2018 Volkswagen Golf R: A Well-Mannered Hot Hatch That Can Still Throw You Back in Your Seat [Review]

2018 Volkswagen Golf R Review

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf R hides some mischievous intent underneath that serious-looking body.

We in the TFL office absolutely love hot hatchbacks. That’s no secret – our own Michael Curtis owns a Volkswagen Golf GTI. A few months back, we traded in our long term 2014 F-150 Raptor for…a Ford Fiesta. Not just any Ford Fiesta, though – a Ford Fiesta…ST! There’s just something about the phrase “hot hatch” that feels right to automotive enthusiasts. While a bit of frenetic, front-wheel drive turbocharged fun may stir the blood and put a smile on your face, there’s performance on a whole other level. That’s where the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R steps in.

Performance: Surprising

Here’s the thing that makes hot hatches great, I believe. Whereas serious performance cars demand a certain level of respect and grim determination (at least if you’re me), you can drive a hot hatch like a complete idiot and come out the other side alive, and smiling. That’s the sensation I get driving something like, say, the Fiesta ST. It’s fun, but it’s also forgiving. So what happens when Volkswagen ekes out 72 more horsepower and 22 lb-ft more torque from the EA888 2.0-liter turbocharged engine to create the Golf R?

In a word, surprising. With Volkswagen’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R is noticeably faster than the GTI. The extra speed isn’t what strikes you, though – you fully expect that. What you might not expect is how easy it is to drive the Golf R fast. As I set the car up in Race mode – one of five modes including Eco, Comfort, Normal and Individual – it immediately got down to business. Put your foot down, and the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R snaps off shifts, each with a satisfying snort from the exhaust, and sharpens everything up. Never had I experienced a hot hatch where the steering was so well-weighted, intuitive and precise as the Golf R. The ride in Race Mode was firm, but never crashed around on the road or shook the fillings out of my skull.

What I found surprising is that I just didn’t expect this level of precise performance out of a Golf, nor did I expect to find that performance so easy to access. I hopped in, and within a few moments, I felt at ease as the car displayed a level of performance that made me look like a much better driver than I actually am. However, there is a price to pay for such sharp performance when you get a move on.

Hard to fault, but it isn’t perfect

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf R felt superbly solid no matter the situation. However, the quick steering rack, at 2.1 turns lock-to-lock, caught me a bit off guard while maneuvering at slow speeds, though I feel that wouldn’t be an issue once you acclimated to it. The seven-speed DSG, while seamless at full bore, is a bit jerky when you’re driving slowly. That’s an issue systemic to the gearbox itself. Since there’s no torque converter, you feel the transition as the clutches engage.

Comfort and Convenience: It’s Still a Golf

Versatility and comfort features are where hot hatchbacks – the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R included – absolutely shine. With the seats down, the Golf R offers 52.7 cubic feet of cargo space, the same as any other Golf. The Golf R is only available in one trim level, with navigation and DCC adaptive chassis control standard equipment. You also get an 8.0-inch touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Leather seats and a leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel are part of the package with the Golf R.

The coolest interior feature, though, has to be Volkswagen’s 12.3-inch Digital Cockpit. As the name implies, it’s a fully digital instrument cluster that puts the sort of information you want right in your field of vision. Whether that’s navigation, performance data, or media information, it’s all right there.

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf R comes equipped with the standard safety features endemic to the rest of Volkswagen’s range. That means you get blind spot monitoring, Park Distance Control, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and autonomous emergency braking. Normally, I shut lane keep assist off, but the Volkswagen Golf R’s system was unobtrusive to the point where I actually didn’t mind it. Unlike some other systems which tend to shove you back in your lane when you stray toward the lines, the system in the Golf R gently nudges you back toward the center.

TFLcar’s Take

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf R brought enough performance to throw me back in the seat a bit, yet it never drew too much attention to itself. Sure, it’s not a wild child like the Ford Focus RS, but it still left me smiling. I appreciated its well-mannered performance and everyday usability. This car reminded me why I love hot hatchbacks, and it’s all-wheel drive system helps keep the fun alive all year long.

SPECIFICATIONS: 2018 Volkswagen Golf R w/ DCC and Navigation

On Sale: Now
Base MSRP: $39,785
Price as Tested: $41,735
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4
Drivetrain (Layout): Front engine, all-wheel drive
Horsepower: 292 hp @ 5,500 RPM
Torque: 280 lb-ft @ 1,800 – 5,500 RPM
Transmission: 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic w/paddle shifters
Suspension: Front: Strut-type with lower control arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Rear: Multilink with coil springs, telescopic dampers, antiroll bar

Brakes: Front: 13.4 x 1.2-inch vented front discs

Rear: 12.2 x 0.9-inch vented rear discs

Tires: Continental ContiSportContact 5P P235/35 R19 91Y Performance Summer
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons
Fuel economy (EPA): 22 City/29 Highway/25 Combined MPG


Wheelbase: 103.5 inches
Length:  168.4 inches
Width: 70.8 inches
Height:  56.5 inches
Cargo Volume: Seats up: 22.8 cubic feet

Seats folded: 52.7 cubic feet

Turning Circle: 35.8 feet
Curb Weight: 3,373 pounds