Two decades of Volkswagen R is celebrated with the most powerful Golf yet – and an asking price to match

When you’ve been in the game of producing hot hatches for as long as Volkswagen’s R performance division, and it’s coming on 20 years, you’re duly expected to deliver.

The latest Golf R is arguably one of the best examples of the genre yet – an expensive but nevertheless alluring combination of all-round performance and dynamic ability that’s made even better through the availability of an optional Performance Package, which extends the car’s remit with extra driving modes without detracting from its excellent everyday drivability.

Now, Volkswagen R is seeking to build on the solid foundations of its best-selling model with this - the R20. Already on sale in the UK at a price that positions it £5400 above the standard Golf R, the anniversary special aims to ratchet up the excitement of the Golf R even further with a series of subtle changes, including an added 13bhp from its engine – a move that makes it the most powerful road-going Golf yet.

Not that you’d immediately notice. Like all R models down through the years, this new one doesn’t go out of its way to signal its added potential. What you get is the same restrained exterior styling treatment brought to the standard Golf R, albeit with blue coloured R badges, an anniversary logo on the B-pillars, a '20 R' puddle light projection and a combination of three exterior colours: Lapiz Blue Metallic, Pure White and Deep Black Pearl Effect.

The 20 Years also stands out from the standard Golf R by its contrasting mirror caps, optional blue accents on the black 19in 'Estoril' wheels, and a larger rear spoiler.

03 Volkswagen golf r 20 years uk fd 2022 corner

Inside, the R20 is the first ever Volkswagen model to receive trim elements made from real carbonfibre. Otherwise, it offers the same understated driving environment as its marginally less powerful sibling, on sale since 2019.

The fundamentals are excellent, though a lack of physical buttons means you spend a lot of time searching through digital menus for seemingly simple commands and perceived quality is spoiled somewhat by the shiny black plastic around the displays and centre console.

Much of the interior design is shared with the Golf GTI, but with unique R accents and logos within the upholstery of the sport seats and Alcantara trim. There’s also a nicely proportioned flat-bottom multi-function steering wheel featuring an R button that allows you to instantly call up the different drive modes, a series of unique R graphics for the 10.0in instruments display, a standard 10.0in touchscreen infotainment display with Volkswagen’s Discover navigation system, and a wireless smartphone charging pad.

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The key task Volkswagen R set itself in the development of the R20 was to retain the core elements of the standard Golf R model while building on its performance.

The latest evolution of the Golf R’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit receives an updated software package that allows its wastegate to open and the turbocharger to keep spinning during periods of trailing throttle. Effectively a gentle form of anti-lag, this is claimed to provide it with greater response, as the turbocharger doesn’t need to be set spinning again when you get back on the throttle. 

As a result, boost builds more rapidly, allowing the EA888-designated engine to hit its peak with greater punch and accelerative force than before. The 13bhp increase takes its reserves to 328bhp, while torque remains the same as the standard Golf R at 310lb ft.

Further changes are focused on the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which provides both automatic and manual shifting. It has been recalibrated to provide a more aggressive shift action in Sport mode.

The R20 includes the Performance Package offered on the standard Golf R as standard. Alongside Comfort, Sport and Race, it brings additional Drift and Nürburgring driving modes – the latter being quite suitable for UK roads as it puts the dampers in their softest setting, but ramps up the aggression on everything else.

11 Volkswagen golf r 20 years uk fd 2022 seat r logo

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I don’t remember the sound of the latest Golf R’s engine ever being disappointing, but a new Emotional Start function, which fleetingly extends the revs to 2500rpm upon start-up, certainly makes sure it is a lot more present when you hit the start button.

Initial impressions reveal there is not a great deal to differentiate the driving experience of the R20 from the standard Golf R around town. Its reworked engine is outstandingly flexible in Comfort mode, with crisp response and an agreeably smooth action that urges you to use the steering wheel mounted paddles of the gearbox in manual mode whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Switching into Sport alters the character and sound to a more playful level, though it is not until you call up Race that it begins to reveal its ultimate potential. Here, the full effect of the changes Volkswagen R has made to the R20’s engine is more apparent.

