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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - R Wagon Wolfsburg Edition

Our Opinion

We like
Performance and practicality balance, strong engine, ice-cool wagon look
Room for improvement
No manual option, road noise, no seat tilt adjustment


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25 Sep 2015

THE Volkswagen Golf GTI is often cited as the benchmark hot hatchback and for a very good reason. Evolving to its current form of a razor-sharp chassis, effervescent turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and likeable looks, it has been the one to beat for 40 years.

But Volkswagen went the extra mile and introduced an R version which squeezed 206kW out of the same engine but reigned the extra grunt with all-wheel drive, and the result was sensational.

And now Australia has been treated to this – the Wagon version. Not only does it have the 605-litre boot and pleasant flowing profile of the regular wagon, Australia is being treated to its first Wolfsburg Edition model.

Take a moment to browse our gallery because we think, with the addition of those gloss black 19-inch wheels and matching mirror caps and roof rails unique to the Wolfsburg, the Wagon is the best looking variant in the current Golf line-up.

You can also buy the more orthodox hatchback version Golf R as a Wolfsburg Edition, but for now the R Wagon will be sold only in the more exclusive costume, which we think gives the big-boot version even more kudos.

It costs $2000 more than the Wolfsburg hatchback and $6250 more than a regular Golf R hatch, but Australian performance car fans have historically shown they are prepared to pay for exclusivity.

Where the wagon versions of past years and models have often proven a compromise in the name of practicality, these days, manufacturers are paying more attention to preserving dynamic qualities – especially in performance-focused cars like the Golf R.

It may have the big boot that expands to 1620-litres with clever family-friendly folding this and nicknack-storing that, but the R Wagon is first and foremost a performance car.

Four adults would be very well accommodated in the roomy but classically German-designed cabin. The cool weave-effect leather seats are comfortable and, while we would have liked a base tilt adjustment on at least the driver's pew, the wagon interior was a pleasant place to spend time.

It may have been the coarse-chipped roads around Canberra or the very low-profile tyres wrapped around big wheels, but the Golf's cabin could be a little noisy at higher speeds, but that sound is easily substituted by pointing your right foot.

We have never liked, and will never like the principle of piping engine sound through stereo speakers, but at least in the Golf R the sound is very evocative. Imagine a cross between Subaru flat four and the ephemeral Cosworth four-pot induction note and you'll have some idea of the Golf R soundtrack. If only it were all real.

The accompanying performance is thrilling. In racing circles and no doubt the development centres of rival brands, the matter of 0.2 seconds when accelerating to 100km/h is a matter of high importance, but realistically this isn't Formula 1.

While the R hatch can crack the 100km/h benchmark in 5.0 seconds dead, you would have to be a much better tester than our reviewer to tell the difference between the 5.2 second dash of the wagon.

Especially when you have an opportunity to throw the Wolfsburg at a track.

New South Wales' Wakefield circuit offers a challenging lap of tight switchbacks and brake-punishing straights – exactly the sort of thing that would show up a hack-job hot-hatch conversion.

But Volkswagen's efforts to add a bigger boot has only tipped the scale by another 74kg, allowing the R Wagon to maintain much of the hatchback's dynamic properties.

Carrying decent pace into the various technical corners was effortless and would be wholly possible day-to-day on regular roads, but it was when we pushed the load-lugger to its limit that it really came alive.

The clever Haldex four-wheel drive seamlessly sends power around all four corners and braking hard onto kerbs caused the Golf's booty to wriggle into corners, before settling mid-bend and then squatting under strong acceleration on the exit. Tidy.

With a few laps and building confidence we really started to appreciate the wagon's lively nature that was not at all apparent on longer sedate cruising.

Smashing through the gears was a breeze with the six-speed dual-clutch transmission, which manages cog-swaps with typical German efficiency and speed, but our admiration of previous-generation hot Golfs made us yearn for a manual just a little.

A self-serve version might also hack a couple of grand from the asking price, offsetting the cost of that versatile boot. Are you listening Volkswagen?Its nature is very forgiving and has both the nimbleness of its hatch sibling, but also an added stability from a bit more weight over the back axle.

After an afternoon tearing up the blacktop, the brakes ticked cool and the R Wagon returned to its familiar dependable character and was ready to be loaded up with, kids, dogs, old furniture for the tip or a load of luggage destined for the airport.

By adding a big boot to the already excellent R recipe, Volkswagen has improved the Golf's looks and practicality, with no discernible compromise to real-world performance, and at only a $2000 premium. We think that's a pretty good deal.

It may be the most expensive Golf in the range but it is also the best Golf in the range.

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