Car Reviews

VW’s Golf R classes up the super-fun GTI

The 2019 Volkswagen Golf R 2.0T. Volkswagen

2019 Volkswagen Golf R 2.0T: When a GTI owner wants to add some class

Price: $41,725 as tested (no options on test vehicle) Marketer’s pitch: “The perfect formula for performance.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver says the Golf R is “sophisticated inside and out” and offers “effortless performance, class-leading livability.” But they’re down on the fact that it’s “pricier than the already great Golf GTI, stick-shift model is significantly slower than the automatic, too subdued for some.”

Reality: … not that much faster, but a much nicer package than the GTI.

What’s new: The Golf R keeps the pedal to the metal, just as it has since 2015. It gets some snazzy new colors and a better display.


Up to speed: The 16-valve turbo four-cylinder creates 288 horsepower, and it goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 5.7 seconds, according to Motor Trend.

And it really goes. The accelerator feels as if it has certain “steps”; the first notch is for just driving; a bit more of a press engages “I’m in a hurry”; and level 3 says “I’m gone.” Loudly.

The exhaust is tuned to sound like Grandpa’s old air-cooled Beetle, but with an attitude — considering this baby has somewhere between six and eight times the horsepower, depending on the vintage of the Beetle in question.

Note, though, that the 228-horsepower GTI gets to 60 miles per hour in six seconds, according to Motor Trend.

Shifty: The 7-speed TipTronic automatic runs nicely through the gears in both automatic and shift mode. In either mode, though, restarting after a stop often left the Golf R hesitant, as if it took a few moments to decide which gear was the right one.

A six-speed manual is also available.

On the road: Handling from the 4Motion all-wheel-drive is the epitome of Volkswagenness, with super road-holding and around-the-bend excitement — and that’s the main feature the GTI doesn’t offer.

The real beauty of most Volkswagens — but especially of this one — is how the speed, handling, and gears combine to create a truly joyous driving experience. An uphill S-curve at 45 miles per hour can be even more exhilarating than blasting the Golf R to 60 miles per hour or beyond. Downshift a bit, feed it a little more throttle, grip the steering wheel, and — voila!


The five drive modes offer great variety in drivability. Race mode makes for the most on-the-road fun, and Normal offered good control on wet roads.

The Volkswagen Golf R offers driver and passengers a much upgraded interior over the GTI. The R also has standard all-wheel drive.

Driver’s Seat: Super comfortable and well-matched to my seat. Power controls are easy to operate and lumbar goes away enough for my comfort.

Friends and stuff: Though the drive is awesome, and shotgunners will get primo seats as well, the backseat is going to leave just sadness and turmoil in its wake. Legroom is pitiful, but headroom is nice.

Sturgis Boyfriend 1.0 — owner of a 2012 GTI — wholeheartedly blessed the Golf R after a short ride and dubbed the interior much more upscale than his own vehicle offers.

Still, the hatchback does offer some versatility, so this makes for a better companion than many sports cars. Cargo space is 22.8 cubic feet with the seats up, 52.7 with them down.

Play some tunes: The Fender stereo system offers excellent sound when you crank it up — but down at lower volumes it loses a lot of richness.

Controls are simple dials for volume and tuning, and buttons take operators from mode to mode. (And they do it in style; ebony soft-touch buttons are delightful to operate.) The touchscreen operates everything else and functions admirably.


Night shift: The interior lights create just the right amount of brightness to keep from interfering with the road, but still allow enough light to help find stuff inside the car. The headlights shine in all the right spots as well.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 25 miles per gallon in an Autobahn-worthy circuit of Southeastern Pennsylvania’s roads. There’s just no other way to drive this baby.

Where it’s built: Wolfsburg, Germany

How it’s built: The Volkswagen Golf gets a 3 out of 5 on Consumer Reports’ predicted reliability scale; no separate rating is offering for the Golf R, but the GTI gets a 2 out of 5.

In the end: The Golf R makes a whole lot of sense — it packs all the punch and twists of an Alfa Romeo Giulia, all-wheel drive, and a hatchback for added storage. But check out the GTI and you may save a bundle while having almost the same fun.