2023 Volkswagen Golf R Review: Rules of Engagement

Jay Tee

Driving the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf R is immense fun with its punchy performance, but it comes with an equally punchy price tag just fifteen grand shy of S$400k.

2023 Volkswagen Golf R

Launched: September 2023 – Price: S$384,900 with COE (October 2023)
Five-door, hatchback, five seats
320hp, 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four petrol, VES C2, 8.4L/100km

Quick and punchy powertrain
Trick AWD system increases dynamism
Perfectly daily driveable

Loud exhaust is quite boisterous
Fiddly haptic touch controls
Pricey, very pricey

Photos: Jay Tee (the still ones) and Clifford Chow (the moving ones)


I like a good hot hatch as much as the average petrolhead, especially so when the hot hatch in question sprints from 0-100km/h in under five seconds whilst belting out a concerto of tenor and bass out its rear end.

Boisterous, raucous, and highly strung, the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf R is the ultimate expression of the venerable Golf.

The Mk8 VW Golf GTI

In the early days of the Golf’s production run, the GTI reigned supreme – a lightweight, agile and sporty hatchback with seating for five and a boot. It wasn’t the progenitor of the segment, but it is the definitive hot hatch of the time. Many would attest to the significance it played in the seventies and eighties as the salaryman’s hot hatch.

However, the rules of engagement have changed. In today’s context, a 245 horsepower Mk8 Golf GTI is plenty, but not enough to bring it toe to toe with pocket rockets like the Mercedes-AMG A 45 S (or the CLA 45 S, which is broadly the same) or the Audi RS 3 Sportback that have entered the fray.

With the median power figures of the “average” modern hot hatch hovering around the 350 horsepower mark, the Mk8 Golf R with its 320hp/420Nm falls a little short. But to judge the Golf R against its competitors solely based on its performance metrics is borderline sacrilegious. 

It is a Golf after all, and it should be judged on its ability to be both fun and practical – while staying true to the formula that gave the original Mk1 GTI its cult status.

Like the regular 1.5-litre MK8 Golf and its derivatives (GTI or otherwise), the Golf R is still very much a five-door hatchback that seats five, has a 381-litre boot in the back and handles the daily grind with aplomb – and the odd exhaust burble. Visually, it bears a striking resemblance to the 1.5 Golf R-Line, albeit with a touch more visual flair.

The performance add-ons on the Golf R are subtle. A mildly tweaked front bumper, larger 19-inch diameter rims with drilled brake discs and blue callipers, a gloss black diffuser with Akrapovič exhausts tips poking beneath the rear skirting. And lest we forget, the strip of blue spanning the grille and the smattering of “R” badges on the grille, tailgate and fenders.

It’s the same story on the inside, with identical cabin instruments and touchpoints as the regular Golf such as the 10-inch infotainment screen, the 10-inch gauge cluster and the fiddly haptic touch controls on the multi function steering wheel. The cabin is still commodious in the fore and aft, with storage bins aplenty and headroom for adults up to six feet. 

Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, body-hugging seats and ambient lighting are standard too, as you’d find in the Golf R-Line (in both Cat A or Cat B guises). But the Golf R also comes with more blue accents, larger paddle shifters and a unique “R” button on the steering wheel for quick access to the car’s shoutier modes.

For good measure, this fully-fledged R also comes fitted with a 480W Harman Kardon sound system, but that sound system pales in comparison to the sonorous rumble emitted from the quad-tipped titanium Akrapovič system.

The Golf R’s 2.0-litre turbocharged EA888 produces a peak output of 320 horsepower and 420Nm of torque, which allows the car to sprint from 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds. Flat out, you’d be looking at a top speed of 270km/h. And a hefty fine or prison sentence – should you get caught. 

In the car’s sportier Race or Special “Nürburgring” drive modes, the car’s Akrapovič exhaust lets out a barrage of crackles as you lift off, rising to a loud crescendo of pops and bangs that would no doubt get the attention of the rozzers. On the plus side, there is a very real possibility that you’d be pulled over before you attempt anything crazy. It’s scintillating if you’re into that sort of thing. But in an everyday context, the noise may begin to grow tiresome.

But the thing that never fails to elicit a smile from you is the way the Golf R tackles corners when the AWD torque vectoring trickery comes into play. By default, the car supplies a little more torque to the outside wheel allowing you to rotate the car mid-corner if you’re gunning it hard and fast enough. Leave all the safety aids on, and it all feels very controllable. 

