• Feel of quality and precision, all class and no shouting
  • Ability to cover many roles so well
  • Excellent resale value is a pro for me
  • High second hand value is a con for anyone buying one now
  • Brittle ride on 19 inch wheels
  • Not hard core enough for some
5 Star

About the Volkswagen Golf

David Festa purchased this Volkswagen Golf new for $61,000 (including all on-road costs). David Festa would buy this car again because: “Purchased in 2017 for $61000 as a demo with 285km on the clock. We call it the Ratbag. I would buy this car again because nothing else I have owned has been so good at playing the role of a safe, practical family run about and yet had this much performance and fun. And it has still maintained close to 75% of its purchase value after 5 years.”

How reliable has your car been? Tell us about any issues.

The Golf R is a very complex, highly tuned sports car that is loaded with every bit of tech imaginable. My Father was a mechanic and the reason I have the car lover’s disease now. Ever the pragmatist I imagine he would have been horrified at the thought of a car with a 2.0 litre engine that puts out 213kW and was mated to a computer controlled DSG gearbox and 4WD system.

Not to mention the thousands of sensors in the adjustable shock absorbers, radar cruise control, autonomous emergency breaking, lane assist with active steering and so on and so on.

My Father always looked at complexity as just an invitation for something to go wrong. But there may have been a few niggles but the Ratbag has never let me stranded. There have been recalls but nothing urgent and all dealt with at routine 12 month services. A warning light came on for the DSG gearbox about two years in. It did not feel any different and the on board computer reassured me it was safe to keep driving until a service could be arranged and it was fixed under warranty.

The fix took two days and apparently involved removing the transmission from the car so I shudder to think what this would have cost out of warranty.

The same Golf R was later sold by Volkswagen with a five year warranty but mine only came with three years. I continue to service it at a main dealer due to the promise of Volkswagen “looking after me” if something came up that would have been covered by a five year warranty.

During the most recent service a leak was found in the thermostat and this needed to be replaced. Now, I am no mechanic but I remember changing a thermostat on a FJ40 Toyota Land Cruiser in the late 1980s and the part cost $20 and took about 20 minutes to install.

For the Ratbag I was quoted $1200 plus, depending on “how difficult” the old thermostat was to remove. With a bit of haggling Volkswagen agreed to cover half the parts cost and in total the job cost $1000. Not sure if the experience made me feel that well “looked after” but I suppose the car is now more than five years old.

The only other faults I can think of are cracked and peeling silver finish on the trim around the gear selector and the rear Volkswagen badge. The peeling trim was very sharp and I actually cut myself a couple of times especially on the VW badge because you lift this to open the boot. Interesting the faulty trim around the gear selector was a recognised recall and replaced for free but the VW boot badge cost me about $200 to replace.

Overall, for such a high performance car, I consider the maintenance costs to be entirely reasonable. Services are every 12 months and cost roughly between $300+ to $600+ depending if they are “minor” or “major” respectively.

This is more than an average Golf but compared to a comparably performing BMW or Porsche services are an absolute bargain. Insurance costs are also a lot less than these prestige brands.

The 19-inch high performance tyres do not last long and at 65,000km I am well into my third set already. The first two sets of Continentals lasted barely 20,000km.

The current set of Michelin PS4s seem to be a bit more durable. I am still on the original brake pads and disks, which is a very pleasant surprise. Previous BMWs and Alfa Romeos seemed to chew through pads and discs at the same rate as tyres.

Reassuringly I check the oil level regularly but still have the original bottle of motor oil I bought with the car and it remains unopened.

What do you think of the ownership experience with your car?

The Ratbag has pretty much been the perfect car for my family and me. I really like the understated nature of the Golf R. To most people it looks like any other Golf but underneath it is a truly capable performance car. It is easy to drive, loaded with safety gear and AWD, which is reassuring as 90 per cent of the time, it is driven by my wife and occasionally by my adult kids.

Vehicle size is always a compromise but a Golf strikes a good balance between fitting four adults in reasonable comfort but still being small enough to zip around in traffic and park easily.

I know it is popular to say that Volkswagen represents all that is evil and corrupt in the corporate world and Diesel Gate was solely responsible for every premature death since the start of the industrial revolution, but I like Volkswagen products.

They feel a little premium and I like how they feel on the road. The overall customer service may not be up to Lexus standards but I have owned lots of different car brands and the Volkswagen dealerships I have dealt with have made me feel a little bit special. And I enjoy trying one of the latest models as a free loan car every time I get mine serviced.

So far this has been my personal experience buying a new car from different brands

  • Alfa Romeo made me feel that I was in on a the secret of how good the brand was and everybody else was missing out
  • BMW made me feel I was very special and nothing was a problem as long as I did not mention the cost of anything
  • Toyota made me feel I was going to a friendly neighbour’s house for a barbecue
  • Subaru made me feel like my friend’s parents, who were well meaning but slightly daggy, invited me over for dinner
  • Honda. Take a number and sit down.

How has the purchase and aftercare experience been with your car?

When I was looking the replace my previous family car, a BMW 318d Touring wagon, I was hoping to get something more sporting to drive. As my wife would be driving it most of the time the decision would ultimately be up to her.

The Golf R wagon had just come out and I thought it was worth looking at. When we went to the dealer there were no Golf R wagons available for a test drive so we had a go in the hatchback instead. And God bless her cotton socks my wife absolutely loved it!

I asked her about practicality and she said “who cares” and wanted the hatch because she thought it was sexier. When we bought the car she immediately christened it the Ratbag.

