2024 Volkswagen Golf R review by Ben Lewis

We often bemoan that the marketplace has been taken over by SUV’s and Crossovers, but to be honest, this is a great time for cars – especially for those who love to drive. Case in point, the 2024 VW Golf R. Looking for thrills matched with practicality? You’ve come to the right place!

Subtle but Different

One interesting thing we noticed with the Golf R – even though it is very similar to the VW GTI, the visual changes were enough for us to garner plenty of comments.

There’s still the familiar VW logo on the nose, but instead of a red accent line that spans the grille, you get a cool blue. An illuminated crossbar underneath adds some cool presence. And the stylized “R” badge is subtle, but those who know, will know. Signature LED headlamps and driving lights give a purposeful frown. We also like the unique front bumper with black gloss twin intakes framing a center grille. Aggressive!

The profile says hot hatch, tracing back to the ’83 Rabbit GTI – a large greenhouse, short overhangs and a look that says functional and fun. Separating from today’s GTI, the R includes aero-optimized mirrors in a matte aluminum finish – new for 2024, they swing up when you’re parked. There’s also aero linings on the wheel wells, and a sharp cut-in on the lower doors with a unique lower aero panel. Finishing off the look are multi-spoke 19-inch alloys, with front brake calipers painted a cool blue.

The rear like the front, is subtly different, starting with a longer two-piece rear spoiler above the rear window. LED taillights echo the front, and we love the multi-tasking VW logo – press on it and you can open the hatch, and when you put the R in reverse, the logo panel powers up to reveal the rearview camera. Cool.

The big giveaway at the rear are quad tailpipes replacing the dual pipes on the GTI. Like we said, those who know, will know. The perfect finish touch was our tester’s Lapiz Blue Metallic paint, a bright, yet rich blue that looks sporty and expensive. The Golf R is also offered in two other colors, Pure White and Mythos Black Metallic. We like the bold blue.

From the Cockpit

VW used to have an ad campaign called “Drivers Wanted” and the R’s interior certainly fits that theme.

If you’re familiar with the GTI, you’ll feel right at home in the R. Open the door and you’re immediately impressed with the smell of nappa leather, and the sight of a fat leather-wrapped wheel and dual digital displays that create a seamless wall of wow.

These are superb driver seats, as good as any Recaro, with great support and yet easy enough to get in and out. Style comes along for the ride with rich nappa leather, blue accents and a cool R logo in the backrest. Adding to the goodness, the seats are heated and cooled, too.

Serving up info is an excellent Digital Cockpit display, with special features exclusive to R models. One of the customizable choices includes a tach with “R” logo in the center, flanked by two customizable instruments – you can call up key info look turbo boost or power output for example.

But there’s more! When the manual DSG mode is activated, this display provides visible shift recommendations for the track-only Special and Drift modes. Plus, you can pull up some cool performance-specific info including relative boost pressure, oil temperature, torque, power, a G-meter, the torque distribution of the AWD, and even a lap timer.

Spoiled for choice, we’re old school, and liked the version that gives you a circular tach and speedo with driver info in-between.
Info-tainment is served up by a 10.25-inch touchscreen, and in general it works well. When we tested our GTI, it had the base system with knobs for tuning and volume. In this upper level set up, the knobs are gone, and everything is done by touchscreen, or haptic controls below the screen, or on the steering wheel. We do love the R mode button on the steering wheel – instantly calling up the serious settings for aggressive driving.

While some testers have carped about accidentally hitting features on the wheel when driving, we never had that happen. But we’re not crazy about the layout and numerous swipes and pushes to get to key features. At least you can say “Hey VW” and control some of the key features by voice.

Entertainment is handled beautifully with a 9-speaker Harman Kardon audio system and standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Wi-Fi hotspot keep you connected easily.

The center console is well designed, and there’s a convenient wireless charger up front, and a toggle style shifter that works well – and reminds us of the set up in $100,000-plus Porsche 911’s!

One thing that Porsche can’t serve up is Golf practicality. The rear seats are spacious and comfy for adults – heated too! – and there’s plenty of cargo space. The rear seats easily fold flat, and you have room for surfboards, mountain bikes, or just a big haul from the grocery store.

R is for Rapid

Honestly, a lot of this stuff is true for the GTI – it’s in the drive that the Golf R really sets itself apart.

Under the hood is a turbocharged, 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder that pumps out a jaw dropping 315 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft of torque at just 2,000 rpm. While it’s a powerhouse, it’s also impressively smooth, with a sweet rich burble at idle that pulls like a freight train as the rpm’s build.

While a 6-speed manual is available, our tester had the 7-speed DSG automatic. You can argue that the manual is more involving, but the DSG is faster, with lightning-quick shifts getting you to 60 mph in just over 4 seconds. That’s seriously fast. And if you ever get stuck in traffic, the DSG is automatic easy.

And while the GTI is front-wheel-drive, the R comes standard with 4Motion All-wheel-drive with rear-axle torque vectoring, and it really changes the character of the car. This new 4Motion system has a couple tricks up its sleeve, including a rear differential, so it now not only divvies up power front to rear, but at the back it can shuffle up to 100% of rear torque to just one wheel.

And you feel this technical trickery as incredibly agile handling, with precise, yet light steering – and tons of grip. It’s easy to put all the power down and rocket around turns like a rally car. It makes you feel (and look) like a driving hero!

The system lets you choose between a variety of driving modes from the R button on the wheel or on the touchscreen, including Comfort, Sport, Race, Special, Drift (yes drift!) and Individual. So, you can go from pleasant commuter to track-ready monster at a tap of a button. Amazing.

Want to impress your friends? The “Special” setting is configured for highest performance around Germany’s famed Nürburgring Nordschleife racetrack. Torque vectoring is optimized for the track’s cornering profile, along with softer suspension damping settings. Fahrvergnügen indeed!

Back here in the US, we actually found Comfort ideal for the street, and a quick nudge of the shift lever got us into the Sport mode for transmission – a perfect blend of civility with immensely quick acceleration. With all this power, great brakes are a necessity, and we found the pedal to offer loads of grab with excellent feel. This is an easy car to drive very fast.

The Price of Excellence

It’s pretty clear if you love to drive, the Golf R is an amazing proposition. While you can get a GTI starting at just $31,965 – which by the way, makes it a performance bargain – the Golf R starts fully decked out, including all the performance gear, for $45,665. Opting for the DSG transmission bumps you to $46,465. Adding in $1,225 for Destination, and we rang the bell at $47,690.

In the premium performance sweeps there are some great choices. We’d look at the Acura Integra Type S at $52,995. You’ll be foregoing AWD, but it’s also an amazing drive. Looking for something really different? We’d also say take a look at the Corolla GR, a 300-horsepower, three-cylinder, AWD rally-bred performance hatch at $46,235 for a maxxed-out version. We’d have to say the VW does everything so well, it’s the winner here – but it’s close!

An incredible combination of performance, utility, capability and Euro-goodness, the 2024 Volkswagen Golf R is the hottest hot hatch!