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2021 Volkswagen Golf R Final Edition Performance Review

The pinnacle of the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf range goes on track one last time, but can the Golf R Final Edition beat the GTI TCR?

1 week ago
Comments
Chris Atkinson
Performance Editor
PROS
  • Engine and transmission are well matched
  • Fantastic launch control system
  • Has the potential to be much faster with a few tweaks
CONS
  • Steering lacks feedback at the limit
  • Soft suspension costs a lot of lap time
  • Not as fast as an Audi S3

The Mk7 Volkswagen Golf is well and truly on its way out, so the rang-topping and most performance-oriented Golf R Final Edition is here to prove a point before the new Mk8 Golf R makes its debut in 2022.

How does it compare against the likes of Golf GTI TCR and Audi S3? We put Chris Atkinson behind the wheel at our Queensland Raceway test track to find out.

Overall Track Performance

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf R Final Edition is a well-rounded package. It’s enjoyable to drive and has huge potential to be taken to another level on the track.

Dynamically it wasn’t as well-sorted on track as the mechanically-related Audi S3 nor as edgy as the front-drive Golf TCR, but it’s very user-friendly and you can have a lot of fun with it.

In similar vein to the Audi S3, it does a lot of things well without standing out in one particular area.

Overall Road Performance

The final edition Volkswagen Golf R is not as lively as the slightly cheaper Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR we reviewed recently – and to be fair, it actually doesn’t feel as quick on the road – however that’s mainly due to the fact it better distributes its power and torque thanks to the 4Motion all-wheel drive system.

It’s probably a better daily than the front-wheel drive GTI and it’s certainly more composed, however we do feel like it can do with significantly more power.

Thankfully, this engine has been around for so long that there are plenty of easy and safe performance mods that will bring its outputs up noticeably.

Engine

The 2.0-litre ‘EA888’ four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, with its 213kW and 380Nm of torque is as solid as we found in the Audi S3 and Golf TCR – which both use essentially the same motor.

I really feel like this engine is a better match to all-wheel drive models – the torque curve is so wide and strong it can be hard to manage through just the two front wheels.

From 1850rpm all the way to 5300rpm you have peak torque, and you can be very aggressive with your power delivery because the traction is so good.

The 0-100km/h time was impressive and consistent at 4.94 seconds, even faster than we achieved with the Audi S3. You are not going to be disappointed with this engine, and I can see why the Volkswagen Group uses it across so many vehicles.

Braking

The brakes were reasonably consistent in terms of stopping power and actually once again beat the Audi S3 performance-wise with a 100km/h-0 time of 2.9 sec v 3.1 sec.

The pedal travel got a bit longer on the second flying lap and it relies too much on the ABS, which can hurt your corner entry.

Overall it’s definitely not bad, but it’s missing the direct feedback I would have liked to really control the release of the pedal.

Chassis

I think this chassis has so much potential, and you could so easily take it to another level on the track. The way the car controls movement just doesn’t quite work on the track, but I feel like it’s more of a damping issue that could be solved with a few small changes.

Where the Audi S3 gains a lot on the Golf R is the way the chassis works together front and rear. The Golf puts a lot of energy through the front tyres and doesn’t allow the weight to transfer back, then rotate and squat.

This weight transfer allowed me to manage the energy through corners a bit better in the Audi S3, and I could manipulate the car and be a bit more aggressive.

The point I’m getting to, is that the Golf R still has a feeling of a front-wheel-drive chassis. Although it has the traction of a four-wheel drive car, the dynamics don’t quite match. But I want to be clear, I’m being really picky.  

Transmission and Differentials

Once again the gearbox is good, but lacks a little of the sharpness I would like.

I felt like I wasn’t fully in control, with a slight delay on shift response. It works absolutely fine, but I am interested to see how far Volkswagen could actually take this if it wanted to.

I don’t have much to say about the differentials and the 4Motion system, apart from it seemed to work very well. Traction was amazing and the car never did anything that surprised me.

But when the suspension is so soft, you are never going to ask too much from the differentials because you are always in good contact with the road.

I have to say the way it managed its power and torque on launches was also very impressive. It smartly controlled power delivery, with just enough slip to keep the engine speed in the right window and maintain momentum.

Suspension

The damping in this car is really skewed towards road comfort than track use, and I feel like VW could have pushed the boundaries a bit further here.

It lacks the support required on track and the car doesn’t enjoy sudden inputs, especially when loaded.

The positive is that there is so much room for improvement if you are looking to use the Golf R on the track. With a bit more damper control, you would have a really quick package.

Steering

I would like a bit more feedback and reaction through the wheel and also a bit more weight.

Overall it’s not bad, but it’s not perfect: the soft suspension settings add to this feeling, due to the lack of force coming back from the road.

This is a big part of what makes a car connect to a driver and vice versa. It’s nice when companies make this a priority.

Wheels and Tyres

With the same tyres as the Golf TCR (Continental Conti Sport Contact 5P), I obviously had a similar feeling.

They were consistent, but just lacked the progression at the limit I would have liked.

Driver Aids (Electronics)

The launch control on this car was amazing! Maybe the best we have tested – it was really easy to activate, worked every time, and resulted in very consistent launches.

I did all the laps with traction control and ESC off. There is really no need for the traction control, but if you want to be safe leave the ESC on.

Cockpit (Ergonomics)

I really liked the steering wheel; the size and shape are perfect, but I would have liked some drive mode control options on the wheel.

Like the Golf TCR, I thought the seating position was good, but would have liked to have been a little lower in the cockpit.

Maybe I am getting used to it, but I didn’t have as big an issue with the pedal offset as I have with other Volkswagen and Audi models.

Lap Time

The best I could achieve out of the Volkswagen Golf R Final Edition was a 61.71 sec lap.

It’s a little surprising it didn’t get closer to the Audi S3 or the Golf GTI TCR, especially with basically the same engine, but it’s not far away at all.

Dynamically I couldn’t quite get the car to do what I wanted on the track, which resulted in being unable to convert its huge potential into a good lap time.

Out of the showroom it may not be the perfect track car, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have the occasional blast and show off the launch control to your friends.

Atko’s 3:

  1. Be careful on the entry, don’t over commit.
  2. Use the awesome traction and engine package off the corner
  3. Enjoy the launch control system! It’s epic.

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MRLP A$57,990
7.2L
213kW
166g