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Volkswagen Mk8 Golf R Performance Pack Review: This Is The Best One Yet

It's such a quantum leap over its predecessors that we're telling everybody about the car weeks after driving it.
James Wong
James Wong
13 Oct 2023
R performance torque vectoring in the rear wheels has transformed the handling, and is standard for the Mk8 R.
What we like:
Superb pivoting rear handling
Carefully calibrated drive modes
Alarmingly capable day-to-day
What we dislike:
Interior UX, but that's a Mk8 Golf problem

I’d be doing a disservice to you if I didn’t state that I’m not so enamoured with the Mk6 Golf R nor the Mk7 Golf R.

They seemed to stray off the sweet spot of the Golf GTI, the cheaper sibling that’s purely front wheel drive (FWD) only. Obviously, with all wheel drive (AWD) hardware, the Rs would typically be heavier, and the engine therefore has to compensate with producing a lot more power. On paper, it’s the uber-Golf, but in practice the fine balance isn’t as easily struck.

The earlier Mk6/7 Golf Rs, for instance, felt more like a ‘GTI Plus’; that is, typical FWD dynamics that are cleaned up with an AWD system quelling inherent understeer. It didn’t feel all that coherent. They also suffered from a less enthusiastic low-end due to the extra weight, in turn giving better mid and top range power. But this doesn’t work quite so well for urban driving conditions.

But with the Mk8 Golf R, things are different. Very different. I daresay it is easily the best Golf R ever. In fact, it’s one of the finest cars I have driven this year.

There’s no big bump up in power (+20 PS, +20 Nm versus Mk7.5 R), but it’s how the power is delivered that matters. Now, there is an urgency to the low end that’s so pleasing for city driving where you need to dart past PHV Vezels.

Yet, the mid and top end power is brilliant, and it’s now more pleasurable than ever before to bring the engine to its redline. It’s absolutely thrilling, a heavily boosted engine that also feels alive, organic and characterful. Unlike a lot of the synthesised and electronic throttle response we find in many new performance cars these days, the Golf R manages to feel authentic.

The DSG has always been good, and seems to be nigh on perfect in the Mk8 R. It’s super intuitive, expertly stepping up its game with you as you cycle through different driving modes. Yet it is knowingly not too aggressive, never unnecessarily holding onto gears when it doesn’t need to. It’s expertly tuned after several generations and it shows. And for the first time, the DSG will not automatically shift up at redline in the Drift and Special modes - a common complaint with its predecessors that is now fixed.

Speaking of those two drive modes - they come together with the R Performance Package (PP). This comes at a $20k premium, but before you baulk, here’s why I think it’s a must-have for the Mk8 R. Drift mode is a game changer as it allows you to have the security and surefootedness of AWD, but also indulge in RWD if you feel like it. This adds a whole new dimension of handling to the car. Special mode is tuned with the Nürburgring-Nordschleife in mind, but don’t go thinking it’s the most extreme of everything. It actually sets dampers to comfort for optimal road contact, while optimising engine and DSG response. It’s a very suitable mode for road use, surprisingly.

Furthermore, the PP comes with the Akrapovic titanium mufflers, which uplifts the sound of the Mk8 R. It’s by no means as loud as cars before strict noise regulations kicked in, but in this environment it’s pretty much as good as it gets. You get pops and crackles occasionally in the sportier driving modes too, if you’re aggressive with the throttle. Other PP upgrades include a derestricted speed limiter (top speed: 270 km/h), a larger rear spoiler and unique 19-inch wheels, but these are all bonuses compared to what’s aforementioned.

Not convinced? OK, even if you don’t go for the PP, you’re still getting a pretty darn good package. R performance torque vectoring in the rear wheels has transformed the handling, and is standard for the Mk8 R. Whereas older Rs tended to understeer, the Mk8 R has a keenly neutral handling balance with a propensity for the rear to pivot positively to throttle inputs. This is an incredible sensation that gives the car adjustability and interaction like never before. Even without all-wheel steering, the agility of the Mk8 R is spellbinding.

Finally, here are some last anecdotes to share that, I think, shows the Mk8 R is developed by enthusiasts. Firstly, the brakes have phenomenal feel and show a depth of experience of its creators. It’s powerful, but also very progressive and confidence inspiring. It’s an enabler for a driver to go fast, because one can count on the brakes. Secondly, there is a ‘Pure’ setting for the exhaust if you customise your drive mode. It allows you to completely turn off any augmented engine sound while keeping all real exhaust valves open. This is like saying ‘bugger off’ to fakery and superficiality, and it’s right up the alley of what petrolheads are looking for at the moment.

I guess if I could muster up something to be improved, it’s the Mk8 R’s interior UX - although this is pretty much the same issue across the whole Golf range. Haptic buttons just don’t work well - period. But there are indeed some nice R touches, including one-piece bolstered sports seats, a chunky steering wheel and an ‘R’ button on it to directly access drive modes. There’s fantastic Harmon Kardon audio, front ventilated seats and a sunroof too.

The Mk8 R is a staggering achievement. It’s worthy of its R nomenclature, a car that I can genuinely now say has a distinct character of its own, no longer drawing comparisons with the GTI. It can stand on its own, tall and mighty.


Is the Mk8 Golf R faster than the Mk8 GTI?
Why yes, of course. You have more power and AWD to put it all down.

Is it worth getting a Golf R or GTI?
You’re definitely on another performance plane with the Golf R. While the GTI is probably almost as entertaining for daily driving, for ultimate thrills you’d want the Golf R. The Mk8 R now has a stronger case for itself, because it essentially can be a plain Jane Golf if it wants to be, or a souped up track car ready to chase lap times.

Is a Golf R rare?
From what I’ve gathered from industry watchers, most Golf R owners in Singapore usually have multiple cars in their garage, and buy a Golf R because it’s the ultimate Golf. So yes, it is rare, but it also has a cult following.

Is the Mk8 Golf R expensive to maintain?
It has the proven EA888 and DSG combination that’s been in service for many years now, so I reckon it’d be alright.

Is the Mk8 Golf R the best daily driver?
While previous Golf Rs do not match up to this statement, I think the Mk8 R comes close, very close.

Photos by New Gen Marketing


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