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First Drive: Volkswagen is in celebration mode with the Golf R ’20 Years’

It’s been two decades since the famous Golf R first emerged. To commemorate it, Volkswagen has made a special edition – Jack Evans tries it out.

Volkswagen Golf 20 Years

What is it?

Volkswagen Golf 20 Years
A larger spoiler features at the rear

Heritage is a big talking point in the performance car world. You only need to look at the year-long celebrations that BMW M had for its 50th anniversary to realise just how much importance is placed on big birthdays. And Volkswagen is no different.

In fact, Volkswagen is celebrating 20 years of its famous ‘Golf R’ and far from settling for just a birthday cake and a few candles, has created a special-edition version of its latest version. Here, we’re behind the wheel to see what it’s all about.

What’s new?

Volkswagen Golf 20 Years
20 Years badging features on the pillars

The Golf R ‘20 Years’ holds the title of the quickest-accelerating production Volkswagen. It’s got more power, as you might expect, than the standard R, while it also benefits from the R-Performance package fitted as standard. Usually an option on the regular car, it brings a host of extras such as a rear spoiler, a derestricted top speed and new ‘Special’ and ‘Drift’ settings for the driving modes.

As you’d imagine, there’s also a decent smattering of ‘20 Years’-specific styling features to help differentiate it from the rest of the range, including puddle lamps that project the ‘20 R’ badging onto the ground at night.

What’s under the bonnet?

Volkswagen Golf 20 Years
An Akrapovic exhaust is included as standard

As in the R, the ‘20 Years’ makes use of the tried-and-tested 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that we’ve seen used across the Volkswagen Group range. Here, it’s kicking out 328bhp – over the 316bhp in the standard R – while the 420Nm of torque of the regular car remains the same. Zero to 60mph comes in 4.4 seconds – against the standard car’s 4.5 seconds – and it’ll manage 168mph flat-out thanks to that derestricted limiter.

With an eight-speed automatic gearbox, the 20 Years should manage 36.2mpg combined alongside CO2 emissions of 175g/km. Our test car also came with an optional Akrapovic titanium exhaust system which, while costly at £3,500, gives the R a really characterful sound.

What’s it like to drive?

Volkswagen Golf 20 Years
All-wheel-drive means there’s loads of traction

Predictably, the Golf R 20 Years feels much like the regular car to begin with. That Akrapovic exhaust brings some welcome crackle to the car’s start-up procedure – the standard one can sound a bit muted at times – but the Golf R’s user-friendliness is what initially shines through. In Comfort mode, it’s as easy to get along with as a regular Golf with only small amounts of wind and road noise interrupting the quiet.

Change into a sportier driving mode – we’re particularly fond of the ‘Nurburgring’ setting as it softens the dampers while turning everything else up – and the Golf R 20 Years feels ever-so-slightly punchier than the standard car. It’s not night and day, but the fundamentals upon which it is based are already excellent, so the 20 Years just adds to this with a little extra zip.

How does it look?

Volkswagen Golf 20 Years
The Golf 20 Years gets a few dedicated styling elements

The 20 Years gets the job of styling done in the same understated fashion that we’ve come to expect from the Golf R, though the larger rear wing does help to accentuate this car’s performance underpinnings. This special edition also gets 19-inch ‘Estoril’ black alloy wheels, which contrasted the blue exterior colour of our test car nicely.

You can have the wing mirrors finished in either black or the same blue colour as the body, too, while special ‘20’ logos are applied to the b-pillars, too.

What’s it like inside?

Volkswagen Golf 20 Years
The main touchscreen features all of the major controls

The 20 Years can lay claim to being the first production Volkswagen kitted out with real carbon fibre sections. You’ll find it on the dash panel and door inserts and while it doesn’t change the fundamentals of the cabin, it’s a nice sporty touch. Elsewhere, things are much the same; you get five comfortable places to sit with decent headroom and a reasonable amount of legroom in the back.

Boot space remains decent at 341 litres – remember, this car is all-wheel-drive – and you can, of course, expand that by lowering the rear seats flat. It means the 20 Years remains just as usable as a regular Golf, in most regards.

What’s the spec like?

Volkswagen Golf 20 Years
The screens can be configured to show all types of information

There’s an elephant in the room with the 20 Years – the price. It starts from £48,250 – a fair chunk over the standard £42,850 for a ‘regular’ R – and our test car after options came in at a very chunky £55,637. That said, you do get a wealth of equipment included as standard which would be an option on the standard car, such as the R-Performance package and Volkswagen’s Discover Navigation system with its 10-inch screen.

The 20 Years will be a limited-run car, mind you, with production running from October 2022 until mid-2023. It’s more than likely that it’ll hold its value even better than the standard R – and that’s already a great car depreciation-wise.


The Golf R 20 Years is a great celebration of what is one of the most recognised models in the hot hatch segment. The extra boost of power is pleasant enough – and does help to mechanically differentiate this from the standard car – while the fitment of those carbon fibre extras add some flair.

But what the 20 Years does is remind you just how accomplished the regular Golf R is. That more than anything, is worth celebrating.

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