VW Golf R Performance Pack review: driving the hottest hatch

Published:12 May 2018

We've driven the new 2018 VW Golf R Performance Pack
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5

By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

► VW Golf R Performance Pack
► Review of Volkswagen’s hottest
► Upgrade for £5275. Should you?

‘That is a properly good car. Plenty of performance, looks just right and it’s still a Golf so it’s practical and just such an easy thing to get on with. If it were my money, though? I’d want meatier brakes and I’d want it louder. Maybe Akrapovič could help…’

Those words practically fell out of my mouth when chatting with the CAR magazine team after my first go in a VW Golf R in the summer of 2017. Either Volkswagen was tapping my phone, or I’m not the only one who’s thought the same thing. The latter… probably.

Why? Because it has answered that thought almost exactly, after the announcement it would be offering a Performance Pack for the Golf R back in November 2017. And now we’ve been for a spin in a manual gearbox version with all the kit equipped.

Skip down the page for our regular VW Golf R review

Back up a step – what’s in the VW Golf R Performance Pack?

Just the right amount of bonus kit. Power is still the same at 306bhp from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol, as is 4Motion all-wheel drive. But the Performance Pack adds a new set of R Performance brakes that not only increase brake feel but are 2kg lighter than the standard set.

Along with the more potent brakes, the Performance Pack throws in a set of 19-inch Spielberg alloy wheels and a derestriction of the previously limited 155mph top speed, pumping it up to 166mph in the hatch we’re driving here. All this plus a redesigned rear spoiler lip that adds up to 20kg of additional downforce at speed. These options are collectively priced at £2300.

The Acrapovič exhaust on the 2018 VW Golf R Performance Pack

The biggest – and loudest – news is a new titanium exhaust system from Akrapovič that greatly enhances the tune of the four-pot exhaust note from outside and is 7kg lighter than the standard pipes. It does come in at a heady £2975 on its own, though.

Altogether, the Performance Pack options add £5275 to the list price of a Golf R.

Okay, so what does that mean for the Golf R?

A whole lot of extra personality – particularly from the Akrapovič exhaust. The Golf R was already a pretty compelling package – if you read our review of the standard car (below), you can see that we already love it.

But these additions make an already great hot hatch an even better one. It’s hard to think of a better, more polished offering from the R all-rounder.

If you want the best from the stellar Akrapovič exhaust, stick it in Race mode and smash through those gears. You’ll be entertained by the slight increase in engine noise from inside the cabin, but be thrilled by the almost Focus RS-level of pops and bangs you regularly get on the overrun.

Hear the VW Golf R Performance Pack exhaust in action in our tweet here

VW Golf R review

It just makes driving a Golf R that little bit more involving, and thrashing it around some Austrian country roads at the Worthersee festival of all things fast and Volkswageny felt all the more entertaining thanks to it and the more powerful brake set-up. The difference is slight, but pedal feel has increased so carving off significant speed feels like you’re putting less strain on the calipers and discs with the Performance Pack than our experiences with the regular Golf R. 

The top speed increase is less important in the UK and most of Europe, unless you’re one of those GoPro-wearing YouTubers who film every attempt at hitting a new high speed on the derestricted German autobahns. Still though, bragging to your mates that your hot hatch does 166mph will still win you pub chat kudos.

As for handling, there’s little to tell between a regular Golf R and a Performance Pack upgraded one. There’s still plenty of grip in corners, the ride is firm but well damped even in Race mode and wind/road noise is kept to a healthy minimum – just as you’d expect from a Golf.

What else is new? 

Other than the stated info above, nothing really. You can still pick your Golf R with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG auto and the upgrade is available for both the Golf R hatch and Estate, (or Variant, as they call it in Europe).

Does the VW Golf R Performance Pack affect practicality?

Not in the slightest. The interior is still very well built and available with kit like a glossy-if-easy-to-get-fingerprints-on touchscreen with navigation and proper connectivity options, a chunky steering wheel that feels great in the palms of your hands and VW’s Active Info Display, which is very much like Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.

VW Golf R boot space and practicality

Rear space is still good, allowing you to get three people in the back easily and the Golf R hatch’s boot is 340 litres with the seats up.

VW Golf R Performance Pack: the verdict

In short, the Performance Pack upgrades might seem a tad pricey, but they will add a useful amount of additional involvement and fun to what was already a very accomplished, if a little po-faced, hot hatch.

Sure, it still might not quite be as sonorous as the £40-grand-ish Audi RS3 but you’ll be privy to one of the most refined and entertaining ways to own a 2018 hot hatch. The Performance Pack is the icing and cherry on an already tasty Golf R cake.

Check out the rest of our VW reviews

Volkswagen Golf R Performance Pack specs

Price: £37,140 (with all Performance Pack options ticked)
Engine: 1984cc 16v turbocharged 4cyl, 306bhp @ 5500rpm, 295lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Performance: 4.6sec 0-62mph, 166mph, 35.8mpg, 180g/km
Weight: 1483kg
On sale: Now

The specs for the regular VW Golf R appear in the spec box below.

