Volkswagen Golf R Estate review: brilliant, but for one fatal flaw… Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Sunday 24th September
First Drive

Volkswagen Golf R Estate review: brilliant, but for one fatal flaw…

£44,535 when new
Published: 27 May 2022


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That Golf R looks a bit… long.

Ha! You’re not wrong. This is the Volkswagen Golf R Estate, combining the rapid, exciting dynamics you want with the comfy, boring functionality you actually need. The best of both worlds, as it were.

And in the age of the SUV it’s hard to see why more people aren’t going down this route. It’s certainly not for lack of choice, given you’ve got the Cupra Leon Estate (the Golf R’s non-identical twin) and Mercedes-AMG CLA35 Shooting Brake among its direct rivals, plus stuff like the 508 Peugeot Sport Engineered and Skoda Octavia vRS occupying price brackets above and below.

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No, for some reason modern buyers want to be sat higher up, primarily. And market forces have obliged by creating R versions of the T-Roc, Tiguan and Touareg. If you’re in the market for an estate, well done you on bucking the trend.

Thanks! Go on then, give me VW’s pitch.

Right, the Golf R Estate is powered by the same 2.0-litre turbo engine as the Golf R hot hatch, which means 316bhp and 310lb ft of torque available from 2,100rpm. 0-62mph takes 4.9 seconds (two tenths slower than the hatch), with top speed limited to 155mph.

Unless you spec VW’s R Performance Pack, which ups this to 168mph and adds two additional drive modes: Special (for track use) and Drift (for drifting, duh). That’ll be £2,160 on top of the already quite spicy starting price of £44,535.

4MOTION four-wheel drive is standard, with selective torque control able to send power to the rear axle (or even individual rear wheels) as needed. Meanwhile the transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch auto, with paddles provided for those rare occasions you can ditch the family and head out to the nearest hill road just for funsies.

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…please don’t use the word ‘funsies’ ever, ever again.

Sorry, it just slipped out. Officially the Golf R Estate is capable of 35.8mpg (only slightly down on the hatch), but in our time with the car we managed a very impressive 40mpg on long motorway drives. Expect 30mpg everywhere else, less if you’re, er, really going for it.

Understood. And the practical stuff?

The estate’s wheelbase is more generous to the tune of 50mm compared to the hatch, while the car is over a foot longer overall. That translates into a bit more rear legroom inside, and a lot more boot space: VW promises 611 litres with the seats up, or 1,642 litres with them folded down. A useful increase on the hatch’s 374-litre cargo area, that.

I’m sold. What’s it like to drive?

Superb, basically. Everyday driving is so, so easy, with typically grown-up manners around town and more than enough power to make quick progress on faster roads. That R badge doesn’t come at the cost of passenger comfort either, especially if you add the optional adaptive dampers for £840. They’re well worth the extra spend for what they do to the ride: supple at a relaxed pace, but firmer when you want to push.

I do want that.

Ooh you’re in for a treat. Our main worry was that the enlarged footprint of the estate would erase all trace of the joy you get in the hatch. It doesn’t. Stick it in Race mode and everything sharpens up, transforming your school-run wagon into a b-road toy.

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And crikey is it fun. 316bhp doesn’t sound like a lot these days, particularly in something this big. But bury the throttle and you slingshot forwards; any faster and you’d be clinging on for dear life. Taking manual control with the paddles keeps you busy and immersed in the drive, and on the right road you can jump between second and third for big thrills on the right side of the speed limit. Pity the four-cylinder turbo’s soundtrack doesn’t live up to the occasion though.

As for cornering, there’s more agile stuff on the market. That’s a given. But all of Volkswagen’s systems - the selective torque vectoring, the electronic diff, the speed-dependent brake servo map, and the safety net that is four-wheel drive - combine for handling that’s neutral, linear and planted. And that’s crucial, because it makes the performance accessible. No heart-in-mouth moments, please, just make it beat a little faster.

It’s not playful, but it’s eager, and while the Golf R Estate isn’t in the same league as the likes of the really serious fast estates, you’ll enjoy it for what it can do rather than worry about what it can’t.

Great. So, um, what about that ‘fatal flaw’ I saw in the headline?

*Sigh*. The interior. It’s… infuriating. Not in terms of quality, that’s fine, but the ergonomics of it will drive you mad. Because everything - bar the hazards, because that’s required by law - is either embedded on the touchscreen or on a haptic, touch-sensitive surface. How a setup this frustrating to use got through so many layers of approval at VW is genuinely amazing.

Let’s run through the issues. The touchscreen is slow to start up, so if you need to punch a destination into the sat nav, you have to wait for it to wake up. Connecting your phone is a nightmare, and once you’ve done it the car will force your Bluetooth to be on every time you get in, even if you don’t want it. Settings reset to default at start-up, which means a ritual of turning off the (highly annoying) lane keep assist and toggling through to Comfort mode every time you stop.

It doesn’t end there either. All of the climate controls are confined to their own menu, save for temperature adjustment on the plastic panel below that - get this - doesn’t light up in the dark. Good luck on those chilly, winter mornings, early risers. And the less said about the steering wheel functions, the better.

Rant over. We can only hope that at some point you transition through the ‘putting up with it’ phase and just get used to it. But we didn’t have the car long enough for that to happen to us, so lord knows when you’ll make peace with it. Maybe never.

Feeling pretty anticlimactic now, not gonna lie.

Don’t get us wrong, in every other way the Golf R Estate is brilliant, finding a real sweet spot in the Venn diagram of everyday use and outright dynamic ability. It’s just a shame it’s so far undermined by the integration of the tech. Come on VW, sort it out.

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