2018 Volkswagen Golf R Wolfsburg Edition hatch review

$45,600 $54,230 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
    7.1L
  • Engine Power
    206kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    164g
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars

At $58K, the Wolfsburg Edition is all the Volkswagen Golf R you can eat. But do extra goodies without added performance make it desirable enough for the VW fan who wants it all?

It's fair to presume that if the Volkswagen Golf R Wolfsburg Edition is on your cross-shopping short list, you'll already have a good idea of the whats and whys that peg it at the top of the Vee Dub small hatchback tree.

One is outlay: at $57,990 before on-roads, it's twice the price of a mid-spec regular Golf, the 110TSI Comfortline (now $28,990), and a 50 per cent premium above the entry point for the go-fast front-driven GTI, namely the much anticipated, soon-for-Oz three-door manual Original ($37,990). In fact, even among the all-wheel driven, red-hot Golf R neighbourhood, you can save a cool five figures by tipping into the forthcoming manual Grid variant ($47,490) rather than this all-you-can-eat Wolfsburg Edition.

If there's truth in concept that the Golf GTI is all the Volkswagen hot hatch performance you'll need versus Golf R representing all you'd ever want, then it's no long-drawn bow presuming those shopping the Wolfsburg badge not only crave all the pace and equipment you can stuff into the German five-door, they're wool-dyed Volkswagen fans, or at least sold on the popular 'cult of R'. Around $58K is serious coin for a small hottie from a so-called "premium for the people" brand, given not dissimilar money also lands certifiably premium Mercedes-Benz and BMW badges in hottie small-car form in your driveway.

The DSG-only Wolfsburg Edition's $2500 premium over the regular Golf R with the same self-shifting transmission looks decent value on paper. Fetching 'Pretoria' style 19-inch wheels replace the regular Spielberg rims, novel carbon fibre-patterned leather trim adorns the seats, you get exclusive 400-watt Dynaudio sound and carbon-fibre mirror caps. The Driver Assistance package, a $1300 option on regular Rs, is fitted standard and includes adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, dynamic light assistance and proactive occupant protection. Limited 300-unit production is also a nice dangling carrot.

That's atop the bourgeoning list of needs and niceties fitted to the regular-issue Golf R. For the record, our test car misses out on the only equipment option available: the $1900 panoramic glass roof.

Smart, inoffensive, plain: let's face it, solid white paint work with silver rims isn't the boldest statement seated on the road. Of course, the lack of go-fast pretension is the cornerstone of the fast Golf charm that, traditionally, has hardly harmed appeal to the broader buyer demographic. It is a colour/wheel sensitive styling: the dark blue metallic regular R sampled around the same time on Spielberg rolling stock was a real eye-catcher.

Climb in and one aspect hits you immediately: the cabin presentation is hugely endearing. It's not merely the variety and quality of materials or the sound core design and ergonomics. Few cars of any price or segment have almost everything all in the right places. It feels utterly premium, not too racy, slickly modern, want for nothing yet unfussy, and it's hard to pick a fault. For a great many buyers, the Golf cabin space, especially the hot hatch stuff, is an absolute deal clincher.

Interestingly, it's the conspicuous Wolfsburg touch, the carbon-fibre-patterned leather embossing, that polarises most, though consensus in the CarAdvice Sydney office was one of "not as bad or uncomfortable as expected". In fact, appearance aside, there's nothing unusual about the funky textured effect.

Both the digital instrumentation – with its useful if not gimmicky degree of personalisation – and the slick smartphone-like interface of the 9.2-inch Discover Pro infotainment system are pure class, as fit and functional as anything outside the German premium crowd. Infiniti, Jaguar, Lexus and even Porsche, to name four certifiably prestige marques, could learn some infotainment tricks from a small five-door 'people's car'.

The Dynaudio sound is excellent, though I'd be fibbing to suggest there's a noticeable difference in ear candy without directly comparing it with a regular stereo system quality. As for spaciousness, general comfort and convenience, there's no less (or more) on offer than any other quick Golf five-door of the 7/7.5 generation, though if you're hoping for three-door sexiness you'll have to make do with a GTI. And, packaging wise, if the 380L/1270L bootspace is a bit tight, an extra $2000 will slip your excessive family needs into a larger-bummed (605L/1620L) wagon version of the R Wolfsburg Edition.

The first disappointment in the Wolfsburg formula starts under the bonnet and ends at the tyres: there's no lift in performance credentials for this price-topping hatch variant. Yes, this current 7.5 generation brought with it a seven-kilowatt lift in the 2.0-litre turbocharged four's power figure, but what remains is the same 213kW/380Nm you find in the $10,500-cheaper R Grid manual. Be it "hot climate tune" or not, none of Australia's Rs measure up to the 228kW/400Nm output combination offered in Europe.

