2023 Volkswagen Golf R Wagon review (video)

Brett Davis

Sometimes we walk away from a vehicle after reviewing it and think, what is the purpose of that car other than to generate revenue for the brand? The 2023 Volkswagen Golf R Wagon is not one of those vehicles, as it seems to fulfil a wide variety of purposes. It’s part sports car, part practical family-hauler, part technology showcase, and part luxury car.

The latest Mk8 Golf R is available in five-door hatch and wagon format, however, there is currently a pause on new orders in Australia due to production-related delays. Both are powered by the latest tune of VW’s famous 2.0-litre EA888-based turbo four-cylinder engine, developing 235kW and an impressive 420Nm.

If you’re not a fan of hatchbacks or wagons, Volkswagen Australia also offers the Tiguan R which is basically identical, albeit 139kg heavier. The extra weight influences an increase in the official 0-100km/h time from 4.9 seconds in this to 5.1 in the Tiguan R.

Interestingly, the Golf R Wagon is priced from $69,990 and the Tiguan R is priced just $500 north, from $70,490 (both excluding on-road costs). We can see the Tiguan R being more popular as it does fit the fashionable SUV mould. For us though, the Golf R Wagon is the one that has our hearts beating with fondness.

2023 Volkswagen Golf R Wagon – THE SPECS

[column width=”47%” padding=”6%”]Engine: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder
Output: 235kW@6600rpm / 420Nm@2000-5500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto
Drive type: All-wheel drive
Wheels: F: 19×8.0, 235/35
ANCAP: Five stars
Tare weight: 1583kg
Power-to-weight: 6.73:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 7.4L/100km
Economy during test: 8.7L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 50L/98 RON[/column] [column width=”47%” padding=”0″]Power efficiency: 31.75kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 2.52 seconds*
0-100km/h: 4.89 seconds*
0-200km/h: 17.24 seconds*
60-110km/h: 2.98 seconds*
1/4 mile: 13.12 seconds at 177.2km/h*
Max acceleration: 1.053g*
100-0km/h braking: 3.00 seconds at 37.12 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.376g*
Decibel at idle (/race mode): 56/61*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 86*
Priced from: $69,990[/column][end_columns]

* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different

2023 Volkswagen Golf R Wagon – THE PACKAGE

Take a look inside and you could potentially mistake this for a regular Golf. Well, maybe not a complete grandma-spec variant, but the clean and clutter-free design makes it one of the least intimidating cabins in this class. This is what performance Golf models have always been about; a vehicle that anybody can become instantly familiar with.

Twin digital screens run across a three-angle panel on the dash, with very few buttons or physical controls. As we’ve said before, this can complicate things when you’re on the road, as it often takes quite a few touch-screen selections just to reach your desired function. Compared with having old-school buttons and knobs, that is.

There are four main menu buttons just below the touch-screen which help to reduce distraction and time spent not concentrating on the road. But some of the selections are still too deep in the screen in our opinion, such as turning on/off the air-conditioning or changing media formats. Aside from that the latest graphics and colour theme is really nice, with cool blues and sharp attention to detail helping it stand out among its peers.

Passenger comfort is great, and the R-exclusive waist-hugging sports seats in the front offer excellent lateral support. A wide range of adjustment from the steering column and seat makes it easy to find a natural driving position too, and you can sit really low and hunkered down if you want to.

Rear passengers are well looked after as well, with separate climate control and vents, charging facilities, and cup and bottle holders. Legroom is decent for the outer seats but the centre driveline tunnel does sap room in the middle – remembering this is all-wheel drive. Overall, this could be used as a daily vehicle for a family of four without much complaint.

Up at the back, the boot offers a remarkable 611 litres of cargo volume. That’s more than most mid-size SUVs (Tiguan R: 615L). And if you fold down the rear seats, which can be done via tabs on the boot wall, you’ll expose a whopping 1642 litres. This makes the Golf R Wagon a properly practical little machine. There’s also some pockets on the sides and a 12-volt socket just to rub it in.

As standard the Golf R comes with a plethora of modern conveniences, safety technologies, and even luxuries. To name a few, highlights include adaptive cruise control, smart matrix LED headlights with dynamic functioning, three-zone climate control, digital radio, head-up display, changeable ambient lighting, rear cross-traffic alert, four USB-C ports, wireless phone charging, and Nappa leather.

It’s a shame there is no surround-view camera system available, as it should come standard on a $70k vehicle in this segment in our opinion.

2023 Volkswagen Golf R Wagon – THE DRIVE

Volkswagens have always been a bit formal. Intelligent and conservative, with German build quality and precision, but not especially fun or exciting. That’s fine by us, as it is a point of difference against some rivals. Some brands, such as Kia and Hyundai, seem to experiment a bit more and try new things. Again, that’s fine too as it’s great to have diversity in the market. And then you have Toyota which has an immovable reputation for reliability and practicality, but perhaps a bit boring in some areas.

The Golf R is a unique proposition because it carries through all of those VW-esque traits mentioned above, but there is an underlying spice waiting to bubble up. It’s like the nerdy officer worker who is quiet all week and then runs an absolute much on the weekends. On first impressions the Golf R drives conservatively, with light steering and outstanding visibility, but then there is a deep exhaust note in the background letting you know more is going on.

Helping with this multi-personality is a drive mode select system, presenting five settings. All alter the throttle sensitivity and steering weight, as well as driveline characteristics and even exhaust loudness. Adaptive suspension and torque vectoring parameters are also adjusted.

Comfort mode is the default setting, however, we’re not sure if it was a glitch with this test car but we noticed if you select Sport mode and turn the car off, Sport mode remains engaged when you start it back up. We suspect there is a timer on this as it is very common for vehicles to revert back to an eco-minded driver setup after a full start cycle.

