Volkswagen Golf R Estate review

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

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Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Want the ultimate compact fast station wagon? The Golf R Estate might well be it. Jonathan Crouch drives it.

Ten Second Review

Volkswagen's Golf R Estate is the fastest compact station wagon out there - but that capability comes at a price. Still, if you're prepared to pay that, then the Wolfsburg maker reckons this is the most complete, most rewarding and most dynamic compact estate yet made. Depending on your mood, it can reach 168mph on the racetrack or register better than 35mpg on the school run. Your everyday supercar is right here.

Background

Maybe, just maybe, the kind of super-fast hot hatch you really need isn't actually a hatch at all. Maybe, just maybe, it's this. Welcome to Volkswagen's Golf R Estate. We liked this car in its previous MK7 'Type5' form, launched in 2015, with a 'Performance Pack' option added in 2018. And there's potential to like it even more in this redesigned MK8 'CD1'-series guise, launched in 2021.

There's no other performance-orientated Golf Estate variant of any kind and this one, as you'd expect, shares all its mechanicals with the MK8 Golf R hatch. Which means that this time round, apart from the longer wheelbase and sharper looks, there's a heavily reworked 4MOTION 4WD system, revised suspension, more drive modes and a little extra power. There's also a considerably higher price tag. Does it all add up? Let's see.

Driving Experience

Obviously, there aren't many significant differences between the driving experience of this Golf R Estate and an equivalent Golf R hatch. This station wagon version's 80kgs heavier, so never feels quite as nimble and agile. But on the other hand, it's longer and has slightly more even weight distribution, hence suspension settings a fraction different from those of the hatch. 62mph from rest takes 4.9s (0.2s slower than the hatch). Otherwise, everything's familiar, if you're up to speed with the engineering and handling spec of the ordinary MK8 Golf R.

In case you're not, we'll tell you that the fourth generation 'Evo 4' version of this Volkswagen's EA888 2.0-litre TSI turbo petrol engine now puts out 320PS and all this motor's pulling power is available from just 2,100rpm. If you pay extra for the optional 'R-Performance upgrade' package, Volkswagen will remove the 155mph speed limiter so that 168mph is possible. Power though, is nothing without control - and this MK8 Golf R Estate has more of that. For the first time, power can be distributed not only between front and rear axles but also between the rear wheels. Thanks to a new torque vectoring system using a pair of electronically operated multi-disc clutches, output can be balanced across the rear axle from 0-100% within milliseconds.

Other changes from the previous generation model include 10% stiffer springs, a 1.3-degree front axle camber change and steering software tweaked to be more direct. The brake discs are 17mm bigger and feature crisper pedal response. And the front aluminium subframe is 3kgs lighter. You're going to want that optional 'R-Performance' upgrade package because it includes two extra driving modes. 'Special' was configured for optimum performance at the legendary Nurburgring Nordschliefe race track (around which the latest car is apparently 17 seconds quicker than its predecessor). There's also 'Drift', configured for general wild racetrack use.

Design and Build

Apart from that hoovered-to-the-tarmac ride height, the Golf R Estate is distinguished by its 18-inch 'Jerez' alloy wheels (upgradeable to 19-inchers), full R body kit, anodised aluminium roof rails, a roof spoiler and quad exhaust pipes - a feature that subtly hints at the model's potency compared with other Golf Estate models. The model's brake callipers are finished in the hallmark shade of Volkswagen R blue, and feature the R division's logo, while the car's door mirrors are finished in a matt chrome effect - another identifier of the powerful and enthusiast-focused Golf R.

Inside, a bespoke, heated flat-bottom R steering wheel with silver stitching features, with an added R button which allows the driver direct access to the car's newly enhanced range of drive modes without needing to take their hands away from the wheel. Extended paddle shifters also add to the driver-focused convenience of the model's cockpit. Sports seats with integrated head restraints feature a 'Sardegna' design in black-blue cloth, unique to the R models, while the outer areas are in ArtVelours. Otherwise, everything is much as it would be in an ordinary Golf Estate.

The longer wheelbase of the estate body shape means there's significantly more rear seat leg room than in a Golf R hatch, so you get more comfortable space for a couple of adults on the back seat and the convenience of a surprisingly large 611-litre boot (compare that to the mere 380-litres of the Golf R hatch), with this station wagon's cargo area extendable to 1,642-litres if you fold the rear back rest.

Market and Model

You might be a bit shocked by the pricing here: at the time of our test in Spring 2023, around £46,500, but by the time you've added the 'Performance Pack' and the adaptive damping you'll probably want, then think in terms of writing off almost £50,000. Yes really - for a Golf. The Golf R hatch, to give you some perspective, starts from just over £44,000. The only really direct Golf R Estate rival is the identically-engineered CUPRA Leon Estate TSI 4Drive 310, which as we filmed cost from around £39,000 in base 'VZ2' form or around £41,000 in more comparably-equipped 'VZ3' guise. That's a big price saving over this Volkswagen.

It does at least help Volkswagen's cause that there isn't much other direct competition. Estate versions of the Ford Focus ST and the Skoda Octavia vRS have less power (much less with the Skoda) and can't be had with AWD.

Most customers will want to find the £875 extra for Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive damping. And maybe also £2,245 extra necessary for the optional 'R Performance Package'. The latter brings upgraded 19-inch 'Estoril' alloy wheels, a performance rear spoiler for added downforce, and an increased top speed of 168mph (where permitted). The pack also adds two new driver modes; Drift and Special. Drift mode is entirely focused upon driver enjoyment away from public highways. This mode uses the full potential of the R-Performance Torque Vectoring system and enables the driver to drift this Golf R on private tracks. The pack also introduces a 'Special' mode that provides the car with the perfect setup to tackle the famously challenging Nürburgring. This is an extension of the standard Race driving mode, in which the engine sound is increased, while the DSG, optional DCC, progressive steering and the all-wheel drive system are adjusted to a sportier set-up.

Several accessories are available for the Golf R including a head up display, a Park Assist system, a 9-speaker 480-watt Harmon Kardon audio upgrade, full-leather upholstery and an improved 'Discover Pro' Navigation system including streaming and internet. The car's driver assistance systems include lane change assist and Travel Assist with Side Assist and Emergency Assist.

Cost of Ownership

Granted, you don't buy a car like the Volkswagen Golf R Estate to wow your friends with its environmental credentials, but it's hard not to be impressed with a combined fuel consumption of 35.3mpg on the combined cycle. Likewise, emissions are also very good considering the performance on offer here, registering 182g/km. Insurance is group 32E. Running costs will be similar to lesser Golf Estates, though you will need to budget for much pricier tyres.

And the warranty? Well the standard package is three years and 60,000 miles. We can't see why Volkswagen couldn't extend that mileage limit to 100,000 miles, since that what you get on its mechanically very similar Caddy model. Doing that though, wouldn't give Volkswagen dealers so much of an opportunity to sell extended warranty packages. There's one for four years and 75,000 miles or, if you plan to see a bit more of the world in your Golf R Estate, there's a five year / 90,000 mile package.

Summary

For the press-on family driving enthusiast, the Golf R Estate might well be a compelling package. It's desirable, understated and performance-focused, with 4WD usability and traction. It drives fluently, feels expensive to sit in and is almost as practical as an estate from the next class up. It's our favourite kind of Golf R. It might even be our favourite fast estate full stop.

Unless, as many do, you object to the MK8 Golf's occasionally confusing cabin media system, there's not much on the debit side. Until you come to the asking price, which has risen enormously in recent times. You've really got to want one of these to assign a £50,000 budget to it. No Golf is really worth that. But this one gets closer than you'd think it might.

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