The hatchback isn’t just for hauling kids and groceries. For decades, automakers have transformed a seemingly modest form of transportation into rapid transit by making the people movers look more aggressive, sharpening their handling, and adding power. In doing that, automakers such as Honda, Ford, Mazda, and MINI created what is known as the “hot hatch.”
Of course, we can’t mention the hot hatch without also bringing up Volkswagen. The German company has been known to make a fire-breathing five-door from time to time. In fact, on its website, Volkswagen calls its Golf GTI “The hot hatch.” Its autobahn-tuned sport suspension and 210-hp turbocharged engine turn up the heat in the Golf range and have led many an enthusiast to burn rubber.
That’s not the Golf model we’re reviewing here, though. We’re going to tell you about our time in the Golf R, which is even more powerful than the GTI. That begs the question: If the GTI is VW’s hot hatch, what does that make the R?
According to VW, the Golf R is “The performance hatch.” We recently spent a week in a 2017 model discovering why.
2017 Volkswagen Golf R Exterior
Part of the appeal of high-powered hatches is their relatively “sleeper”-like appearance. A white Focus isn’t going to attract as much unwanted attention – from someone with a radar gun or a smartphone connected to Instagram – as a red muscle car. We never once felt uncomfortably visible in our Lapiz Blue test car. Although its adaptive bi-xenon headlights, LED Daytime running lights, and lower front air intakes attracted the eye, they weren’t cop magnets.
In profile, the Golf R looks perfectly poised on its 19-inch alloys and performance tires.
Perhaps the biggest hints about the Golf R’s go-fast potential are found on its rear end. Above the rear glass, there’s a spoiler. Below the back bumper, there’s a set of four chrome exhaust tips. We imagine hot hatch enthusiasts we drove past gave those a nod of approval when they saw them. Whenever we walked out to the parking lot to get into the Golf R, we gave them a second – and third – look.
2017 Volkswagen Golf R Interior
Volkswagen makes four versions of the Golf. There’s the basic Golf, the GTI, the e-Golf (aka “the electric hatch”), and, at the top of the range, the R. As you can imagine, our R review vehicle was packed with features and tech.
Up front, there was a pair of heated Titan Black leather seats and dual-zone automatic climate control. We could access navigation, Bluetooth phone connection and audio, AM/FM/satellite radio, USB and CD audio, and the Volkswagen Car-Net App-Connect system through the 6.5-inch touchscreen. Whether we were listening to rock music or voice guidance, we heard it through the speakers of the Fender premium audio system. One thing we were not expecting was adaptive cruise control…but we weren’t surprised we enjoyed using it.
Overall, the Golf R’s cockpit was impressive not just for its content, but also for its quality. Interior fit and finish was tight and polished. Every knob and button felt precise. The lever in between the two front seats was precise as well – precisely what we wanted.
2017 Volkswagen Golf R Performance
The Golf R can be equipped with a six-speed DSG automatic transmission. It’s quick and we would’ve loved to snap off shifts with its paddle shifters, but we were glad it wasn’t in our media loaner. We were hoping VW would lend us a Golf R with a six-speed manual. We wanted to row our own gears, work all three of the stainless-steel-look pedals, and be fully engaged with the machine VW sent our way. They didn’t let us down.
After slipping into the sporty yet comfortable driver’s seat, we pressed the starter button for the 2.0-liter turbocharged TSI in front of us. A deep, throaty hum from the quad exhaust filled our ears. Every chance we had, we turned the flat-bottom wheel to guide ourselves to an open straightaway and spun the blue needle on the tachometer to the right of the dial. The resulting blat from that quartet of pipes out back was addictive.
On paper, the Golf R generates 292 horsepower and 280 lbft of torque. In person, it feels more powerful than those numbers would lead you to believe it is. Like a first-time skydiver with their parachute’s ripcord, the all-wheel-drive Golf R pulls. Hard.
When we were feeling especially rowdy, we switched the Dynamic Chassis Control to its firmest, most athletic setting: Race. Its rock-solid stability gave us confidence in high-speed curves, but no spine-shaking jolts when we drove over rough pavement. We didn’t feel penalized for our selection. We just felt shocked that the supposedly most aggressive suspension mode was so effective at its job, yet so gentle in performing it. The Comfort and Normal settings were also back-friendly.
2017 Volkswagen Golf R Safety
In addition to front and side airbags for the front occupants, head-protecting side curtain airbags, and a Forward Collision Warning system with Autonomous Emergency Braking, our Golf R media special was equipped with the optional Golf R Driver Assistance Package. That included the front and rear parking aid that VW calls “Park Pilot,” automatic high beams, and Lane Departure Warning (Lane Assist), which helped steer us back into our lane if we accidentally drifted into another one without signaling.
It was nice to know all of that technology was in place for emergencies, but the one safety feature that we found ourselves regularly benefiting from was Auto Hold. That held the Golf R in place when we were shifting from a stop and kept us from having to worry about rolling into the vehicle behind us.
2017 Volkswagen Golf R Overall
Our 2017 Volkswagen Golf R review vehicle had an as-tested price of $40,195, which was just north of the Golf R’s base price of $39,375.* Visit an AutoNation Volkswagen dealership to get one of VW’s hottest of hot hatches for yourself.
*MSRP excluding tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.