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Hot Hatch Royalty

20 years on, the Volkswagen Golf R still reigns supreme as the ultimate performance hatchback

For nearly two decades, the Volkswagen Golf R and its predecessor, the Golf R32, have represented the pinnacle of hatchback performance. Looking back at the history of the line shows how customer expectations for accessible sports cars have changed - and how the new Golf R will offer the fastest, most capable version of the name to date.

2002: Volkswagen Golf R32 (Mk IV)
The first production Golf to wear a "R" badge from the Volkswagen Racing division was unveiled in Madrid in 2002, following a concept unveiled a year earlier. While the Golf GTI had created the hot-hatch segment, Volkswagen engineers envisioned an even higher-performing model that drew from the company's success in rallying.

The Golf R32 offered a breakthrough level of tech advancements for its time; a high-output version of the 3.2-liter VR6 with 240 horsepower, linked to a standard, performance-focused 4Motion all-wheel-drive system that sent power to the rear axle as needed. In Europe, the Golf R32 also debuted a DSG® dual-clutch automatic transmission - a first for a production vehicle. The North American version was available in the 2004 model year solely with a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission, and limited to 5000 units. The R32 signature Deep Blue Pearl exterior color also made its debut. While other models in its category may have been faster in a straight line, few matched the road grip or driving pleasure the first Golf R32 delivered, setting the template for the future.

2005: Golf R32 (Mk V)
With the arrival of a new generation of Golf came a reworked Golf R32. Power rose to 250 hp, and other enhancements allowed the Golf R32 to go from 0 to 62 mph in 6.2 seconds with the DSG transmission. The interior of the Golf R32 was also upgraded, offering a mix of technology and near-luxury appointments. Adding to the personal touch, each R32 had its production number laser-etched on the steering wheel. There're also numerous driver assistance safety features, including anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, stability control and traction control. 


2009: Golf R (Mk VI)
At the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009, Volkswagen unveiled a thorough revamp of the highest-performing Golf. Renamed the Golf R, it used a higher-rated version of the 2.0-liter TSI four-cylinder engine employed in the Golf GTI, rated at 256 horsepower and still powering all four wheels through a more advanced 4Motion system.

A new signature blue debuted for the Mk VI Golf R, known as Rising Blue Metallic. Offered in both two- and four-door models, with trademark center exhaust and 6-speed manual transmission only, it was the first Golf to be offered with LED tail lights.

2013: Golf R (Mk VII)
The fourth generation of the Golf R was once again unveiled in Frankfurt, in September 2013. Power rose to 288 hp, and the car was offered with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG transmission, which was later upgraded to the 7-speed DSG.

Technological innovations like launch control and the DCC adaptive damping system (DCC) gave the Golf R more superior handling and allowed it to now hit 0-100km/h in less than 5 seconds with the DSG transmission. This time around, Lapiz Blue Metallic was the signature new blue exterior for the 7th-generation Golf R.

2022: Golf R (Mk VIII)
The new Volkswagen Golf R is not just the most powerful version of the Golf R, but also the most capable. Power from the 2.0-liter EA888 TSI engine has risen to 320PS and torque of 400Nm.

Developed in part on the famed Nürburgring Nordshleife race track, a newly developed torque-vectoring 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and a Vehicle Dynamics Manager allow selective wheel torque control on the rear axle-distributing the power between the front and rear axles, and also between the two rear wheels for optimal cornering.

While the speed, precision and technology of the Golf R continue to increase - but the template set by the first model remains intact.

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