The VW Golf R has stood at the peak of hatchback performance and style for almost two decades.
The Golf R was born out of the increasing demand for accessible sports cars after the front-wheel-drive Golf GTI started the frenzy.
South Africa, unfortunately, skipped the first Mk4 R32 – but since the introduction of the Mk5 R32 in 2007, the country’s love affair with the pinnacle of the Golf range continued to grow.
Below, we look at how the ultimate Golf has evolved over its lifetime.
2002 VW Golf 4 R32
The first VW Golf R32 was the most powerful production Golf ever made, and carried a 178kW, narrow-angle V6 which was good for a 6.6-second 0-100km/h dash.
This engine was mated to a performance-focused 4Motion all-wheel-drive system that sent power to the rear axle – which laid the foundation for the hot Golf Rs to come.
This was the first time the R cars wore the signature Deep Blue Pearl exterior colour, too.
A limited run of 132kW VW Golf GTIs featuring an R-line kit was also sold after R32 model sold out.
2007 VW Golf 5 R32
The arrival of the new Mk5 VW Golf in 2007 brought with it a new generation of Golf R32.
The new R32 sported an uprated 3.2-litre, VR6 petrol engine putting out 186kW – laid down on the tarmac via VW’s 4Motion system.
The 100km/h landmark came up in 6.2 seconds in this model.
The satin chrome nose, Recaro bucket seats, and dual-exit exhausts made sure it stood out from the GTI, too.
Only 200 Golf 5 R32s were ever imported, and at the time cost R90,000 more than the GTI.
While other models in this category may have been faster in a straight line, very few matched the cornering grip of the Golf R32.
2009 VW Golf 6 R
At the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009, VW unveiled a thorough revamp of the highest-performing Golf.
Around 280 units of the VW Golf 6 R then arrived in South Africa in 2011, with an equal amount arriving the year thereafter.
The heavy VR6 engine was gone and in its place sat a higher-rated version of the 2.0-litre, turbo-petrol, four-cylinder engine doing duty in the standard Golf GTI.
Power was up to 188kW, slightly detuned from the 199kW Euro and US versions due to the warm local climate. The 4Motion system remained and so did the DSG transmission.
R-exclusive styling enhancements were also more prominent in this generation, with a gloss black grille, redesigned aero bits, 19-inch wheels, and the trademark dual centre-exit exhaust setting it apart from its more pedestrian brother.
2013 VW Golf 7 R
The seventh-generation VW Golf R was unveiled in September 2013 and arrived in South Africa in 2014.
Power rose to 206kW, and the Mk7 R was offered with either a six-speed manual or six-speed DSG transmission.
Most cars sold were DSG models as the “vrrrr-pah” craze was taking over South Africa.
Later, an updated seven-speed DSG transmission, revised launch control, and innovations like dynamic chassis control gave the Golf R even better handling and a sprint to 100km/h in 5.0 seconds.
Most notably, the centre dual-exit exhausts were gone the and the “four-pipe” was the view that most drivers saw.
2021 VW Golf 8 R
As with its predecessors, the 2022 VW Golf R will be the most potent and most capable version of the Golf.
In this generation, power from the 2.0-litre, turbo-petrol engine has risen to 235kW and a whopping 420Nm.
Developed in part on the Nürburgring Nordschleife racetrack in Germany, a new torque-vectoring, all-wheel-drive system and a vehicle dynamics manager allow for selective wheel torque control on the rear axle – which distributes the power between the front and rear axles, as well as between the two rear wheels for optimal cornering.
The updated systems also provide a Drift Mode for track use, a first for VW.
While the speed, precision, and technology of the Golf R continue to increase, the template set by the first model remains intact.