In the 2023 model year, Europe’s largest automaker churned out 1,800 specially-badged 20th Anniversary editions of the all-wheel drive Golf R. The R designate introduced two decades back represented a performance uptick at the time from the conventional Golf and Golf GTI.
This 20th Anniversary edition adds unique gloss black wheel covers and special badging to truncated color combinations. It also subtracts a sunroof, reducing overall weight when compared to Golf R. Puddle lights broadcasting, from beneath sideview mirrors, beam down graphics celebrating the noted occasion when the sun sets. Inside, the dashboard and front doors receive an artistic splash of carbon fiber inserts.
The compact Golf represents a five-door hatchback with more than forty years of U.S. history. Both Golf GTI and Golf R arrived as performance upticks to the humble Golf. In late 2021, Volkswagen discontinued base Golf models in the U.S. leaving only the two performance (and higher-priced) variants available at VW dealerships. Two years earlier, VW’s rounded, bug-eyed Beetle (often referenced as a ‘pregnant roller skate’ or ‘inverted bathtub’) also quietly exited the U.S. market.
Back in 2003, VW debuted the Golf R32, welcoming aboard the ‘R revolution’ in Europe, arriving one year later in the States. The 32 suffix referenced the 3.2-liter V-6 engine under hood at the time. The 32 moniker faded into history the same time the V-6 gave way to a 2.0-liter four cylinder.
The 20th Anniversary ‘R’ edition brings a fresh look for Volkswagen’s ‘hot hatch,’ yet adds only $650 to the bottom line. Three exterior color choices include Lapiz Blue Metallic, Deep Black Pearl or Pearl White. Select white or black and exterior side-view mirror housing covers with a blue hue; opt for blue and mirror covering switches to black.
It’s based on the current eighth-generation of the well-established Golf which underwent its most recent generational overhaul in the 2022 model year adopting the German automaker’s MQB chassis. The compact hatchback design is situated lower to the ground than traditional five-door crossovers.
The ultra-modern Modularer QuerBaukasten (MQB) platform, translates from German-to-English as ‘Modular Transverse Matrix,’ and incorporates a ridged structure and a scalable architecture; helping reduce costs through economics of scale as many VW family products of all sizes now share this platform.
While the lower priced ($31,625) Golf GTI offers front wheel drive and a few less horses, the Golf R adds a drift mode, 74 more horsepower and all-wheel drive. Both celebrate milestones in 2023 with Golf R rolling out a 20th Anniversary edition and its Golf GTI counterpart celebrating with a 40th Anniversary model.
Golf R’s advanced, 4Motion all-wheel drive system features rear axle torque vectoring. The front-wheel bias design not only sends up to 50 percent of power to the rear axle when needed but can vary torque between the rear wheels; up to 100 percent of torque to an individual wheel. For those calling the upper Midwest home, this 4Motion technology adds another peace of mind level when ice and/or snow come calling.
The outside B pillars includes a square, 20th-Anniversary medallion on each side. Bumpers and front fenders adorn special Blue finished R logos outside and steering wheel cap indoors.
For those appreciating the response and machinations of a manual transmission, this 20th Anniversary includes a six-speed manual or for an additional $800, a performance-inspired seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Golf holds the distinction of first volume production car incorporating this intriguing technology back in 2003.
Think of a dual-clutch transmission as combining the strengths of a traditional manual with the no-foot-clutch convenience of an automatic. It’s the performance favorite and operates like a traditional automatic from the driver’s perspective; select ‘D’ for Drive and go.
It utilizes two independent under hood clutches, but no clutch pedal. One engine clutch operates odd gears (1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th) while the second tackles the evens (2nd, 4th and 6th). This design allows a continuous power flow from engine to wheels; unlike a traditional manual where powers interrupted during the foot clutch plunge. State-of-art electronics and hydraulics shift gear-to-gear within milliseconds. The DCT requires no torque converter, a staple of conventional automatics. Another benefit: improved fuel economy, approximately 10 percent better compared with a conventional automatic.
Both transmissions team with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, direct-injection turbocharged inline engine delivering a peppy 315 horsepower when feed with required premium fuel in the 14.5-gallon tank. Expect 20 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway with the six-speed manual: 23 mpg city and 30 highway with the seven-speed dual clutch transmission.
This limited-edition choice comes well stocked with the only decisions boiling down to exterior color and transmission choice. Our Blue 20th Anniversary R tester checked in at rather hefty $46,485 including a $1,095 destination charge. The non-anniversary Golf R also comes nicely loaded in one trim with minimal options.
As with most performance-tuned vehicles, the R’s brake pedal provides firm feedback rather than a softer experience. Its relative light weight, sports suspension and 315 turbo horses contribute to spirited acceleration and nimble handling around corners and curves.
The iconic V over W circular logo appears front and center within a minimized front grille featuring a thin horizontal illuminated light bar with a standout nighttime glow. The same logo functions as a door opener out back. Flip up the VW disc logo and the top-hinged hatch unlocks and manually opens up from the bottom. Strap-like openers adorn all side doors and illuminate at night when approaching the vehicle with key fob on person. Quad, circular chrome-tipped outboard exhausts adorn the lower portion.
Golf’s hatchback design incorporates a relatively flat roof with spoiler topping the rear window. Brake housing inside the 19-inch alloy wheels includes blue painted calipers putting the squeeze on cross-drilled rotors with a series of small holes helping to dissipate heat.
The electronic start-stop ignition push button resides away from steering column distraction between Nappa leather-inspired front seats. The center dash includes a flat, 10-inch, in-dash, multi-function screen that’s not only touch but motion sensitive, too. Wave a hand over the screen and visual screen icons incorporate additional word designations. Touch sensitive pressure plates frame the screen’s lower rail with nary a conventional twist knob or button in sight. Set aside some play time to master nuances. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interplay come standard.
The dual zone HVAC system largely operates through this touch/motion as well. A pair of narrow horizontal air vents under this screen flank a quad push-plate medley centered by a red hazard button. One plate summons climate functions to the touch screen while another provides access to the half-dozen drive modes.
The highly customizable all-digital instrument panel adjusts via a trio of buttons found upon the steering wheel’s 3 o’clock wing with varying views and side drop-down menus. Cruise control functions dictate from the 9 o’clock position.
The 60/40 split of rear backrests swells available cubic feet to 34.5 from an already generous 19.9. With seatbacks prone, two adult riders fit in optimal comfort with the vertical floor hump sectioning each side fairly. Three represents a big ask.
Plenty of onboard safety features include six air bags, parking sensors, active lane departure warning, blind spot warning, forward/rear collision mitigation and pedestrian detection system.
Volkswagen’s four-year 50,000-mile powertrain warranty is transferable to the next owner, a perk not many other automakers offer.
Another perk when purchasing any Golf, VW’s Carefree Scheduled Maintenance offering complimentary servicing at 10,000-and 20,000-mile intervals (or twice within a two-year time frame) at participating VW dealerships. Also complementary, 24-hour roadside assistance for the first three years or 36,000 miles covering tire changes, jump starts and towing.
2023 VW Golf R
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo four
Wheelbase: 103.5 inches
Overall length: 168.9 inches
Overall height: 57.7 inches
Overall width: 70.4 inches
Fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 28 highway
Powertrain warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
Assembly: Wolfsburg, Germany