Full 2013 Volkswagen Golf R Review
What's New for 2013
There are no changes for the 2013 VW Golf R.
There appears to be an elephant in the room, so let's clear Dumbo out of here before going any further. The 2013 Volkswagen Golf R starts at around $34,000 when new. It is without question an extraordinary amount of money to pay for a VW Golf. Yet, if you can see around the understandable preconceived notions about paying this much money for a VW compact hatchback, the Golf R is a remarkably desirable car.
Now entering its second year, the Golf R continues to provide strong performance, sharp handling, all-weather traction, long-distance comfort, an impeccably finished interior, generous passenger space and, since it's a hatchback, ample practicality. It may seem shocking that a VW Golf is priced like an entry-level luxury sport sedan, but to be honest, it certainly looks, feels and drives like one when seated behind its chunky steering wheel.
Indeed, such sport sedans are a good point of comparison for the Golf R. It is not a Mitsubishi Evo or Subaru STI, which take a simple compact sedan and add a wide variety of near-racing hardware to produce a max-attack driving machine. The R definitely turns up the volume from the VW GTI with its more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder, all-wheel-drive system and sharper suspension tuning, but it's not a track-day weapon. Instead, like a sport sedan, it's comfortable on a road trip, easy to drive on a commute and fun enough when you want to shed the tie (and the kids) for a weekend romp down your favorite road.
When you compare the 2013 VW Golf R to an Audi A4 2.0T Quattro you'll discover that the two cars are almost equally priced. However, though the Audi includes power seats, the VW gets even more stuff that is optional on its corporate cousin, such as Bluetooth and active bi-xenon headlights. It also boasts more power, fun and practicality. These comparisons hold true when stacked up to a BMW 328i or Mercedes C250 as well.
We're not delusional, though. It seems unlikely that a Volkswagen Golf -- no matter how good it is -- will be winning over many potential buyers of those fine sedans. Hard-core driving enthusiasts may also scoff at the R's emphasis on comfort. Inevitably, though, the ultimate argument against the Golf R is VW's own GTI. It may not provide the same degree of fun and capability, but it, too, is remarkably well-rounded and about $8,000 cheaper. Either way, you're getting an excellent car.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Volkswagen Golf R is available in two- and four-door hatchback body styles. There is a single trim.
Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, heated washer nozzles, heated mirrors, LED running lights, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear seat air vents, heated eight-way manual front seats, leather upholstery, a height-adjustable front armrest, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and an eight-speaker sound system with a touchscreen interface, a CD player, HD radio, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod interface.
The Sunroof and Navigation package adds, besides the obvious, keyless ignition/entry and a Dynaudio premium sound system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 Golf R comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 256 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque. All-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission are standard. There is no automatic option.
In Edmunds performance testing, the Golf R went from zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds. It's a quick time, but hardly outstanding for this class of car. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
Standard safety equipment for the all-wheel-drive 2013 Volkswagen Golf R includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the related GTI earned a top rating of "Good" in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests.
In Edmunds brake testing, the Golf R stopped from 60 mph in 124 feet, which is average for a car with all-season tires.
Interior Design and Special Features
Among sporty hatchbacks, we rank the 2013 Golf R's interior at the top, and it's certainly nice enough for a car that costs this much. The cabin reflects a serious and mature design, with hints of Audi's upscale trim and switchgear throughout. You won't find better materials in the segment, nor front seats that are as sporty and supportive for punchy driving or casual cruising. However, despite those seats adjusting to an impressive degree for all heights, there is no option for power adjustments. You also won't find many places to stash phones, wallets and sunglasses, since all Golfs suffer from a lack of useful storage spaces.
We're big fans of the standard touchscreen audio interface, which in particular does a nice job of controlling an iPod/iPhone in particular. The optional navigation system is easy to program, but its map size and displayed street names are noticeably hobbled by the small display screen.
Gaining access to rear seats is naturally easier with the four-door model, but ingress and egress to the two-door's rear seat is relatively painless. The rear seats, regardless of door number, are surprisingly spacious and very comfortable. Behind them, the cargo area can hold up to 12.4 cubic feet, which is average for a hatchback. So is the 46 cubic feet of maximum cargo room with the 60/40 split rear seats folded down, but it nevertheless represents a significant practicality advantage over similarly priced sport sedans.
The 2013 Volkswagen Golf R takes the successful recipe of the GTI and improves it considerably with more power and sharper handling. The turbocharged inline-4 has plenty of torque, making it easy to burble about on congested city streets. But you don't really get the full whack of turbocharged thrust until about 2,800 rpm, meaning you have to keep the engine on boil if you want immediate acceleration. The transmission shifter's light-effort action is very similar to the GTI's, but the throws are shorter. Not only is it excellent for spirited driving, it's remarkably easy to use around town.
Thanks to all-wheel drive, the 2013 Volkswagen Golf R carves through the corners with perfect composure, and the GTI's occasional torque steer is nowhere to be found. It's certainly a fun car to drive aggressively around corners. Pushed to its limits, though, the R is let down by its all-season tires; many competing cars come with grippier summer-spec tires. In terms of ride quality, the Golf R is firm, but never objectionable unless the pavement is in truly miserable shape.