The Golf R marks the absolute pinnacle of Golf sport. As part of the major facelift wave, Volkswagen also improved the top sports car and gave it some changes. Long before the world première, we were able to try out a still camouflaged pre-production model.

The eighth-generation Golf R was a quantum leap for the sporty Golf. Not only with its more than 300 PS, but also with its all-wheel drive with torque vectoring, it set new standards in terms of driving dynamics. Volkswagen is now trying its hand at the art of making good things even better. The new Golf R is based on the extensive facelift that all Golfs have undergone this year.

Gallery: VW Golf R (2024) Facelift Covered Drive

The new, significantly sharpened bumpers, which give the R a new look, can be seen under the camouflage film. The headlights have also been redesigned and visually connected by a light bar. The illuminated VW badge is proudly emblazoned in the centre. The sills and rear bumper have obviously also been redesigned.

A lot of precision work

But we want to drive. Around the Lausitzring - on which we have not yet been allowed to drive ourselves - there are a lot of beautiful country roads and also an open motorway, in other words direct Golf R territory. Our specimen has the new Akrapovic stainless steel exhaust system on board, which now sounds audibly more muffled. The engineers have done a lot of fine-tuning here, as the exhaust is not allowed to get any louder these days. That's something we like. Just like the backfire, which can now be heard much earlier when over revving.

A lot has also been done to the engine software mapping. The very spontaneous response behaviour of the engine is striking. The drivetrain also reacts absolutely directly and in real time when the throttle is released. Here you accept minor inconveniences such as mini-jerks in order to connect the engine directly to the accelerator foot. The engine has enough power. Regardless of the rev range - the thing marches on without a hitch. No wonder, because with a smooth 333 PS, the R now has 13 PS more than its predecessor, and that as standard, not just as a special model. Incidentally, the estate model also benefits from this power boost for the first time.

The DSG now also shifts faster and - important for trackday drivers - no longer automatically upshifts in manual mode when the limiter is reached or automatically downshifts on kickdown. We were also promised some nice shift jerks in the sharpest mode, but unfortunately we couldn't feel them. The DSG shifts quickly, very smoothly and comfortably, but the power impact when shifting through the gears is still missing even in the sportiest mode.

We were unable to test the qualities of the chassis in detail on our lap. The familiar driving dynamics manager also networks all relevant systems in the new Golf R, which means that the Golf sports car always reacts alertly to all situations. In addition, there are the familiar driving profiles, which have been re-tuned. The brakes feel extremely biting but easy to modulate. We will come to its true talents later.

Racetrack performer and drift king!

A familiar face in the Volkswagen motorsport world then shows us what the Golf R is really capable of. He is works and development driver Benny Leuchter, who "incidentally" has just clinched a class victory in a Golf GTI at the 24-hour race on the Nürburgring. Unlike us journalists, he also gets to show what he can do in the Golf R on the Lausitzring racetrack - and that's a lot!

Anyone who knows Benny knows that you get your money's worth as a co-driver too. The first lap is all about sheer performance. Benny lets it fly and stays on the (full) throttle for so long before corners that you're already thinking about distributing your possessions to your heirs. What happens next is more familiar from race taxi driving. Leuchter slams on the brakes and the Golf decelerates with such vehemence, despite the now softened tyres, that it makes your head spin.

This increases rapidly over the next few laps. Benny's comment: "You know how to drive fast. Now it's about having fun!" A quick click on the drift mode button - which will only be available in conjunction with the performance package - and it's off to the races. Literally, because Leuchter stops the car briefly before every corner and then drives so sideways that any AMG would crawl into the corner with tears in its eyes. In a GOLF!

In drift mode, the drive forces are distributed in such a way as to maximise driving pleasure, i.e. to the rear! This creates an extreme tendency to oversteer, but this is obviously very controllable. The result: almost forbidden driving fun. The only disadvantage: you need a subscription from the local tyre dealer and it's not legal on public roads, of course.

After our short "covered drive", the anticipation for the lifted R has increased significantly. More has happened here than just a little cosmetic work. We can hardly wait for the premiere and, above all, the subsequent driving events.