Review: 2013 Volkswagen Golf R

2013 VW Golf R

N.B. In this review, we’ve chosen to forgo the usual multi-paragraph diatribe that has become the status quo for road tests. Considering the information overload to which we’re typically exposed, we realize that attention spans are limited. So we’ve chosen to truncate our reviews to focus only on must-have information.

Living in the US, you may not know it but the Volkswagen Golf is the world’s third best selling vehicle of all time, and for good reason. The original Golf was introduced in 1974 and its small stature resulted in huge sales. More sales were racked up the following 2 years with additional flavors and the GTI, “hot-hatch” variation, was introduced shortly thereafter in 1976. On our shores, it was renamed The Rabbit. It wasn’t until 1983, when the Volkswagen GTI came across the pond (actually it was built in America), that the hot-hatch craze in the US was really kickstarted. Even though it had just 90hp, offered by way of a 1.8-liter four banger, it weighed only 2,100 pounds and was quick and nimble on its feet with a 5-speed manual.

2013 VW Golf R

Over the years the Golf has added more power, more heft and more amenities while managing to keep its diminutive form and fun factor. The 4th generation Golf, which was released at the end of the 90s, saw a move upmarket to take on the likes of Audi and BMW with more luxurious accoutrements. In 2003, the R32 was introduced as the most powerful Golf to date along with the distinction of being the world’s first production car with a DSG clutch. It came to the US in 2004 with limited quantities and is still highly sought after.

After almost an 8 year wait, VW has finally introduced another compelling limited-quantity offering with the Golf R. It’s the most luxurious Golf that VW has produced to date and also the fastest, with sprints to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds. The R is only offered with a manual gearbox and is truly a driver’s car. But at its elevated price point it’s designed to compete against the BMW 128i and Mini Cooper in the amenities department and the Impreza WRX and Lancer Evo in the performance department. In comparison, on some levels it shines (luxury) but on others it falls short (performance).


Quick Facts

+Base price $33,990
+256hp with 243 lb-ft of torque by way of a turbocharged 2.0L 16-valve 4-cylinder engine
+Uses same 2.0L turbo 4 cylinder that’s in the Audi TTS with a reinforced iron cylinder block, stronger connecting rods and a Borg-Warner K04 turbo serving up 17 PSI of boost
+Two trims offered: Standard, and Premium which adds power tilting/sliding tinted sunroof sunroof, touch-screen navigation system, Dynaudio premium sound system and keyless entry with push button Start ($1,500)
+Standard features include 18-inch wheels, adaptive xenon headlights, sport front seats, heated front seats, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated mirrors, full power everything along with Bluetooth, an 8-speaker audio system with satellite radio and a USB/iPod interface
+Only transmission offered is a 6 speed manual gearbox
+Standard all wheel drive by way of a Haldex 4Motion system
+Curb weight is 3,354 pounds
+0-60 mph time in the 5.6 second range
+EPA is 19 in the city and 27 on the highway
+Offered in both 2 and 4 door options ($600 premium)
+Small production run of limited to 5,000 R models imported for 2012/2013


+More powerful than the GTI
+Better looking than the GTI with a lowered stance, restyled front and rear fascias and center mounted exhaust
+200+ pounds lighter than the R32
+Interior has excellent fit and finish with tight seams and class leading accoutrements
+Nicely bolstered sport seats
+Sublime manual gearbox offers short, precise shifts
+Flat bottomed R Steering wheel is properly weighted and a nice touch
+Steering is crisp but somewhat muted at turn-in
+Braking is smooth, linear and not too grippy
+Engine builds power quickly and revving above 3,000 RPM results in a thrilling ride
+German ride quality that mutes mega bumps but still lets you feel the road
+A stellar canyon-carver at moment’s notice
+Best Golf chassis ever with excellent balance by way of the rear drive axle
+Way nicer interior than the Impreza WRX or the Lancer Evo and on-par with the BMW 128i and Mini Cooper S


+$10,000 more than a standard Golf GTI
+Weak exhaust note
+Lack of useful internal storage spaces for sunglasses, phones, wallets and the like
+All season tires lack the grip of summer performance tires for those in warmer weather locales
+Short turbo lag
+The car is basically the same (expensive) price as the Lancer Evolution which is a rockstar
+US version lacks the optional DSG, adjustable suspension, LED tail lamps, hard-shell racing seats and the +10hp bump that the Euro-spec version receives

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that the Volkswagen Golf R may not be the fastest or best handling vehicle among the competition but it more than makes up for it with upscale interior, full complement of standard accoutrements, solid German handling and thrilling ride. The compromises that are made seem to be in all the right places and you’d be hard pressed to find a more well-rounded hatch. Sure, the price tag may be reason for concern but if you love the hatchback form factor, want something that is uber nice to sit in, and have enough chutzpah to tear up the city streets and canyons alike, you have found your ideal candidate.