The Golf R hatch may have finally emerged out of the GTI’s shadow, but the more practical Golf R wagon gets even more things right
After deputy editor Nathan Ponchard attended the launch of the Mk8 Golf R, he declared that the AWD hyper hatch had finally come out of the shadow of the GTI. That’s not to say the GTI was ever slower – it wasn’t – but that until the recent Mk7.5, the fluid front-driver offered more driver involvement than the anodyne Golf R ever did.
With its trick twin-clutch rear differential, the hatch is the Golf R enthusiasts have always wanted. The catch? Well, that’s the fact you can now buy what we have here: an immensely practical wagon version of the Mk8 Golf R with all the same trick dynamic gizmos but combined with a longer wheelbase and a more advanced tune of the EA888 turbo-petrol four that features an emissions-stifling petrol particulate filter.
And it gets better because not only should the wagon emit less nasty particles, its ADR combined fuel consumption figure is 0.4L/100km ahead of the hatch (7.4L/100km) and it gains an extra 20Nm to partially offset its 82kg weight penalty. Volkswagen Australia says eventually the Golf R hatch will pick up the PPF and extra grunt (along with a 25 year limited edition with 245kW), but for now, only the R wagon gets the more environmentally friendly European engine tune in Australia.
Those features go a long way to justifying the R wagon’s $3000 premium over the hatch – a power tailgate only sweetens the deal – but it’s hard to ignore the fact that this labrador carrier is $11,000 more expensive than before … though on the bright side, it is less than half the price of an Audi RS4 Avant ($155,400 before on-road costs).
Volkswagen’s fast wagon isn’t half an Audi RS4 to drive, though, thanks to a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol that pushes out 235kW of power across a huge 5200-6600rpm spread, and 420Nm from 2000-5500rpm – both increases on the hatch, meaning its claimed 0-100km/h time is only a tenth slower at 4.9 seconds.
Looking beyond the R’s on-paper numbers, it’s the polished and unrelenting way the EA888 engine delivers its power that impresses. There may be no Hyundai i30 N firecracker exhaust antics, but the Golf R seems to always be able to dish out effortless levels of performance.
Of course, the R’s polish is aided by Volkswagen’s ultra-slick seven-speed ‘wet’ dual-clutch transmission that is immaculately tuned (though the lack of a manual gearbox alternative will be a sad loss to some). The R Wagon also defaults to Sport mode on start-up, meaning the shifts are never frustrating and lazy but always quick and decisive.
Switching through the R wagon’s modes is made easier by the inclusion of an ‘R’ button on the steering wheel that means you don’t have to interact with the infuriating touchscreen so much (more on that later). The R button also brings the wagon alive, with limited pops and crackles still allowed to fire out of the exhaust in R or Special modes.
There is extra noise synthesised into the cabin, but you can opt out of that if you like. Thankfully, Volkswagen’s effort is more honest in the R than the Skoda Octavia RS’s awkwardly augmented grumble.
Just like the hatch, the R wagon’s modes are linked to the 15-way selectable dampers. The R’s Comfort setting is cosseting around town but over 80km/h introduces too much lateral body movement, and although tied-down nicely at highway speeds, Sport proved too harsh for Sydney’s pockmarked Inner West roads.
Normally, this kind of suspension mismatch would be severely frustrating, but sliding the dampers two clicks up from Comfort struck a perfect medium and served as my go-to Individual setting.
Get the Golf R wagon out on some testing country roads and it truly impresses with crisp steering feel and faithful chassis control. By selecting the uncompromisingly-stiff R mode, you’re able to scroll across to the Special mode honed on the Nurburgring Nordschleife which, as we found out in the Golf R hatch, is actually a little soft for use on smooth tracks, but it suits road driving perfectly.
With the dampers firmed up, the R’s body control is excellent and grip on corner exit is prodigious. The 235/35R19 Hankook Ventus S1 Evo tyres are still the limiting factor on corner entry, but the R’s trick rear diff gives the driver options on the way out with delightfully purposeful over-rotations of the rear wheels in ESC Sport mode available under power.