If you’re feeling brave enough to drive without any safety nannies, the Golf R’s drift mode livens everything up substantially. Like the Audi RS 3’s tail-happy ‘RS Torque Rear’ setting, the car feels primed to kick the back end out at every opportunity. By no means is it as dramatic as Audi’s system, but it does provide you with a good dose of oversteer as you come round a bend in an exuberant fashion.

However, driving it in drift mode demands a heightened level of focus and finesse to keep the car pointed in the right direction. VW recommends that you leave such shenanigans for a race track, and we’re inclined to agree. For the most part, most Golf R owners should be perfectly happy driving it in the car’s sport mode… or comfort mode even.

It might have all the “R” badges but it is still, in essence, a five-door hatchback. A comfortable one that you can daily drive, take to the shops or go on a cross-country expedition with. The power won’t get the best of you, but you’re sure to enjoy getting the best of the power the Golf R affords you.

The true beauty of the Golf R lies in its modesty – both in terms of looks and/or power. It stands in defiance of the norm by being as loud, brash and boisterous as it is. But it also mellows out to be a comfortable, roomy hatchback that should serve the average salaryman well – like the original Mk1 GTI.

However, prices for the Golf R begin at S$364,900 (at the time of writing) with COE, rising up to S$384,900 in the case of our test car with the performance pack fitted, which is firmly out of reach for most salarymen. You can thank the ARF system and skyrocketing COE prices for that.

It’s a joy to drive, but one that comes with a rather steep barrier to entry. But the VW Golf R is a car that one can look fondly upon through rose-tinted glasses as the encapsulation of the perfect modern hot hatch – or one that you (and I) can look fondly upon through the windows of the Volkswagen showroom.

Volkswagen Golf R Mk8

Drivetrain typePetrol engine
Engine1,984cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power320hp at 5350rpm
Torque420Nm at 2100-5350rpm
Gearbox7-speed dual-clutch
0-100km/h4.7 seconds
Top Speed270km/h (with R-Performance package)
Fuel Efficiency8.4L/100km
VES BandC2 / +S$25,000
AgentVolkswagen Group Singapore
PriceS$384,900 (with Performance Pack)
VerdictThe hottest, fastest, loudest and most dynamic VW Golf on the block is as fun to drive as it is expensive.


golf gti Golf R hot hatch volkswagen Volkswagen Golf vw golf

About the Author

Jay Tee

A millennial with the mental age of a quadragenarian, CarBuyer's latest stringer writes and talks about anything with four wheels and a motor. Doesn't fully get TikTok, makes TikToks anyway. Moonlights for TopGear Singapore. Follow him on Instagram (and TikTok) at @jayyteejy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

CarBuyer – Revolutionizing The Online Car Marketplace In Singapore

Buy Used And New Cars Online
Start your car buying journey with CarBuyer as we connect you seamlessly to the industry’s best CaseTrust-SVTA accredited car dealerships. As a one stop car online portal you can now buy your new ride, be it a pre-owned car or a brand new car from trusted dealers all over Singapore, all in one place. Our ever expanding listing of quality and covet-worthy cars, new and second hand, from both owners and trusted car dealers, will leave you spoilt for choice. Refine your search by vehicle type, registration year, price, mileage, engine type, transmission, annual depreciation value and more to find the car that best suits your needs, taste and lifestyle. You can even search for your car by dealer or directly by owner.

Sell Your Car In An Instant With Confidence
We all know how selling a car in Singapore can be a daunting task especially for a first time car seller; from trying to get a valuation for your car, finding a trusted dealer, to getting the best quote on your vehicle. CarBuyer understands the hassle and even the costs involved and have as such partnered with Huawei to develop a FIRST in Southeast Asia AI car valuation tool that is able to provide a car’s resale value at the snap of a finger. Backed with a consortium of trusted CaseTrust-SVTA accredited car dealers you can be assured that you are getting the best price for your vehicle and do not have to worry about any hidden costs.

The Ultimate Car Shopping Experience Online
CarBuyer platform is the first of its kind to be backed by Huawei’s Artificial Intelligence and cloud computing, enabling it to be able to offer users transparency and enhanced security, all with the one aim of enhancing customer experience. So come on over to buy and sell used cars online at the best prices at CarBuyer Singapore. Connect easily with dealers in real-time via our online video call feature, or schedule a test drive when you’re ready. Have some questions? Get them answered instantly with our chatbot moderated by our responsive team. Stay in the loop with our car-related tips, reviews and news. Learn the ins-and-outs of your car, as well as global and Singapore’s car updates at your own pace.