It’s as cliché an opener as they come, but is there any greater automotive manifestation of a wolf in sheep’s clothing than a white Volkswagen Golf R Wagon Wolfsburg Edition?
The only issue with this idiom is that we’re confident there’s a far more ferocious predator hiding beneath the Golf R Wagon’s relatively innocent exterior than the one perched atop a castle on the high-performance family hauler’s heritage badge.
Ever since Curt branded the Wolfsburg Edition wagon “utterly fantastic” at the limited edition’s Australian launch at NSW’s Wakefield Park Raceway in September we’d been salivating at the prospect of spending a week with it.
Unlike Curt’s full-throttle launch drive, however, our week were to be focused on what the Volkswagen Golf R Wagon is like to live with for the more mundane 99 per cent of the ownership experience.
First impressions are surprisingly a little underwhelming. In this tester’s eyes, despite the Wolfsburg Wagon’s unique front end, gloss black 19-inch alloys and quad exhausts, the wool disguise is a little too thick. Lacking muscle on the outside – pumped wheel arches and smoked LED tail-lights like those of the Golf R hatch would do the job – it looks too much like a regular Golf wagon from too many angles.
At $58,990 plus on-road costs, we also think its front seats and tailgate should be electric rather than manual, while the cabin could do with more flair to further differentiate it from the rest of the range.
Still, it’s impossible not to appreciate the class-leading quality and the convenience of the Volkswagen Golf R Wagon’s interior. Those seats, upholstered with regular leather and a racy carbonfibre-look material, hug your torso and thighs and offer good comfort for extended stints behind the wheel.
The rear bench is likewise comfortable, and the second row affords excellent headroom and decent legroom for what is technically a small car. Rear air vents and a centre armrest further boost comfort for those in the back.
Tall, square windows and compact pillars mean the driver’s view out the rear of the wagon is excellent – better than its hatchback sibling and in another league to most SUVs.
Its 605-litre boot also humbles plenty of bigger SUVs, and lowering the 60:40 split rear seats (which can be done using handy levers in the boot or conventional ones near the headrests) expands the total load space to 1620L. The boot’s low loading lip makes piling in heavy, bulky items easy, while the large ski port in the middle seat adds further versatility.
The Golf R Wagon’s infotainment system is extensive, incorporating Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth streaming, satellite navigation, two SD card slots, USB input, CD player, eight speakers and a proximity sensor for the 6.5-inch touchscreen display. The system is intuitive to use, the stereo sounds good, and the screen graphics look modern and sharp, though we’d like to see the flagship Golf get the 8.0-inch screen that’s available in a Skoda Octavia for half the price.
Volkswagen has also loaded the Wolfsburg Edition with driver assistance and safety systems, including adaptive cruise control, front assist with city emergency braking, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, driver fatigue detection, reverse-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, automatic bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, and seven airbags.
But if equipment and sporty looks are all you’re after in a Golf Wagon, you can fully load a regular 110TSI with the Driver Assistance, Luxury and R-Line packages for about $42,000.
So, is it worth hunting down one of the few remaining unsold R Wagons in the country (it was almost a sell-out at launch) and handing over the extra $17,000-plus if you’re going to spend more time in traffic jams than on race tracks?
Your reaction to the powertrain will go a long way to answering that question. Under the bonnet lies the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol familiar from the regular R that pumps out 206kW between 5100-6000rpm and 380Nm from 1800-5100rpm. It teams with a six-speed dual-clutch (DSG) automatic transmission, and drives all four wheels via Volkswagen’s 4Motion system that can send up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear axle.
The sound alone may win you over. Prods at the throttle send deep rumbles throughout the cabin, while more forceful mashes send it screaming to its redline before quick-fire upshifts elicit belches from the exhaust. Few cars under $60K deliver aural theatrics this intoxicating, and even fewer pair it with a practical, load-lugging body.
Flat out, the Wolfsburg Wagon’s speedo needle will scroll from zero to 100km/h in just 5.2 seconds and feels every bit as brutal as the two-tenths-quicker hatch by the seat of the pants. If there’s one anticlimax, it’s that there’s a delay between flooring the throttle and the R launching itself, regardless of how the car is set up.
The driving profile selector gives you Eco, Comfort, Normal, Race and Individual modes to choose from, the last of those allowing you to pick between Eco, Normal and Sport settings for the powertrain, steering, suspension, and other parameters, including, oddly, the dynamic cornering lights.
All that choice – and still we’re not satisfied! A Sport mode would make sense for drivers in typical urban traffic wanting something in between the bland-sounding Normal and hard-core Race modes.
While it’s tempting, we’d recommend resisting the temptation to engage Race mode for your mundane commutes. After a 30-minute urban loop our trip computer was displaying average fuel consumption of an astonishing 21.7 litres per 100 kilometres.
Most Golf R owners may snub their noses at Eco mode, but opting for it in the right environments brings big advantages, and demonstrates the powertrain’s impressive versatility. It’s the only mode that allows the drivetrain to ‘coast’, decoupling the engine from the transmission, leading the engine to drop to idle speeds when you’re off the throttle and brake, and recoupling seamlessly when you’re back on. Eco, Comfort and Normal modes also activate the engine stop-start system, saving precious litres of pricey 98 RON fuel when you’re stopped. Completing the same urban loop under the same conditions in Eco cut consumption almost in half to 11.7L/100km without resorting to hypermiling.
We also averaged an impressive 6.3L/100km on a highway run, even with the engine spinning at a relatively high 2500rpm in top gear at 110km/h.
Curt’s “eight-tenths” blast around Wakefield gave far more scope for exploring the Golf R Wagon’s dynamic abilities, though an irresistible excursion out of town proved the Wolf is in its element winding its way through the woods. The steering is natural, predictable and well weighted; the handling spirited, sharp and balanced; and traction is abundant thanks to 235mm-wide Continental ContiSportContact5 tyres that enhance the mechanical grip inherent to the R.
Nothing this tester could do within his modest ability and the speed limit could make the Golf R Wagon feel anything other than reassuringly solid and composed.
We’re less gushing in our praise for its ride comfort, however. Very rarely does anything with a Golf badge attract such criticism, but even in its softest setting the R Wagon feels sharper and fussier over less-than-perfect surfaces than we’d like – particularly in the second row where kids are likely to be plonked.
Volkswagen’s offer of capped-price servicing doesn’t make the Golf R Wagon automatically cheap to maintain. Servicing it to 60,000km will set you back $2881, with the last of those four intervals stinging you $1276. A three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and matching roadside assistance add some value to the aftersales equation.
But exclusivity always comes at a price. Truth is, there’s simply nothing like the Volkswagen Golf R Wolfsburg Edition on the market this side of a $90K Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG Shooting Brake, and even it can’t claim anything like the VW’s practicality.
It may not have signature Golf-perfect ride and might be a little tamer to look at that than we hoped, but the sophistication, the speed, the sensation it gives you, and that sound are more than enough to make this boy emphatically cry “WOLF!”
Click the Photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos.