Volkswagen Golf R or VW Golf Gti.

Back in the late seventies Volkswagen finally presented a real car. Yes, the beetle is cute but it’s terrible to drive. That car was the Golf Gti. 3 letters that changed the way petrolheads live.

Golf GTI MK1

The car was decently powered, small, light, massive fun to drive and affordable. With that specific car a new segment appeared. Hot hatches. The Golf Gti is not the first as the Mini already existed for more than a decade at that time but it started a real trend and some of the best youngtimer followed. It’s almost like SUV these days. Same craziness, just way more fun. Obviously being a proud french guy I must cite the great Renault 5 Turbo and the mighty Peugeot 205 gti.

Golf R

The success of these car came from several ingredients : light weight, small, fun to drive, manual gearbox, reasonable pricing. Unfortunately these 3 things kind of disappeared for safety, pollution and some other dark reasons. Disappeared really? Not exactly. The 3 letters became one single letter… “R”.

So, is the formula still the same 40 years later? That what we will discover this week with a bright yellow 2019 Golf R.

Golf R, 40 years later, same DNA?

I love simple things. Among them the pure joy of driving. I don’t need a Lamborghini or a Ferrari even if they are amazing to drive. They are perhaps too ostentatious and not reliable enough. I told you I love simple things, getting in my car and being sure that it will work as intended is one of them. It sound silly but don’t take this for granted in every car. With a Golf however you can and that what makes the reputation of the rabbit.

A VW Golf is that kind of simple car. No one especially look at you, it’s a normal car. Usable on a daily basis and reliable. Where things become interesting is when Volks add a good engine in that same Golf. Now we are talking. 292hp. Less than 1500kg… On paper I like it, already.

BUT, don’t lose your mind, I’m still conscious that it has some defaults. Yes, this car is the grand grand grand daughter of the original Gti but obesity is a serious concern in 2019 and this car makes no exception. It’s not small neither light anymore. Over the years it gains 2 doors, more than 55cm in length and 700kgs. Yeap, that’s almost two original VW Golf on the weighing scale.

Still, fortunately, compared to modern cars it’s smaller than most of them (at least in North America) and lighter than 90% of actual production cars.

German design, outside and inside.

What about its design? Well it’s very German, in a good way, at least from the outside. The exterior is still very simple and the overall the 2019 car has a clear family link with the original Golf Gti, which is great.

The R version is beautiful and somewhere a bit mean with it’s 4 tips exhausts. I really liked this special yellow paint (2,995$ option, oopsie) and these black rims. To be honest I never really understood people buying a grey, black or even worse, white, hot hatch… It’s like buying a Rolex Submariner. In one word I would say that it’s boring. These cars are supposed to be fun, different and stand out from the “regular” Golf.

Golf R

For some cars, the design is such that liking it or not is very personal. However for the Golf I can’t think about anyone that looked at a Golf R and say “what an ugly car”. Personally I like it. It’s not love at first sight but it looks cool.

Inside, I have been a bit disappointed for the price. Yes, I forgot to mention but this car is not cheap anymore… $58,000CAD (including taxes) for this specific configuration. The competition at this price point is fierce. The thing is that there is nothing wrong inside that car but there is nothing cool neither. You can immediately notice that it’s well made and put together (German cars). I just found that the design is boring and feels really 2010.

Golf R

Some people think I’m a bit intense, but, for example,  I do expect leather on the top of my dashboard, especially at almost 60,000$. I don’t care about virtual cockpit I just want a cosy and/or sporty interior.

Enough with the design, afterall it’s a Golf, everybody likes the Golf, what I really want to know is how it drives.

The gearbox surprise of the Golf R.

I consider myself a true petrolhead (as I own a classic Alfa Romeo I earn that right), as far as I’m concerned, a hot hatch must be equipped with a clutch pedal. Simple. 3 pedals, 1 steering wheel and a lot of fun, that’s all what I’m asking for.

