If you’re a fan of performance Volkswagen models, then Volkswagen R is a brand you will have heard of. Sitting above the famous GTI models, R represents the most high performance models from the German manufacturer, combining the performance with sporty looks and upgraded interiors.
The initial launch for the R brand came in 2002, with the launch of the iconic Golf Mk.4 R32. This hot hatch became the first production car with a dual clutch gearbox, and was powered by a 3.2-litre V6 engine, hence the ‘32’ name. This engine was mated with a Haldex all-wheel drive system, and became the set up for R models that we know today.
The ’32’ nomenclature was soon dropped, as R expanded into other models. The V6 engine, was replaced by a 2.0-litre turbo powerplant, and all high performance models were rebadged as ‘R’. There are now numerous Volkswagen models that have a range topping, R high performance model, including the T-Roc, Tiguan and Arteon, alongside the Golf R that we know and love. What will be interesting is what will happen in the future for Volkswagen’s R brand, and how the brand will differentiate their high performance models from other cars in their future EV range.
Gallery: Volkswagen R Models at Brands Hatch
Golf R 20 Years edition
Last year, to mark 20 years since the launch of R, Volkswagen released the Golf R 20 Years edition. This special edition is marked out with blue accents across the car, with either blue or black door mirrors. The 20 years gets official badging on both the outside and the inside, plus blue tinted wheels as an option.
Inside, the 20 years edition receives carbon fibre trim, for the first time on any Golf model. The cloth seats are replaced with leather, too. What really sets the 20 years edition apart from your standard Golf R, is the upgrade in performance. This model has become the most powerful Golf ever produced by Volkswagen, pushing out 328 bhp and reaches 62 mph from a standstill in 4.6 seconds, while top speed is limited to 168 mph.
I was given the opportunity to drive the R range at the World famous, Brands Hatch circuit, where Formula 1 Grand Prix’s were held between 1964 and 1986. Given the option of driving the Arteon R, T-Roc R or Golf R 20 Years, I of course opted for the most powerful Golf ever produced, which was nicely equipped with the optional Akrapovic exhaust system, which sounds even better with Volkswagen’s Emotion Start, making the exhaust note louder.
On the track, the Golf felt precise and handled exactly how you’d expect it to, with minimal body roll and plenty of power for the straights. In manual mode, the Golf would still change gear automatically, stopping me from holding the rev range a bit higher, which was slightly frustrating.
It’s amazing to see how far things have progressed with every day cars. Go back 20 years, and driving a car on the track would be very different from today, with hardly any of the assistance systems we see today. This made driving the Golf very easy on track, however did take some of the emotion and feeling of driving away from the experience. It was awesome to hear the exhaust roar behind you as you fly down the Brabham straight at 110 mph.
Stepping out of the Golf and into the T-Roc R, it was great to see that Volkswagen had taken the performance aspect from the Golf and put into the T-Roc. I wasn’t expecting the T-Roc R to feel so similar to the Golf from the inside, minus the carbon fibre. The T-Roc R also gets the option of the Akrapovic exhaust system, which produces that lovely sound on track.
The small SUV produces slightly less power from the turbocharged, 2.0-litre engine, at 296 bhp, but gives you that slightly elevated driving position. In spite of this, I was amazed at how similar the T-Roc was to drive on track as the Golf R. Yes, there was more, weight and body roll, and you wouldn’t be chasing lap record times in this small SUV, but it was still punchy, and I was overtaking other cars on track, which I really didn’t expect to do.
Finally, the 3rd R model I drove at Brands Hatch was the Arteon R. In the UK, we love our high performance, estate cars, or ‘wagons’ as their sometimes known. With the extra room in the boot, the Arteon R is 0.4 metres longer than the Golf. The Arteon sits between the T-Roc and the Golf in terms of power, producing 316 bhp and 420 Nm of torque. 0-62 mph takes slightly longer at 4.9 seconds, as the vehicle weighs 1,830 kilograms.
The car I drove wasn’t equipped with the optional exhaust system, so was notably quieter. The extra boot space and soggy Brands Hatch tarmac meant for a very wet lap, and with nothing in the boot, the Arteon was quite tail happy, with the rear end trying to step out regularly. This made it quite an enjoyable drive, but was certainly more challenging on track. I can’t imagine too many Arteon owners taking their R on Brands Hatch, and whilst the car is certainly capable, the R model that is the most fun is naturally the Golf R.
Volkswagen R’s future will be an interesting one. They have declared that they will be an all-electric brand by 2030, and it will be interesting to see how they separate the standard, GTI and R branded Volkswagen models. An interview with Peter Jost, the head of Sales and Marketing at Volkswagen R, revealed their future plans, stating that future, electric R models will receive a specific R sound, along with better brakes to make the R models stand out from the rest of the range.
Jost talked about maintaining the emotion in the electric cars, to mix EVs with the feeling the driver gets from a combustion engine vehicle. Whilst driving some the of the R models at Brands Hatch, I couldn’t help but wonder what the feeling would be like without the sound of the exhaust, and the kick from the change of gears from the combustion engine would be like. One hope of light we have with the future of electric is of course the infamous VW ID.R. The electric race car that broke records at Goodwood, Pikes Peak and others. Jost told us that the majority of Volkswagen Motorsport employees had migrated to VW R, and if they can produce a car like the ID.R, it’s retains the excitement for the future of electric performance R models from the Volkswagen brand.