Our VW Golf R review: editor Ben Miller tests the standard car

The VW Golf R has been giving the GTI a hard time for a number of years now, slapping it about with a lot more power and a ferocious turn of speed in all weathers and on all roads. This Mk7.5 facelift would suggest Volkswagen’s happy for that hierarchy to persist.

The R’s had the same exterior and interior makeover as the GTI – subtle on the outside, more significant within – and itself gains a little more power.

But where the Mk7 GTI in Clubsport S guise proved that the world’s most famous hot hatch relished a decent wodge of power (306bhp and 280lb ft), the facelifted GTI gets a very modest hike to 242bhp in Performance guise.

New 2017 VW Golf R review by CAR magazine

For just a couple of grand more (£31,865 for the manual three-door; £33,935 for the DSG five-door) you can have an R, now itself with a little more go and still more polish.

VW Golf R: engine specs, power

Power from the four-cylinder turbo motor climbs to 306bhp and 280/295lb ft depending on the transmission – the DSG can handle more torque, and deploys it to better effect for a 4.6sec 0-62mph time (the manual’s is 5.1sec).

On track, in a five-door R hatch with the DSG gearbox, optional Cup 2 rubber and the Performance package (deleted speed limiter, uprated brakes, additional roof spoiler lip and 19-inch ‘Spielberg’ or ‘Pretoria’ wheels) the R is both sensational and oddly underwhelming.

So how does the new 2017 Golf R drive?

The good stuff is all that the R’s already famous for – a scintillating turn of speed born of grip, poise, all-wheel-drive traction and towering driver confidence. If there’s an easier, more welcoming hot hatch to drive quickly, I haven’t met it yet. 

VW Golf R (2017) Mk7: specs and prices

The engine rather tunelessly turns out meaningful drive from next to no revs, and revs around its dial with an admirable if slightly unexciting linearity. In no time the R piles on serious speed, helped by the fact that you’re able to tramp confidently back on the throttle soon after each apex. Do so without any patience or restraint and the R will push wide, despite the 4Motion transmission’s use of both axles, but with discipline the R can put together what feels like a supremely swift lap. 

The R’s preference for cool, efficient performance over involvement manifests itself as a steadfast refusal to ever feel anything like rear-wheel drive, or to really throw shapes, unlike the Focus RS. Good news on wet dual-carriageway roundabouts, if perhaps disappointing on your favourite B-road. An R Clubsport? We can dream.  

Browse VW Golf R for sale in our classifieds

Inside the R

On the road, where the R belongs, its speed, composure and uncorrupted hatch – or estate – practicality make it an all but unbeatable all-rounder. The R’s is a beautifully finished interior, one lifted by the new touchscreen interface, which is as sharply responsive as it is glossy.

VW Golf R interior: pure class

The 9.2-inch set-up is a cost option, as is the Virtual Cockpit-aping Active Info Display, but both are worth ticking the box for, if only to complete the sense of smugness that comes with driving something that feels £10k more expensive than it is.

The basics remain close to perfect too, with sharp (if largely lifeless) steering, tireless brakes and great (heated) sports seats that, like the car itself, strike a sweet balance between support at speed and all-day comfort.


The R is the UK’s favourite hot Golf, suggesting its lack of dynamic fireworks matters little. Certainly it hasn’t suddenly become a super-adjustable livewire of a hot hatch, but no one’s going to shed a tear at that news. Not when the R is more potent, slick and more achingly desirable than ever.

More Volkswagen reviews by CAR magazine


Price when new: £31,865
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1984cc 16v turbocharged 4cyl, 306bhp @ 5500rpm, 295lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, four-wheel drive
Performance: 4.6sec 0-62mph, 155mph (limited), 35.8mpg, 180g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1483kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4276/1790/1436mm


Other Models

Photo Gallery

  • Chunky Acrapovič exhaust helps lift VW Golf R performance creds
  • Regular VW Golf R styling remains intact on Performance Pack models for 2018
  • It's an R thing: discreet badging makes all the difference
  • The VW Golf R: a poor man's RS6?
  • VW Golf R specs and prices: £31,865, a 306bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-pot
  • As polished as ever: the 2017 VW Golf R
  • A Golf R or a GTI? More Brits pick the R nowadays
  • 1984cc four-cylinder turbo: makes 306bhp @ 5500rpm, 295lb ft @ 2000rpm
  • Choose your Volkswagen Golf R in three-door or five-door hatch, or estate form
  • Mk7.5 update for 2017 facelifts the VW Golf R
  • Boot space in the VW Golf R: a very practical hot hatch
  • Our VW Golf R review: as much as you'll get now the Golf R400 has been canned
  • VW Golf R interior: a classy cabin

By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches