With its 2.0L turbo four-cylinder engine cranking out 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, the Volkswagen Golf R is the people's car for people who are in a big hurry. This flagship of VW's compact car range has always been a lot more than a Golf with a body kit, and a pair of significant changes that come for 2018 help solidify its halo car position.
This year, the Golf R gets as standard a digital cockpit LCD gauge cluster and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (replacing last year's six-speed), both of which first appeared in various Audi models. Also new are standard LED headlights, along with LED taillights and daytime running lights. Blind spot detection is no longer standard, having been added to the optional driver assistance package (detailed below), and that package also gains automatic high beams.
The rest of the Golf R formula remains the same: there's that potent engine that runs its power to all four wheels through a six-speed manual transmission or that new seven-speed. It adds up to Subaru WRX STI-level performance with an extra dose of refinement and luxury that makes the Golf R more of an upscale sport compact than a rally car wannabe.
That's not too surprising when you consider this uber-Golf shares its engine with the Audi S3 and TTS. But unlike those cars, and the WRX STI, the R is next-level practical with a four-door hatchback body that makes it useful for small families, especially those that have outgrown the need for bulky baby seats.
Volkswagen's dynamic chassis control (DCC) system is included here, and is tied into selectable drive modes that also let the driver tailor steering and throttle response to road conditions or their mood. What we like about DCC is it allows you to create a custom setup: you can dial in the softest ride with quick powertrain responses, or vice versa.
Leather seats are standard, reinforcing the upscale esthetic next to the GTI's plaid cloth upholstery, and big brakes that are optional in the GTI are standard here, stopping the car with authority and filling the 19-inch wheels (in a new style called Pretoria) nicely.
Standard kit includes Apple and Android smartphone integration, 12-way power driver's seat, selectable drive modes and dynamic chassis control, eight-speaker Fender audio system, passive keyless entry, heated front seats, backup camera and rear spoiler. A driver assistance package adds adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection with rear traffic alert, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, lane assist, automatic high beams and park distance control.
Fuel consumption estimates for the six-speed manual remain the same as the 2017 figures of 10.9/7.7 L/100 km (city/highway), but we expect the new seven-speed auto will help improve on the old six-speed's 10.4/7.9 L/100 km ratings.