The Sport mode causes the exhaust to liven up and pop and crackle, while Race mode makes the steering feel firm and weighted and puts the dampers into their most aggressive and tautest configuration. A ‘Special’ drive mode is also available, which is apparently inspired by the Nurburgring (as indicated on the dash). This mode provides all of the raciest powertrain settings while switching the suspension to a more absorbent profile, so as to handle undulating and unforgiving conditions such as those experienced on the Nordschleife.

Further still, there is a Drift mode as well. In this mode the powertrain can essentially send 100 per cent of the rear axle engine torque to the outside rear wheel during cornering, provoking the car to oversteer and kick the tail out. Earlier we said VWs weren’t exciting but having a Drift mode certainly crushes that notion.

In either mode the R is a pleasure to drive. It can soak up bumps with an appealingly sporty rubberiness that we’d expect from a serious hot hatch, but we wouldn’t describe the ride as being unbearably rigid, like in so many top-tier rivals. We like the fact there are no crashing noises or cluttering shakes during bumpy roads. Even if it is a bit stiffer than your average hatchback, it manages to remain compliant and refined over bumps.

Through fast corners we think there is still some scope for improved steering feel. It’s not numb but it doesn’t feels as natural or as engaging as some rivals. The weight does change around a bit and load up during tight turns, which is great, but instead of pure feedback it sends a professional letter of intent. You always know how the tyres are coping, front and rear, and the platform provides a good sense of wheel placement on the road. But again, it can seem a bit sanitised and perhaps lacking personality at times.

That doesn’t detract from its capability, however. As this thing is a corner-munching machine. In all weather. We had a heap of fun threading this blue beast up and down some mountain roads and it didn’t skip a beat.

Point the nose in sharply and apply full power and ride that huge wave of lateral (and longitudinal) g-force as it sprints to the next bend. Honestly, from point-to-point on a twisty country road with some mountainous curves, we reckon this thing could keep up with some very serious sports cars. Especially in the wet, with leaves and grit over the road surface.

Using the paddle-shifters for the seven-speed dual-clutch auto is a fun exercise we’d encourage users to try out, as the gear changes are ridiculously rapid and with hardly any (if any at all) change in forward progression. No human could possibly change gear quicker using a conventional manual gearbox. Even if you don’t want to engage with the paddles you can move the gear lever into S mode which holds onto gears for longer in the rev range, and asks the transmission to automatically down-shift during braking, supported by racy rev-matching.

We found the Nurburgring mode to be the best compromise for driving on spirited roads. On a smooth track the Race mode is no doubt the one to go for, but on the road you need some tolerance and forgiveness, just like what the Nurburgring mode provides. You still get all the performance and aggressive characteristics in all other areas aside from the suspension.

As for that potent 2.0-litre turbo engine, this is one of the most heavily evolved units currently on the market. It was conceived way back in 2008 and has since undergone a number of revisions, including both significant and more minor tweaks. In the Golf R it currently runs a compression ratio of 9.3:1. Although that is low for a modern engine, we saw the on-board turbo boost gauge peak at an insane 36psi. That is some serious boost.

Despite the makings for 1980s-style turbo-lag, the engine is very responsive and offers all of its torque – a high figure in itself for a 2.0L, at 420Nm – from just 2000rpm. And it’s maintained until you reach 5500rpm, at which point it is approaching max power, available at 6600rpm. We’re not a big fan of the transmission calibration in Comfort and Sport mode, as it does tend to prefer higher gears. It doesn’t labour or bog down but the sound/revs is low. The sensation of acceleration and momentum building feels just like any other performance car, offering awesome mid-range surge.

Speaking of performance, Volkswagen claims 0-100km/h can be achieved in 4.9 seconds. And guess what? That’s exactly what we saw from our Vbox during testing on a private road. It clocked some consistent runs of around 4.9, with our lowest number on the day being 4.89 seconds. We also saw 0-200km/h come up in 17.24 seconds, which is very quick for a vehicle that doesn’t specialise in top-end power like a super sports car or supercar.

As for fuel economy, the official rating is a credible 7.4L/100km. During our week of testing, with lots of fanging about and enjoying the performance, we recorded an average of 8.7L/100km. We think this is a decent real-world figure considering the fantastic potential.

2023 Volkswagen Golf R Wagon – THE VIDEO

2023 Volkswagen Golf R Wagon – THE VERDICT

About the only concern we have with this car is that it isn’t as exclusive as it once was. For example, it’s available in hatch and wagon form, and it’s also available in SUV guise as the Tiguan R, and, indirectly, available badged as the Cupra Formentor VZx and Cupra Ateca VZx. Even the Audi S3 is extremely similar. In fact, all feature the same engine with almost identical specs.

Does exclusivity really matter? We guess not. It is more of an observation rather than a criticism. For us, we’d take the Golf R wagon exactly like this, in this colour, over any of those aforementioned family relatives. This offers something those don’t; a distinct coolness that’s always associated with having a fast yet modest-looking station wagon.

[column width=”47%” padding=”6%”]PROS:
– Impeccable AWD system and cornering traction
– Very quick with deep torque reserves for daily driving
– Practical and spacious cabin
– Cool modern tech inside
– Suave and understated design
[/column] [column width=”47%” padding=”0″]CONS:
– Engine sound is a bit fake/electronic inside
– Hard to come by; new orders currently paused
– Almost same price as Tiguan R, slightly less vehicle?[/column][end_columns]

As always, if you’re thinking about buying a new car don’t forget to click here to speak with our car buying specialists.

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