Having owned my Volkswagen Golf R for eight months now and recently completing my first service, now feels to be the right time to write a review on it. I have been into performance cars for as long as I can remember and once I obtained my full licence earlier this year I wanted something a bit more fun than the highly reliable and practical Toyota Camry I was driving on my P’s. Before I even got my full license I began the search and quickly decided that I would be looking for a Volkswagen Golf R. Yes I know, nearly every man and his dog have a Golf R or GTI but as you’ll later find out, it is hard to find any substitute for this hot hatch.
I chose the Mk6 largely due to it matching my budget, with my other criteria being a performance-oriented car that was affordable and sounded good (or had the potential to). I also considered the Mk7 GTI but chose the older R as I preferred the more aggressive looks and it was the enthusiast's choice. Ask people around you if they think Golfs are reliable and you’ll get a very mixed bag. Some are adamant that the popular hatch is a money pit but others will say that they are fine as long as they have been looked after. The Golf R is a car that people love to drive hard so it was a priority for me to find an example that had been well maintained.
In early March, I came across a black Golf R for sale with 107,000km. It had one previous owner who had all but one of the services done at VW plus it was for sale at the same dealership it was bought new from. The car had some wear and tear but hardly looked its age. I took it for a test drive and quickly realised that I would love the car. The mix of the power, luxury, everyday driveability and price made it very hard to look past. After a couple of trips to the dealership and a check of its mechanical condition, I pulled the trigger and bought it.
The black on black look is a real winner for me. It strikes the ultimate balance between being subtle and aggressive. The previous owner tinted the windows and replaced the wheels to blacked-out Cadiz rims seen on the Mk7 R which is not that noticeable but still a nice feature and made even better because there no was no gutter rash to be seen. The black paint is a bit of a headache to keep clean but this is the same story with any black car so I wouldn’t consider it a negative here - plus it looks amazing fresh after a wash. I also like how distinct it looks from the other models in the Mk6 Golf lineup, with unique styling cues such as the centrally-mounted twin exhausts, headlights, taillights, front grille and the bumper. In more recent generations, I’m finding it harder and harder to point out a Golf R compared to an R-Line and the GTI.
Sitting inside the Golf R, the build quality is high, exactly what you would expect from a car circa $60,000 when new. The buttons and switches all feel sturdy and there is minimal scratchy cheap plastics that many manufacturers are making use of nowadays to cut costs. A bonus for me was that the previous owner had installed an aftermarket head unit which modernised the inside from what was originally a tiny screen compared to modern-day standards. The ‘R’ branded seats hug you in yet are still comfortable on longer journeys. The seat controls are mostly manual but it is easy to find your preferred driving position and cocoon yourself within the cabin. The quality of the speakers is pleasing too if you like music. I only have two tiny issues with the interior; the sunglasses compartment and middle console are too small, but I am nit-picking here.
As it is a 2012 car, by no means is it a tech-fest but it has plenty of creature comforts like cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and heated seats. On the move, it’s an easy car to drive. You have tonnes of grip and visibility. Steering is done with ease and there are no rattles on the inside. Overtaking is a breeze and the bang coming out of the exhaust when you shift up gives you a cheeky smile. Even though the car is eight years old, there is no delay to the gear shifts and the power is almost instant too. My local area is littered with speed bumps and the Golf R doesn’t exactly shine here but neither is it back-breaking. Another tick in the ‘liveability’ category for the Golf R.
There are three main ways of using the transmission in the Golf R. Drive is your conventional and comfortable mode for everyday driving and lets you achieve good fuel economy, but will give you power if you want it. Sport mode is a bit redundant to me. The DSG holds onto the gears for too long which will send you way over the speed limit in a couple of shifts. Flick it into manual mode though, and that is when the fun begins. As cliché as it is, you can play it like an instrument with each pull on the paddles. In this mode, I find you get the full benefits of the enjoyment from being in control, hearing the exhaust even at sensible speeds and power just waiting to be unleashed.
Another thing to love about the Golf R is all the different modifications you can do from the common resonator delete to more extreme stuff like a Stage 3 tune. I think the Mk6 Golf R is near-perfect stock so I’ve only made some small tweaks here and there. The majority of which are mostly cosmetic such as replacing all interior lights to white LEDs, blue footwell lights and blue paddle shift extensions tying into the R theme. I have also had some minor bits done to the exhaust enhancing the infamous ‘DSG fart’ when shifting gears later in the rev range whilst still being sensible and reasonably quiet when driven gently.
Despite what many people say about the DSG problems and overall unreliability, my car has never skipped a beat and touch wood it will remain that way. With that being said, I would advise potential buyers to be aware of the running costs. Insurance obviously varies from person to person and it was high for me since I am under 25. A major service costs in the ballpark of $1000 whilst a minor service is around $350. For tyres, expect to pay $400 each. The Golf R is quite efficient even with a bit of spirited driving thrown into the mix but the petrol you put in must be 95 octane minimum.
It’s a very practical layout with room for four adults (five is a bit of a squeeze as you would presume), legroom in the back is reasonable for a car of this size and the boot size is generous. Front and rear sensors make parking a breeze. As for the turning circle, you would expect better from a small car but by no means is it horrible. I guess this is the trade-off you make getting an all-wheel drive hot hatch.
To sum up, my Golf R really is an everyday hot hatch that offers cracking value and stacks of fun. If you are on the fence about getting one, speak to people who actually own the car so you can get credible advice. Yes the running costs are a bit on the high side and it is starting to age but if this is your first foray into performance cars, a Mk6 Golf R is a solid place to start.