The reason for buying a demo was not so much to save money but more to do with the six month waiting list at the time. This seems normal nowadays but in 2017 it felt intolerable.

When I found a near new demo available for immediate delivery in the exact spec I wanted (DSG, signature colour of Lapiz blue, driver’s assistance package which included the then fancy digital dash and no sun roof) I jumped at the chance.

The fact it saved me a couple of thousand dollars was an added bonus.

Apart from all Volkswagen warranties changing from three years to five after I bought my car the aftercare has been good. I keep getting invited to Volkswagen test drives and new car launch events but I never attend. When I purchased the car there was an active Volkswagen driver program with track days and driver training but this all got shut down with COVID and has not been restarted.

Are you happy with the price and features of your car?

The Ratbag is absolutely loaded with tech and safety features that even today, five years later, are optional on many much more expensive high end luxury cars.

In my case the absolutely essential Driver Assistance Package was a $2000 option that included a digital instrument cluster that still looks modern today as well as radar cruise control, lane keeping assist with active steering, auto high beams that actively shadow oncoming cars, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.

At $61,000 on the road the Ratbag seemed expensive at the time but that barely gets you a Golf GTI nowadays and my car has retained its value very well. The new Golf R is more powerful with an improved 4WD system but well into the $70,000 plus range. And the new driver interface is an absolute deal breaker for me.

What do you think of the performance and economy of your car?

The Ratbag earns its nickname with a 0-100km/h time of well under 5 seconds. I have always had light, sporty cars that have handled well but this is the first truly powerful car I have ever owned. There is more than enough straight line performance for anything you need to do on Australian roads. And on a wet road this car will eat V8 Commodores for breakfast.

Everyone reading this probably enjoys their cars in different ways. Maybe it is spending all day polishing chrome and cruising with your mates down a crowded street. Or maybe you prefer crawling through trails, through a metre deep mud bog. For me driving mountain roads in the Yarra Valley outside north easternMelbourne is what brings a smile to my face. I love wringing out an engine between apexes, with the car talking to me through the steering wheel and the seat of my pants. I have read about people saying that the Golf R some how lacks character but I never really understood what they meant.

Is the problem with the Golf R the way it so competently manages to do all the day to day stuff with out drama? As the everyday family car I was not looking for car that was dialled up to 10 and screaming all the time. It seems sometimes the Golf R’s competence is mistaken for being mundane because it is not shouting all the time.

The drive mode selector allows for this when needed and unlike a lot of other cars there is a real difference in feel between the comfort and sport settings. The Grand kids still ask Nanna to put the Ratbag in race mode when they get picked up.

Is the problem with the Golf R that it is not a tail happy drifter? Fair enough the AWD system is front wheel bias but no one accuses front wheel drive hatches like the Civic Type R or i30 N of lacking character. Ultimately the front end will wash out if plunging into a corner too quickly but seriously the limits are so high that this should only be happening to you on a track, not on the road.

I have driven this car harder than I should on public roads and have always found the handling to be beautifully neutral, there is never a lack of traction, wet or dry and the brakes are phenomenally strong. The EA888 engine loves to rev and has a wicked growl.

Even the DSG which may never be as engaging as a manual, is surely the next best thing with a beautiful tactile, mechanical feel when changing gears. I can understand that a DSG is not always the smoothest option but it suits this application perfectly.

Tellingly, whenever I fly back home from interstate, after driving a typically mundane commuter rental car, the communicative chassis in the Ratbag starts talking to me before I have even left the airport car park. To me that is character.

As far as economy goes it has consistently returned around 8.0 to 8.5 litres/100km in day to day suburban driving and down to 5.0 litres/100km on a highway cruise. Yes it absolutely requires premium 98 octane and will use a lot more when pushed hard but for this level of performance I find the economy amazing.

What do you think of the technology in your car?

When released the Golf R 7.5 was at the absolute cutting edge on the technology front, so much so that I am hard pressed to think of anything in new cars that is missing in the Ratbag.

The only surprising omission is the lack of a digital radio. Having said that the unbranded stereo is very good and smart phone mirroring allows for streaming anyway.

What do you think of the ride comfort and handling of your car?

I am in complete dismay with the modern affectation for overly big wheels and low profile tyres. I think they ruin the ride of most modern luxury cars and the Golf R is no exception.

When in comfort mode the adjustable dampers do their best to soften the ride but there is not enough suspension travel and the 19 inch wheels and lack of sidewall make the ride brittle and crash out on any decent bump in the road. Do not kid yourself, the 19” wheels are a fashion statement and not a performance item.

This car would ride so much better on 18 inch wheels and, on a public road and not a butter smooth race track, would probably handle better too. Otherwise the Ratbag is an extremely quiet, smooth, comfortable everyday run about or long distance cruiser.

The engine is docile and responsive at low revs with full torque available from 1800rpm, the 7 speed wet clutch DSG smooth and easy to live with and my 90 year-old Nonna would be comfortable and never guess the potential of the drivetrain when pottering down to the shops for bread and milk.

Do you have any additional comments about your car?

My wife loves the Ratbag and I would go so far as to say it is the best car I have ever owned.

So much so that we are hard pressed to find a reason to up grade to a newer car. I would love to hear from commenters on what could replace it as a practical family car that seats four adults in relative comfort. The new Golf R is tempting but a lot more expensive and has a user interface that really is intolerable.

I have always thought that the Audi S3 did not offer anything more than the Golf R for the money. Kia Stinger is too big and blunt an instrument for my liking. What else can you suggest?

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Overall Rating

Ride & Handling8.5
Price & Features9
Purchase & Aftercare9
Performance & Economy9.5
Ownership Experience9