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Volkswagen Golf R 20 Years review


Big power, big price, and big personality: the Golf R 20 Years is the ultimate expression of the brand’s sophisticated AWD hot hatch

Good points

  • Additional power and torque
  • Fruity Akrapovic exhaust
  • Chassis sophistication
  • Fully-loaded spec
  • Exclusivity

Needs work

  • Blue wheels, mirrors put taste aside
  • Unnecessarily heavy steering
  • Rich pricing for a Golf
  • No brake or tyre upgrade
  • Could VW have gone harder?

Volkswagen likes to mark key birthdays for its hot hatch models with special editions, and the twentieth anniversary of the all-paw Golf R is no exception.

Australia’s cultivated taste for fast VWs saw the local division successfully bid for 50 examples of the Golf R 20 Years – all of which will be offered for sale on the 13th of July.

Volkswagen Golf R 20 years 2023 rear 3/4

Days before the on-sale switch was flipped, we were given the opportunity to drive about 10 laps of Sydney Motorsport Park’s Druitt circuit in Volkswagen Australia’s sole communications car.

Of the two Golf R 20 Years colour-themes, headquarters opted for the louder of the pair: pure white with blue 20-inch wheels and blue mirrors.

Golf R aficionados who prefer to fly under the radar will prefer the more subtle alternative: signature Lapiz blue with black wheels and mirrors, plus the same ‘20’ B-pillar badges as the hero spec. The other big tell? Four, genuine, titanium Akrapovic exhaust pipes that replace the standard system.

Volkswagen Golf R 20 years 2023 front 3/4

The other big tell is, well, availability. Despite being a limited-to-50 special edition, the Golf R 20 Years is technically available in more plentiful numbers in Australia right now than the standard R hatch ($68,990), which remains pinched by tight supply – though it’s easing.

At $77,490 before on-road costs, there’s no avoiding that the 20 Years is a major coin for a Golf – it’s over eighty grand driveaway, and $10,500 dearer than the series Golf R hatch.

That’s pang-inducing when recalling that the nominally more premium Audi S3 costs $71,800 list. But the modern Golf R has moved beyond the hardware of its four-ringed cousin and the 20 Years is next-level.

Take the crackling, popping and fizzing Akrapovic pipes: they’re a $6500 option on Volkswagen Group’s Cupra range locally, and the Aussie-spec 20 Years picks up a standard-fit premium stereo and sunroof that are worth $2900 on the regular options list.

That makes $1100 of fat for the exclusivity of a 50-unit run, which seems almost fair.

Except even that’s not quite right: the 20 Years also nabs a turbocharger pre-load function to keep the EA888 2.0-litre on boost for longer – and to induce some of those exhaust cracks thanks to unspent petrol – plus a 10kW/20Nm lift in outputs to 245kW and 420Nm.

On paper and otherwise, it’s largely standard Golf R hatch fare here: 20s, matrix LED headlights, a serious aero kit, a near premium-grade interior with heated and ventilated nappa leather seats, power adjustment and memory for the driver and twin 10-inch displays.

Commensurately with its shift upwards in positioning, the Mk8 Golf R – and 20 Years by association – are more befitting of single-car status and an alternative to the likes of a Mercedes-AMG A35 or BMW M135i.

Yes, there have been more than a few reports of screen lag (nixed, as far as we can tell) and dodgy unlit climate sliders and haptic steering wheel controls (not yet, but it’s in the plan), but get used to the tech stack and the Golf remains a highly ergonomic, comfortable and polished place to spend time.

The Golf hatch is really a car for singles or couples – or a second car for people who need the back seat occasionally. Still, you’ll fit adults back there without too much fuss, and the boot is big enough for a couple of bags.

Need more space? You’ll need a Tiguan R ($71,190), as the Goldilocks-spec Golf R wagon ($71,990) was discontinued this week.

Those are the practicalities: beyond merely the having of an exclusive Golf, the reason to try and secure a 20 Years is its maximised performance – precisely what we were let loose on track to sample.

While the four-to-five percent power and torque bump isn’t a night-and-day factor, the change is noticeable in one context.

Namely, that’s accelerating hard once you’re already in triple-digit territory. Relevance? The German autobahn, or locally on track.

It’s at this pace where the effect of the 20 Years’ turbo pre-load kit can be felt, injecting additional fuel to keep the Golf reliably on boost while the wet-clutch DSG swaps cogs momentarily. Engine response is freer-flowing too, VW says.

Either way, driven back-to-back against a standard car on the same piece of track, accelerating from 100–160km/h, the 20 Years feels a little more deranged, pushing out an indicated 2.5 bar (36psi) of boost consistently before the braking point is hit. It feels a little faster – and the claimed 0-100km/h sprint does fall from 4.8 seconds to 4.6sec.

Speaking of the braking point, if there’s a curiosity about the Golf R 20 Years, it’s that Volkswagen didn’t go even harder on specification – and price. At over $80,000 on road, there’s no avoiding that this special is already expensive, but we would have considered pushing it even harder to secure chassis upgrades.

The brakes, tyres and suspension of the 20 Years are all the regular R items – and that’s no problem, because the stock bits are highly serviceable and resistant to moderate track use.

But there’s been credit left on the table in the form of beefier, higher piston-count brakes, a more hardcore tyre (or even available semi-slicks), and a more focussed suspension.

We love the liveability of the Golf R’s 15-stage adaptively-damped ride quality, which manages to offer serenity and suppleness on the road with reasonably taut control on track – but a birthday like this might have been marked with a stiffer profile to turn up the wick of the weaponry on a circuit.

Driven on this layout of Sydney Motorsport Park, the Golf R 20 Years feels seriously rapid and quite fun, but it does also feel its 1556kg mass, especially after pedalling a $25,000-cheaper, 70kg-lighter Golf GTI on the same loop.

The R’s considerably more accelerative and it offers its driver additional options and sophistication, but it’s not that much more fun.

The R is an order of magnitude more capable on paper than any GTI, especially thanks to its trick twin-clutch rear differential, but the Golf R’s additional talents actually shine much more brightly on a country road than they do on track, where the lighter GTI’s inherent adjustability adds to the fun factor.

By contrast, it’s extremely enjoyable to deploy the Mk8 R’s precision and throttle-adjustability to satisfying effect on a tight road loop.

While we were not permitted time on road in the 20 Years, we’ve got no reason to believe it wouldn’t be everything we like about the standard R – and more – in that environment.

Volkswagen expects all 50 examples of the Golf R 20 Years to sell out quickly when orders open at midnight on 13 July – and we think they’ll go to well-heeled aficionados of the hero Golf.

For those patiently waiting for standard Golf R orders to reopen, Volkswagen is working overtime to clear the current 350-odd unit backlog, hopefully by Christmas. After that, R-rated Golfs could be back on the permanent menu.

Overall rating
Overall rating
Overall rating

Variant tested R 4MOTION 20 YEARS

Approximate on‑road price Including registration and government charges

Key specs (as tested)

1984 cc
245kW at 5600rpm
420Nm at 2100rpm
Power to weight ratio
Fuel type
Fuel capacity
55 litres
7.3L/100km (claimed)
Average Range
753km (claimed)
All Wheel Drive
4290 mm
1789 mm
1458 mm
Unoccupied weight
1556 kg

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