Living in North America can be quite depressing for a petrolhead like me. The vast majority of drivers would never consider a manual because “it’s too complicated in the traffic”. Each time I hear this kind of thing I start arguing and fighting for the survival of true cars and by that I mean the ones with a manual transmission. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this…

Golf R

The press car has a DSG gearbox. I do think that if you don’t know how to drive a manual, then you should not even consider buying a hot hatch. To be honest I also think that a car journalist that prefers to have a DSG gearbox in that type of car should find another job.

I was disappointed but as always I try to be positive and I’ll give a chance to that DSG gearbox.

After a week I have to say that this is one of the best automatic gearbox I tried. The gear changes are great and the car is smart about the shifts. As the car is not that powerful the gearbox is always here to support you and give you plenty of power when you need it. In sequential mode the DSG gearbox is as nice to use as in automatic. Which mode did I prefer? Once the frustration of a DSG gearbox instead of the manual was gone, I preferred the automatic mode. It’s designed for it so let the car decide and enjoy your drive.

The Golf R, the Renault Megane RS killer?

You knew it was coming. How not to compare these 2 cars. 2 references in the hot hatch segment. Same size, about the same power and same weight. Which one is funnier? Tough choices ahead.

Golf R

On the road the Golf R is impressive. The limits of the car seem so far away it is mind blowing. You can do anything it will not move around. No even an once of grip loose. The Golf R is a 4 motion car, which mean it’s all wheel drive. That’s probably why. 300hp, ESP off, the car is still as stable. Impressive and disappointing at the same time.

The car goes incredibly well around corners even tight. It’s actually its playground. Small and twisty back country roads. The car is lively, easy to drive and makes you feel confident. Full throttle in the middle of a curve as never been easier. Floor it, turn the wheel, the Golf will go exactly where you want it to go.

Golf R

It’s the perfect car for someone who want a rational, safe and efficient car. You can do everything with it and it is good at everything. Even the fuel consumption is good. I averaged 9.5L/100kms, considering my heavy foot I was really surprised.

Is it as fun as the original Golf Gti? Not at all. I tried everything. Launch control, no ESP, full throttle, nothing. It’s fast. really fast for that type of car. It does the 0-100 in less than 5 sec. However, it misses something, a touch of character. It’s almost as if the Volks/Audi engineers were too good.

Golf R

How does it sound with that 6cyl? Well, 2019 so no more 6cyl. It has been replaced by a 2.0l in line 4. Sad news. I used to see these R32 when I was younger and their sound was in my opinion so cool.

In that version from the inside it’s ok. Nothing crazy but a nice calm roaring in race exhaust mode. From the outside, nothing. Wait what? Sadly the sound is fake. It’s not a loud car even from the inside so I’m able to deal with it. In my opinion this lack of engine sound contributes to the lack of character of the car. To make things clear, I liked driving it, it’s a good car that can be used everyday it’s just not the same as the old generation of Golf which were exalting.

Golf R

The chassis of the car is amazing, it’s responsive and quite rigid. I think it could handle more power easily. 360hp, so 68 additional horsepower would be great to add some spiciness to the ride. You know what could make it awesome too? An active system that allows you to switch the car in propulsion. Hell yeah!

I think that the same car with a manual gearbox is a whole different story. I’m sure it’s way more engaging and fun to drive. For sure it’s the way to go. After all it’s a hot hatch.

So is it a Megane RS killer ? I would say that it’s very different yet so similar. The Megane RS is a car for the experienced drivers when the Golf R is a car for everybody. The polyvalence of the Golf is superior and the assembly quality is a bit better. However, if like me you look for fun and exciting ride I would take the Megane RS. At least in Europe. In North America the RS is not even an option as it’s not imported.

#FunToDrive Score: 75/100

If you’re doing a lot of road and want something cool and fast, the Golf R is a great car. If you want a weekend car which can be occasionally driven to go to work, I think the Golf R is not your car. It’s a true daily driver. Easy, comfortable, safe and fuel efficient. Do not forget, if you have one choice to make… go for the manual!


Hot hatch fever onboard the 2019 Volkswagen Golf R

  1. Too bad, it’s probably a much better car with an old school manual gearbox 🤷🏻‍♂️

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