2018 Volkswagen Golf R Review: Sense and Sensibility in the Hot Hatch for Adults

The ultimate Golf is the most mature, best all-around hot hatch on the market—with a price to match.

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2018 Volkswagen Golf R Review: Sense and Sensibility in the Hot Hatch for Adults © 2018 Volkswagen Golf R Review: Sense and Sensibility in the Hot Hatch for Adults

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R.

Congratulations—you've become a real adult. You've braved the listless wilds of your twenties, nailed down a decent career track, and somehow made it to the next financial level. You're far more mature than you were 10 years ago, and it's time for a new car to reflect that. Problem is, you just can't stop reminiscing about that clapped-out Honda Civic DX hatch you had way back in high school. How to combine these two disparate impulses?

There are no shortage of answers on the used car market, but in terms of new whips, there's precious little that can compare with the duality of the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R. Now, other hot hatchbacks are usually associated with a certain kind of person who has a certain kind of mentality—let's call it "unserious." That's not an insult, but rather a recognition that pulling up in a flamboyantly-designed Honda Civic Type R projects a slightly different image than making an entrance in the demure Golf R. Volkswagen's ultimate compact car offers serious performance potential...in a body that wouldn't make a cop look twice.

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Hopefully, at least, because this pocket rocket can get you into legal trouble right quick if you're susceptible to traits like killer handling, punchy acceleration, and a steady all-wheel drive system. It might not look the part, but the Golf R is a proper hot hatch. 

Really, it's arguably the best hot hatch on the market, when you consider the overall package. Others may offer more under certain sections of the spec sheet, but there are none that will dutifully play both daily driver and weekend toy quite like the Golf R thanks to its highly customizable drive modes and an honest, tech-focused interior. Does the "less is more" theory hold true when it comes to one of the less-serious corners of the automotive world? The Drive borrowed a 2018 model from Volkswagen for a week of mountain climbing and beachside cruising in southern California to find out.

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Performance: 4/5

Comfort: 4/5

Luxury: 4/5

Hauling people: 3/5

Hauling stuff: 3/5

Curb appeal: 4/5

“Wow” factor: 3/5

Overall: 4/5

Less really is more with the Volkswagen Golf R. Less visual drama, more places you can take it without feeling a little self-conscious. Less flash, more money in your pocket from flying under the radar and avoiding speeding tickets. Less junk you don't need in the interior, more peace of mind when you slide behind the wheel. Less specialization, more balance.

And that's what the Golf R is all about: balance. Hot hatch or not, few cars strike as pure a harmony between their split personalities as this one. That comes through in the very nature of this little hatchback—the way it looks almost exactly like a base model Golf while hiding over 100 more horsepower under the hood—but it also comes through the way the car slides seamlessly between propriety and hooliganism. In Eco mode it's a polite, fuel-sipping box; in Race mode, it will bite. Hard.

The Golf R also serves as an unwitting, if appropriate, metaphor for adulthood. You have to be respectable, take care of your responsibilities, and do a lot of boring things...but you also get to have so much more fun than you ever did as a stupid kid. You just need to find the right mix, and the R shows there's a way to hold onto your wild side longer than you ever thought possible. It's just not the cheapest way to stay forever young.

Price (as tested): $40,885 ($41,970)

Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine ,292 horsepower, 280 pound-feet of torque; six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission; all-wheel drive

Curb Weight: 3,334 pounds

Fuel Economy: 22 mpg city, 29 highway (EPA)

Cargo Space: 22.8 cubic feet in the trunk, 52.7 cubes with the rear seats folded

0-60 mph: 4.8 seconds with dual-clutch automatic transmission (Car & Driver testing)

Number of Times I Had to Explain to Someone This Wasn't a Regular Golf: 6

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