The reworked operation of the turbocharger brings added determination to the acceleration out on the open road. The overall response of the engine is quite striking and very much central to its appeal. My sense is the R20 is smoother, sweeter and altogether more accommodating the standard Golf R when pushed hard. Revs build rapidly on a loaded throttle.

The fully variable properties of the 4Motion four-wheel drive system allow the limited-run R model to deploy its power with great effect. The electrohydraulic system reacts quickly, apportioning drive between the front and rear axles and, with a so-called R Performance torque vectoring function, between each individual rear wheel.

02 Volkswagen golf r 20 years uk fd 2022 rear driving

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Volkswagen claims a 0-62mph time of 4.6sec, which is 0.1sec inside the time quoted for the standard Golf R. Top speed, as with the Golf R with Performance Package, is limited to 168mph.

The electromechanical steering is light, but despite its directness (1.9 turns lock to lock) never feels twitchy. The suspension, a combination of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear with adaptive damping, provides the R20 with great body control. There is impressive poise to the handling. Stability is also a real strong suit at higher speeds.

Our test car was fitted with the optional Dynamic Chassis Control – adaptive dampers in VW speak. They still feature a faintly excessive 15 increments, but the softest mode is really all you need for the UK. A general tautness always remains, but the Golf R rides lumpy UK roads with impressive compliance. Poor road repairs and potholes will still introduce some brittleness, though.

Regardless of whether it's on the standard Bridgestone Potenza Sport tyres, or on the Pirelli Sottozero winter tyres worn by our test car in Germany, the Golf R has formidable grip. The clever operation of the four-wheel drive system quickly curtails any tendency towards understeer by sending the power back to the rear wheels. Keep your foot planted, and it will even entertain a fleeting moment of oversteer in Race mode. For those seeking more, the Drift mode will allow lurid slides on command.

Whether this all warrants a price of £48,095 is debatable. The R20 serves up great pace and engaging dynamics, but that is a lot of money to be dropping on a hot hatch, even one that is expected to rise in value in future years owing to its exclusivity.

Not that I suspect Volkswagen will have any trouble shifting the limited number of right-hand-drive examples planned for sale in the UK, mind you. The Golf R has always proven popular, and I don’t see why this 20th anniversary model would be any different. You’ll need to get in early, though. Production is only planned to run for the next 12 months

UK driving impressions by Illya Verpraet.


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Boris9119 31 October 2022

Starting with the car, after all that's what the article is about, it appears to be a very small improvement on what is already rightly so, 'sat at the table' for best in class. Leaves room for the other 'special editions' before the Golf is retired (VW says no Mk9 remember).  The pricing I suggest is more a product of the limited numbers being made, with VW knowing demand will easily exceed supply, that old Mercedes Benz trick, that they curiously jettisoned in the early 80's? As for the people that drive them, that's more a reflection of the society you live in, nothing to lay at the feet of the engineers in Wolfsburg?

Peter Cavellini 30 October 2022

If the Golf GTi and derivatives were that great, iconic, how come they don't feature regularly on all car sites?, and really, would or should you be paying this much for a car like this?, not much power increase, small cosmetic updates, it's like a fading Film Star or Celebrity dying there hair, getting there Teeth whitening,cosmetic surgery just to keep working, well, sorry VW, but ,no thanks.

Boris9119 31 October 2022

Whilst I understand your analogys, you cannot drive a Mk7 or Mk8 Golf R and not say 'damn this is a fine, fine drive'? Subjectively you might prefer an alternative, all which cost similar money (what's 2k-6k at this price point), but the Golf R, in all it's iterations, has always been the benchmark or close.

gagaga 29 October 2022

What 3 years ago the R was a £30k car and now it's £48k?  How much of that is (still) paying Putin (and increasingly, Xi)?

xxxx 2 November 2022
gagaga wrote:

What 3 years ago the R was a £30k car and now it's £48k?  How much of that is (still) paying Putin (and increasingly, Xi)?

Was a Golf R really 30k 3 years ago or did you make that up, it's not that I don't believe you it's just I don't believe you.