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2013 Volkswagen Golf R

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$34,195

starting MSRP

Key specs

Base trim shown

Hatchback

Body style

22

Combined MPG

5

Seating capacity

165.8” x 57.5”

Dimensions

All-wheel drive

Drivetrain

Overview

The good:

  • Precise manual shifter
  • Front-seat comfort
  • Interior quality
  • Hatchback versatility

The bad:

  • Underwhelming power
  • AWD doesn't add to driving experience on dry roads
  • Significantly more expensive than GTI

3 trims

Starting msrp listed lowest to highest price

Wondering which trim is right for you?

Our 2013 Volkswagen Golf R trim comparison will help you decide.

See also: Find the best Hatchbacks for 2024

Notable features

  • Two- or four-door hatchback
  • 256-hp turbo engine
  • Standard all-wheel drive
  • Six-speed manual transmission

2013 Volkswagen Golf R review: Our expert's take

By David Thomas

Editor’s note: This review was written in July 2012 about the 2012 Volkswagen Golf R. Little of substance has changed with this year’s model. To see what’s new for 2013, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.

Today, you can find a 500-horsepower muscle car for around $50,000, or you can opt for something sporty and inexpensive, like Subaru’s new BR-Z. Cars like the new Golf R from Volkswagen fall somewhere in between.

The 2012 Volkswagen Golf R certainly packs performance, but I’m not sure if the packaging or price make much sense outside a very small niche of shoppers.

Performance
At its core, this is still a VW Golf. The R is available as a two- or four-door hatchback, and so is VW’s popular GTI. The biggest difference, though, is that the R is the only Golf with all-wheel drive.

While the GTI makes 200 hp, the R puts out 256 hp from the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The GTI’s 207 pounds-feet of torque is upped to 243 in the Golf R. In terms of power, the Golf R compares to the all-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, with 237 hp, and the Subaru Impreza WRX, with 265 hp, yet the VW is priced higher than those cars, at $34,760 (including the destination charge). The Ralliart is $28,790 and the WRX is $26,345. See all three compared.

The Golf R’s price is much closer to the ultimate versions of those all-wheel-drive competitors — the Lancer Evolution GSR ($35,290 for the sedan) and the WRX STI ($34,845) — which are rated at 291 hp and 305 hp, respectively. See them compared.

Performance
Equipped with all-wheel drive, the Golf R should offer better grip, handling and overall sense of command than the GTI, but some of our editors thought Volkswagen didn’t execute this car’s all-wheel-drive as well as it could have. While current all-wheel-drive systems from Audi — Volkswagen’s luxury division — bias 80 percent of torque to the rear wheels, the Golf R splits it 50/50.

That means that when you power out of corners, you don’t get a balanced feel that’s similar to a rear-wheel-drive car, which Audis provide.

Unlike the Evolution, STI and the last super-performance Golf (the 2008 R32), this Golf R feels lighter on its feet. It’s more than 200 pounds lighter than the R32, and that contributes to drivers having a better time behind the wheel.

I thought the tachometer’s 6,500 rpm redline was a bit deceiving, as the R seemed to hit the rev limiter before that point, forcing a shift.

The steering is lightning-quick, with a well-weighted wheel — not too heavy, not too light — and the springy clutch pedal was a joy to drive even in heavy traffic. I broke up my testing of the Golf R with a night in Chevy’s Camaro ZL1, a 580-hp, $50,000-plus muscle car, and there was no question which one delivered the more thrilling, fun-to-drive experience. Yes, I’m talking about the Golf. You’d likely get fewer traffic tickets in the VW, too.

Driving solo, I found the ride to be above average for this type of high-functioning sportster, but the firm suspension, combined with our two-door test car’s short wheelbase, didn’t appeal to my family. On a 20-mile trip to visit friends, my daughter nearly got carsick in the backseat. On the way home, my son complained of “tummy pains” too. My wife thought it was fine other than over a pitted concrete section of freeway where the jolts we felt through the suspension were nonstop and road noise was excessive.

Interior & Cargo
It bears repeating that this is a VW Golf, and almost all interior dimensions are identical to the two- or four-door versions of the sedate compact hatch your little sister drives.

That isn’t exactly bad for Golf R buyers, as they’re treated to a rather upscale cabin with rich leather trim and thick front seats with beefy bolsters and tons of support. You can even bring along three passengers in relative comfort.

It’s certainly a more sophisticated interior than the models most likely to be cross-shopped: the aging Evolution and the soon-to-be-redesigned WRX STI. Both of those rally-inspired machines have similar interiors as their other versions that sell for half the price, and it shows in the standard cloth seats and beyond.