Sitting at the top of the Volkswagen Golf range, the R wagon naturally gets the full shopping list of safety features including adaptive cruise, lane-trace assist, blind-spot monitoring, front AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and rear AEB, as well as front and rear parking sensors. Only a 360-camera is missing from the R’s safety credentials, though all of the systems work in unison for a relaxed operating experience.
Unfortunately, the operating experience of the Mk8 Golf’s interior is not as polished as the driving experience. Particularly when first jumping in, the R’s centre touchscreen proved inconsistent in its responses and wireless Apple CarPlay’s touch targets are small and difficult to hit.
But, as the screen and operator ‘warm up’, the Golf becomes less obtrusive to interact with. The shortcut buttons for the HVAC and drive-mode settings could be more prominent, and temperature controls could persist on screen as they do in a Skoda Octavia – these are all changes we’d love to see addressed in a mid-life facelift.
Odd touchscreen aside, though, the Golf’s 10.25-inch digital driver’s display that can show a full map, crisply render album covers of your favourite music, and provide huge amounts of info (including transmission oil temperature) is excellent. The now-optional $1000 eight-speaker, 12-channel, 480-watt Harman-Kardon sound system (that negates a spare wheel) is clear, crisp and offers lots of sound customisation.
Though you do sit a little high in the Golf R wagon’s sports seats, they are immensely supportive with great bolstering and ample electric adjustment. The pews are appointed in soft Nappa leather with three-stage heating and cooling that make the R wagon feel properly premium and go some way to justifying its circa $11,000 price increase over the Mk7.5.
The secondary materials in the front of the Golf R are also high-quality, with a soft dash top, door tops, and a comfortable, adjustable centre armrest that makes room for covered storage. There’s also a wireless charging pad and a pair of USB-C ports in the front seat.
In the back section, the Golf wagon’s extra 50mm of wheelbase (a first for a Golf wagon across eight generations) makes it a more generous proposition for rear-seat riders, with ample knee and headroom, and a surprising amount of toe room.
The view out of the R wagon isn’t as good as the high-set Tiguan R’s bench, but it’s not bad and fitting three across the supportive squab is possible. There are another two USB-C fast-charging ports and a separate climate zone in the rear as well.
Of course, the real reason you’d fall for the Golf R wagon is that its capacious 607-litre cargo space is perfect for carrying bicycles, flat-pack furniture and other long items. And there are also slick silver roof rails that add a hint of class to the R wagon’s attractive aesthetic.
There is a penalty to the Golf R’s power and all-paw grip compared to the GTI, and that is fuel consumption. The R wagon is, surprisingly, more efficient than the hatch (7.4L/100km vs 7.8) – decent considering the amount of performance on offer. In our testing we saw the R average around 10.0L/100km.
Servicing is due every 12 months/15,000km for the R wagon – the same intervals as the hatch. In Australia, Volkswagen offers a five year/75,000km care plan for the R wagon at a cost of $3000.
The limited-slip twin-clutch diff-equipped AWD Golf R is a little dearer to maintain over five years than rivals including the Subaru WRX Sportswagon ($2365) or a Skoda Octavia RS ($2000).
Volkswagen covers the R wagon with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty in Australia and includes one year of roadside-assist membership in the price.
So the Mk8 Golf R is better in just about every way, and the wagon has grown to be even more practical, but does that make it the pick of Volkswagen’s R range?
The lower-set wagon is definitely more nimble and performance-oriented than the Tiguan R, and the extended wheelbase over the hatch seems to subtly settle the ride, so if you need the space and don’t plan to take the R onto a track regularly, then the wagon is simply superb.
Yes, the infotainment system is annoying, and sometimes the level of polish and perfection the Golf R delivers can lessen its involvement, but the bandwidth and driver engagement that the new rear differential brings is welcome.
Volkswagen’s Golf R wagon is still the ultimate all-rounder. The fact that it only costs a fraction of an Audi RS4 Avant means it’s hard to look past this focused sports wagon.
After almost 20 years of R-badged Golfs, the fifth-generation model finally steps out of the GTI’s shadow to become the hard-edged hot hatch it always deserved to be
Subaru takes on the Octavia RS with punchy new WRX wagon, but it only shines in expensive tS trim that packs adaptive suspension
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