• 2018 Volkswagen Golf R

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Golf R

Top of the Line Golf Offers Benchmark Performance & Outstanding Economy

The updated 2018 Volkswagen Golf R offers benchmark, performance, handling and economy in a thoroughly modern five-door hatchback package. The Golf R builds on the features and performance of its sibling, the GTI, and dials it up, not to the extreme, but instead adds refinement and strength.  It does it in a way that is familiar to Golf aficionados, but does not embrace a wild and wooly personality.

VW, Volkswagen Golf R, performance, fuel economy, mpg, AWD

4 pipes, no waiting

The Golf R uses the same MQB platform that can be found underpinning every Golf, Jetta, Alltrack, Atlas and Tiguan today. The body shell is the same as the GTI and regular Golf and is only offered in a five-door hatchback body style.

The Power

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf R get Its power from the same 2.0-liter EA888 engine that is in other MQB cars, but the Golf R’s upgraded engine has different heads, larger turbo, pistons and a more robust direct injection system.  These enhancements add up to 290 horsepower and 280 pounds-feet (lb.ft.) of torque.  For those who are counting, that’s 22 lb.-ft. of torque and 72 more ponies under the hood compared to the GTI.  The torque comes on quick and is pretty flat across the range.  That means a quick throttle response regardless if you are stuck in traffic or are out on a winding country road. The Golf R gets a free-flow exhaust with one outlet per cylinder. EPA ratings for the Golf R gas mileage are 21 city/29 highway/25 combined.  Our testing yielded 30 mpg in mixed driving.

2018 Volkswagen Golf R

It looks the same, but it’s got something extra

The power gets to the road  for the Golf R in two ways; one is by a new for 2018, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DSG) option, or the standard six-speed manual gearbox.  The new DSG gearbox is truly state-of-the-art, with quick and precise shifts via steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.  It’s a joy to use, with the transmission always knowing the proper gear to be in regardless if it is for economy driving, or to cut and slice

through traffic.

For those who believe that the only proper way to experience the R is to rowing the gears yourself, VW hears you and offers as standard a six-speed manual.  Our test Golf R came with this six-speed; the shifter was vague, the clutch was light and engagement was hard to do smoothly.  We attribute that the fact that our Golf R was a press fleet car and probably has seen its fair share of abuse.

All Four Wheels Powered

The Golf R uses the latest generation 4Motion all-wheel-drive system that is very similar to its sibling, the Golf Alltrack.  This fully electronic system has advanced control systems that can be activated on each wheel before wheel spin occurs and can decouple the rear wheels under light loads or when coasting to improve fuel economy.  4Motion is continuously monitoring the traction of each wheel by controlling the electronic differential locks (XDS+) and the stability control system (EDS).  With these systems, power can be transparently moved from one wheel to another without interruption.

2018 Volkswagen Golf R

The suspension in the R takes it to the head of the class

The suspension for the Golf R is specially tuned, with the ride height .02 inches lower than the GTI, and .08 inches lower than the base Golf.  It includes tuned lower control arms, tuned front and rear sway bars with a multilink rear suspension.  The Golf R has an adaptive chassis control (DCC) that electronically monitors the road surface and sets the shock absorbers to the appropriate firmness based on the desires of the driver.  Comfort, Normal, Eco, Race and Individual settings are available from the center console screen.  In “Race” mode, which is designed only for high-speed track driving, engine response and the shift points of the DSG transmission are configured to be even more aggressive. In the “Individual” driving profile, the driver can tune mode settings from each profile to suit their driving style.

Beefier brakes compared to the GTI’s performance package standard are featured, with 13.4-inch discs up front and 12.2-inch brakes in the back. Nineteen-inch wheels are standard, shod in Continental ContiSportContact tires.

Safety Comes Along for the Ride

The2018 Volkswagen Golf R’s standard active and passive safety features line up with the rest of VW’s product line.  The Golf R has six airbags and electronic stability control.  Volkswagen’s Intelligent Crash Response System and automatic post-collision braking system help reduce the kinetic energy that is present after an initial collision and reduces the chance of additional damage.  Post-collision, the system shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and switches on the hazard lights.

2018 Volkswagen Golf R

The back seat is no penalty box

The Golf R also includes the full suite of Volkswagen driver assistance systems.  These include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking with pedestrian monitoring, blind spot monitoring, lane assist with departure warning and rear traffic alert, and Park Pilot.  During our test, all of these systems worked flawlessly and were unobtrusive except when needed.

All Golf models and variants have very comfortable and ergonomically complete interiors.  The Golf R is no exception, with the layout, seating and controls not much different than the GTI.

The Digital Cockpit Arrives

The most significant difference is that for 2018, the Golf R has adopted the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit as standard.  The all-digital display is massive at 12.3 inches and is gorgeous to look at with a full suite of driving, multimedia, communications and navigation data.  The center display gets an upgrade as well with VW’s MIB II infotainment system.  An 8.0-inch capacitive touchscreen is super responsive and has all the bells and whistles one would expect, with VW Car-Net, Bluetooth, HD Radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, voice control and predictive navigation. DSG equipped cars also get paddle shifters in the steering wheel.

2018 Volkswagen Golf R

The Digital Cockpit arrives!

Seating is comfortable with well-bolstered seating in front and comfortable back seats for even the longest-legged individuals. 

The Drive

Driving the Golf R is a joy; it’s faster than the GTI, but just as quiet and precise in its handling.  The extra power that the Golf R has over the GTI means that you point it in the direction you want to go, and immediately, you are there.  The only disappointment for the car we tested was that the sxi-speed manual transmission was vague in its shifting, and the clutch release was long and soft.  Since the car was a press fleet car and subject to much abuse by other journalists, that may explain this one shortcoming.

Deciding which Golf R to get has been made easy by Volkswagen.  Since this is the premium Golf, it comes in only one trim level—fully loaded.  The interior is rich black leather; your only choice is one of four metallic colors and either an optional seven-speed DSG transmission.

2018 Volkswagen Golf R

It’s as premium as a Golf can get

The Golf R is the premium Golf and has pricing to match. Our test vehicle had an MSRP of $40,635, including destination charges.  Add $1100 for the seven-speed DSG transmission.  New for 2018, the Golf R now has a six-year, 72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf R is an excellent balance of features, price, and performance; it is as good or better than some of its higher-priced competitors like the Subaru WRX STI, Ford Focus RS and the Honda Civic Type R. It’s the perfect balance for just about every consideration in a hot hatch.  It’s not a budget Golf, but it is undoubtedly the coolest and most desirable one.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—More Cooler Hatch Competitors/Golf Variants

Road Test: 2018 Toyota Corolla iM

Road Test: 2018 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel Hatchback

Road Test: 2018 Hyundai Elantras GT Sport

Comparison Test: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6 vs. 4

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen e-Golf

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack


Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Share This Post

About Author: Gary Lieber

2 thoughts on “Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Golf R

Let us know what you think.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.