- New Golf R anniversary edition sheds weight, adds unique details.
- Available manual transmission limited to North American buyers.
- Only about 1,800 will be available.
Volkswagen is marking a milestone for its hottest hatch with the Golf R 20th Anniversary Edition. Limited to approximately 1,800 units in North America, the 20th Anniversary Edition commemorates the 2002 debut of the Golf R32 in Europe, a car that inflamed the hot hatch wars of the next decade to everyone's benefit. Though it doesn't come with a rip-roaring VR6 engine that made the first Golf R such a hit, it's still a fitting anniversary gift.
This special edition doesn't stray far from the standard Golf R template, but it adds a few exclusive touches. It sheds the standard sunroof, which should lighten the load (if only slightly) on the roughly 3,400-pound hatchback. The 19-inch Estoril wheels are finished in gloss black and shod with high-performance tires — Hankook Ventus S1 Evo 3 rubber, judging by the press photos.
Genuine carbon-fiber trim will accent the cabin, along with special R badging on the exterior, the flat-bottom steering wheel and, yes, even the key fob. You'll have a choice of three colors: Lapiz Blue Metallic, Deep Black Pearl and Pure White.
The 20th Anniversary Edition will ride atop the same chassis that underpins the regular Golf R and benefits from the same torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system and adaptive suspension. The 315-horsepower turbo four-cylinder will pair with either a seven-speed dual-clutch auto or a six-speed manual transmission. The manual is exclusive to North American buyers. After all, manual transmissions account for about 40% of Golf R sales in North America.
The dual-clutch gearbox isn't a concession, though. In our testing, we found it bangs off far more refined gear shifts than the automatic transmissions in some rivals, and it helps propel the Golf R from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds. The dual-clutch also has history in the Golf R. Although the design dates back nearly a century and had been used in race cars in the 1980s, the dual-clutch found its first use in a production car with the Golf R32's debut, where it was paired with a 3.2-liter six-cylinder that made 240 horsepower.
Increasingly stringent emissions and fuel economy regulations — alongside increased consumer preference for crossovers — have dampened today's hot hatch field, which at its peak contained hi-po challengers like the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI, Civic Type R, Veloster N and Mini John Cooper Works GP. Today's landscape features only a few rivals to the Golf R, and include a rebooted 315-hp Civic Type R and the forthcoming 300-hp Toyota GR Corolla.
The Golf R 20th Anniversary Edition goes on sale this fall starting at $44,940 for the manual and the $45,740 for the dual-clutch before destination fees.
VW gives its spiciest hatchback a fitting birthday tribute, and we like it.