The Golf R offers more backseat space than the other two, but the edge in cargo goes to the STI’s hatchback version, at 19 cubic feet, versus the Golf R, at 14.8 cubic feet for the four-door hatch.

Safety
The four-door versions of both the regular Golf and GTI are Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but the organization hasn’t determined yet if those results apply to the all-wheel-drive equipped Golf R.

The four-door Golf and GTI also earned four-star overall ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

To see how well car seats fit, click here. You can see all the Golf R’s standard safety features here.

Golf R in the Market
The Golf R is priced within hundreds of dollars of Subaru’s and Mitsubishi’s fastest products and offers a better interior and classier styling. But it doesn’t have the all-out performance chops of either of its Japanese competitors.

It’s a blast to drive, but to want it you’ll need to be a driver who craves this very specific package.

Send David an email  
Photo of David Thomas
Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David Thomas

Consumer reviews

Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.6
  • Interior 4.7
  • Performance 4.9
  • Value 4.4
  • Exterior 4.8
  • Reliability 4.9
Write a review

Most recent consumer reviews

5.0

Land Rocket

My 2013 6-speed VW R is simply a blast to drive! Before I bought my brand new black 4-door VW Golf R, I drove a much larger car, the 2004 VW V8 Touareg and I loved it. But after 10 years and with my kids grown and driving their own cars, I was initially interested in downsizing and intrigued by the amazing mileage advertised for the Golf Diesel -(this was long before VW was burned by the Diesel scam). At the time my VW dealer replied to my questions about leather seats saying "sorry no leather". Then he said, wait, have you heard of the Golf R? No, I’d never heard of the car but it had the leather seats and I test drove both of the two 6-speed models my dealer had on the lot. I bought the 4 door version and have never regretted it. My Golf R makes city and highway driving a pleasure. Something like a small land rocket or driving a really fast but very safe go-cart, especially so on the highway. And while I'm not interested in always jumping to the head of the traffic mosh, when I need it, by simply downshifting to 5th gear and from there powering up to 6th, I'm able to quickly scoot by the traffic and be on my way. I love the fantastic handling of the 4 wheel always-on drive that’s stock on the R. The rock-solid stability of my R is just outstanding. Invariably, my passengers are at first scared and then quickly amazed at the R's ability to tightly hug the road - even the steepest curves - while I'm accelerating into a highway on ramp, or smoothly passing other cars in the midst of heavy rain or in a snow storm! The auto-adjusted headlights with their auto washer squirt never fail to impress as with the many other safety features that came stock with the R's amazing build from the VW factory in Wiesbaden Germany. This is a very special little hatchback. Something like only 4000 were built for worldwide sales in 2013. To be perfectly honest, I knew very little of this when I bought the car. Since driving it I have come to learn and appreciate the brilliant pedigree of VW’s passion, heritage, and craftsmanship that are what makes my 2013 VW R the amazing little land rocket I so love!

5.0

Incredible everyday fun!

Stop looking at 0-60 times and drive the car. I've had many quicker cars on paper, none of them combined the solid feel, driving position and performance that gives the driver confidence to drive a car fast in everyday conditions. The all wheel drive system makes the R worth the extra $ over the GTI. The manual gear box is a pleasure. You can always drive an automatic when you get old.

5.0

Just simply the best car I've owned

Car cruises like a car with stiffer sports suspension, and when you drop a gear(mine is manual) you feel the pull, and the stock exhaust sound pretty decent but is in no way loud lol. The fuel efficiency is good but if I'm being honest, can be hard not to achieve at times. But I've owed a v6 firebird and a 74 small block Camaro, and I like the golf r more than the big v8.

See all 16 consumer reviews

Warranty

New car and Certified Pre-Owned programs by Volkswagen
Certified Pre-Owned program benefits
Maximum age/mileage
MY 2016-MY 2017 vehicles/75,000 miles; MY 2018- MY 2019 vehicles/72,000 miles; MY 2020 and newer vehicles/75,000 miles
Basic warranty terms
Vehicles purchased on or after 1/5/21: MY 2017 & older, 2 yrs/24,000 miles (whichever is 1st) limited warranty; MY 2018-19, 1 yr/12,000 miles (whichever is 1st) limited warranty; MY 2020 & newer, 2 years/24,000 miles (whichever is 1st) limited warranty
Dealer certification required
100-plus point inspection
Roadside assistance
Yes
View all cpo program details

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