accompanied by a raucous soundtrack of pops and backfires, playing into the Golf R’s boisterous character. The speed is backed up by solid handling, although we suspect the slightly lighter-feeling Golf GTI will be the more engaging of the pair.

Settle into a motorway cruise, and engine noise is reduced to a non-intrusive background hum, meaning you won’t have to raise your voice to speak to passengers. Given that we were on a deristricted stretch of Autobahn, a quick run up to 120mph proved that the Golf R is a stable high-speed cruising machine. The same is true for the estate variant that we tested, feeling much the same but with extra space for carrying cargo.

Now, why not read our list of the best hot hatchbacks to see what the Golf R is up against?

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