Unsurprisingly, given the lack of any powertrain tickle, the flagship Wolfsburg's acceleration prowess is no fitter than any other Aussie R's 4.8sec 0–100km/h benchmark, which is 0.2sec shy of the Euro (if all measured using DSGs). That's only two-tenths of academic straight-line performance, perhaps, but it does matter in context of the Golf targeted to Volkswagen afficionados paying top dollar for the all-you-can-eat experience. Also, you can't have the Wolfsburg Edition hatchback either in three-door form or with a six-cog-manual gearbox.

But what a great all-round drive it is. The engine is smooth, linear and gutsy enough whether you're cruising or up it for the rent, and the seven-speed dual-clutch is well calibrated in automatic mode and satisfyingly assertive in its 'attack' setting. Also, typical of the VW/Audi DSG design, there's the ever handy tap-for-Sport gearbox mode with the transmission control to inject fire into the powertrain without having to clumsily dig through different drive modes.

Like any dual-clutch design (outside of Porsche's finest), drive it long enough and it'll have the occasional hiccup. For the hard-charging drivers out there, what persists is that slight frustration that you can't double-foot the brake and accelerator pedals at once, which is a handy left-foot braking technique on the track. Try it and the R just just kills engine torque. Worth considering is that this isn't so much a problem as an in-built, by-design mechanical sympathy measure to limit load shock through the gearbox.

In Comfort or Normal drive modes, the engine/transmission interplay allows swift progress without prompting the tacho needle to lunge for the redline. Even the muted 'blurts' as the engine cuts spark to rev-match during upshifts have a nice polished and precise nature to them. Activate Race mode and responses sharpen appreciably, though as has long been the case with the Golf R, it's more heightened sharpness for the road than a head-snapping kill mode best suited to race circuit use.

Realistically, the Wolfsburg Edition is no different to any other of the R breed, in that its most impressive red-misted persona presents itself during a swift Sunday morning backroad punt than it does if and when you don a helmet and throw it at a track. It's Race mode by name, not quite race-ready by nature.

Traction and drive from the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is unflappable, and those advantages are plain as day exiting corners if you're measuring abilities against the front-driven GTI. But there are limitations to the all-paw system's talents: its talent for shuffling torque to the wheel, or wheels, in most need isn't as purposeful, elaborative or plain hardcore as some dynamic handling systems out there in high-performance land. It's good, but far from benchmark.

Tap your inner hooligan on the track and the ultimate R will dive, roll and understeer a little more than is, ahem, ultimately ideal. And yet there's still enough point in its chassis, accuracy in its wonderfully linear steering, innate balance in its poise and stability in its grip to outpace a GTI by some measure. That's the seat of the pants impressions of a big-dollar variant characteristically identical in nature to its more-affordable R kin that have long been capable of delivering a composed, sweat-free velocity quick enough to render GTIs a tyre-screaming, overdriven mess.

Most owners never track their Golfs, never have use for that ten-tenths advantage, but that doesn't really matter. When you're coughing up $58K for a small Volkswagen, impressive talent should be in-built whether you use it or not.

Again, it's along Australia's often lumpy and unforgiving backroads where those shades of softness and compliance translate in satisfying and ironclad safe transit point to point at a velocity that won't risk your licence yet still rewards with driving thrills. And given that around town the R Wolfsburg is a little terse over hard-edge bumps, there's a certain ride and handling balance at play skewed towards covering as many different driving situations as possible. And it's an impressively struck balance at that.

Balance is certainly the theme underpinning the Golf R. One big, if highly subjective, criticism of the Golf R, Wolfsburg or not, is that it's good at everything but lacks character – that it's highly resolved but lacks soul. The counter to this is that if Volkswagen had opted to inject a harder-core 'R' persona it'd almost certainly rob from other areas of the breed's goodness – comfort, liveability – when, in fact, it's balance itself that's long made the breed so appealing.

That said, amping up the niceties without any lift in sporting or performance prowess mightn't appeal to buyers hoping for a Golf R with added watts under foot rather than in the ears.

So there are perhaps two different ways to view the Wolfsburg. On the one hand, if money is no object and you're after the most complete Golf R, then the extra bundled goodies and low-volume exclusivity do, in our opinion, justify the $2500 splurge. But if you're predominantly chasing pace, or hankering for a six-speed manual version, the regular R or the forthcoming, cut-priced Grid – an Aussie nameplate, incidentally – offer the same heat at much cooler prices.

Click on the Gallery tab for more images by Sam Venn.

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