Plenty of performance and loads of space, but now with more delicate and engaging handling than ever before.
Almost a year after we first drove the latest Golf R hatchback, the new Golf R Wagon has arrived, bringing with it a number of new developments that promise to make it an even faster and yet more rounded car than its predecessor. It is on track to arrive in Australia around Q2 2022, but we’ve had the chance to test one early in Germany.
The hot Volkswagen wagon has always been a favourite. Its combination of performance and practicality has traditionally given it big appeal for those attempting to juggle a wish for real driver enjoyment and a requirement for more than adequate load-carrying ability.
The new model builds on the standard Golf wagon in much the same way as the car it replaces, with typically subtle exterior styling changes that mark it out as the flagship of the line-up without going overboard on unnecessary design flourishes.
Included is a uniquely styled front bumper with larger air ducts and gloss black elements, an illuminated strip through the grille that acts as a daytime-running light, standard LED headlights, matt chrome-look mirror housings, wider sills, anodised aluminium roof rails and a new rear bumper housing a quartet of chromed tailpipes.
At 4633mm in length, the new model is 71mm longer than before. A good 66mm of this comes from a longer wheelbase, which is stretched to 2686mm.
A further raft of R-specific features help to lift the appeal of the interior, which, despite an overwhelming amount of glossy black plastic, feels agreeably solid in terms of build. There’s a new multifunction steering wheel with a drive mode button, highly supportive front sport seats, brushed aluminium pedals, new trim elements for the sills and dashboard, and unique R-themed graphics for the instrument and infotainment displays.
The longer wheelbase endows the Golf R wagon with greater rear-seat space than both its predecessor and the latest Golf R hatchback. An increase in the rear overhang also enables it to offer an impressive 611 litres of luggage space underneath the cargo blind, rising to 1642 litres when the split folding rear seat is stowed.
As with the subtlety evident in the styling, the philosophy behind the powertrain hasn’t changed much, either. The new Golf R estate continues with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. The EA888-designated unit is now in its fifth generation. There are minor tweaks to the combustion process and a reworked exhaust, among other detailed changes. Power climbs by 15kW to a new peak of 235kW, while torque increases by 40Nm to 420Nm.
It continues to drive all four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, with R-specific paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel.
The big news, however, is the appearance of a heavily reworked 4Motion four-wheel drive system. It now features two electronically controlled clutches on the rear axle to provide a more accurate apportioning of drive between the front and rear wheels as well as individual drive to each of the rear wheels as part of a new torque-vectoring function.
Networked to the VDM (vehicle dynamic manager) and XDS (electronic differential locks), it is the same Magna-developed system used by Audi in the new third-generation RS3 as well as by Cupra with the Formentor VZ5 and it endows the Golf R wagon with a programmable drift function for the first time since it was introduced to the Volkswagen line-up in 2015.
In combination with an optional Performance Package fitted to our test car, there are now six driving modes: Comfort, Sport, Race, Nürburgring, Drift and Individual. They’re accessed by a physical button in the middle of the dashboard, which brings up a menu on the Infotainment display. A further touch of the screen and you’re done. As you scroll through the each one, the graphics of the digital instrument display light up in a different colour to keep you informed as to how you have set the car up.
It is all supported by an updated MacPherson-strut front and multi-link rear suspension set-up that features Volkswagen’s DCC variable-rate dampers as well a 20mm-lower ride height and greater negative camber to the front wheels, modified transverse-link mounts and different hub carriers from those used by standard versions of the Golf wagon.
Given the wide range of driving modes on offer, there is complexity in configuring the new Golf R Estate to suit any given driving situation. In some cases, the difference in character is minimal, especially between Sport, Race and Nürburgring, where the nuances in set-up are sometimes hard to pinpoint. The upshot, however, is a terrific spread of ability between comfort at one end and dynamism at the other.
Real-world pace is undeniably strong, with urgent step-off and wonderfully tractable qualities across the mid-range. Volkswagen puts the 0-100km/h time at 4.9sec, which is actually 0.1sec slower than the earlier Golf R wagon with the Performance Package launched in 2018. But it is the overall effortlessness that defines the performance. With such accessible torque, there is always plenty of urge for overtaking in lower gears, and a good spread of ratios also makes for relaxed cruising at typical motorway speeds in higher gears. Top speed is nominally limited to 250km/h, although it is increased to 270km/h with the Performance Package.
The sound of the engine is rather mild-mannered in Comfort, but it adopts a raspier and altogether more meaningful tone in Race, Nürburgring and Drift, where there are also pops and crackles through the exhaust on the overrun.
It is all backed up by excellent dynamics. Responsive and accurate steering ensures directional changes are always swift and crisp in the more sporting driving modes. There is also added weighting and greater feel to the electromechanical system than in lesser Golf estate models, giving the driver added confidence over more challenging roads.
The new four-wheel drive system provides a more rear-biased apportioning of drive, making for more neutral handling. You can still feel the front wheels pulling you out of corners but the ability to send differing amounts of drive to each of the rear wheels reduces a tendency to understeer, giving the car a more satisfyingly planted feel. There is also greater traction and, with the optional 235/35 R19 Bridgestone Potenza S005 tyres of our test car, more grip on offer than before.
Body roll is well contained thanks to the fast-acting qualities of the adaptive damping and improvements in overall body structure stiffness. Still, the Golf R wagon never feels quite as settled as with the smaller, lighter and ultimately more nimble Golf R hatchback.
It is doubtful many prospective buyers will ever take the new Golf R wagon to a race circuit or a skidpan to test all of the various driving modes. But if they do, they’ll be able to drift the new model at seemingly impossible angles, as we discovered at its launch in Germany last week.
The ride is predictably firm in the more sporting driving modes, but it relaxes and is impressively unobtrusive in Comfort mode, despite the optional 19-inch tyres of our test car. There is, however, a constant roar from the low-profile rubber, even on smooth-surfaced German roads, most notably at the front end, taking the edge off the otherwise impressive refinement.
Pricing and arrival date are yet to be announced for Australia, but buyers can rest assured that the latest Golf R wagon is a very convincing everyday driving proposition. It is quick, enjoyable to drive, engaging, very secure on the road and, with 268 litres more boot space than its Golf R hatchback sibling, terrifically practicable.