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2023 Volkswagen Golf R

Volkswagen Celebrates Golf R Milestone with 20th Anniversary Edition

Less weight, glossy wheels, carbon fiber: Anniversary model adds some spice

  • 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.

Special milestone, special touches

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.

2023 Volkswagen Golf R

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.

Manual or auto? No downside to either

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.

2023 Volkswagen Golf R

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.

Wars have cooled but still run warm

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.

2023 Volkswagen Golf R

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.

Edmunds says

VW gives its spiciest hatchback a fitting birthday tribute, and we like it.