The US-spec celebration of the Golf R series of AWD hot hatches is a lukewarm letdown.
In May of this year, Volkswagen revealed the most powerful production Golf ever, with 328 horsepower. It was called the Golf R "20 Years" and was created to celebrate two decades since the launch of the first-ever R-badged Golf, the Mk 4 R32. The R nomenclature's illustrious history has paved the way for numerous AWD hot hatches since, so it deserved a limited edition that can dominate its rivals. Of course, Wolfsburg's engineers couldn't just give the Golf R a boost in power, so there were plenty of other enhancements made to it.
Sadly, it was not offered for sale in America, but now a US-spec celebratory model has been created called the Golf R 20th Anniversary Edition.
Before you get too excited and ring your local dealer up to place an order, we need to highlight some key differences between the two models. Besides a similar name, our version differs in numerous ways, which we'll explain throughout this article.
Volkswagen USA says that around 1,800 models will be offered, and the six-speed manual will be included among those. Of course, you can still opt for the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (DSG) if you've misplaced your left leg or your man card. Either way, you get the standard Golf R's same EA888 evo4 TSI engine producing 315 hp.
By contrast, the Golf R 20 Years has no set cap on numbers and will instead cease production after a single model year. What grinds our gears is that the Euro model gets 11 extra horses, as well as 310 lb-ft of torque. In the US, the manual gets 280 lb-ft, and the DSG adds only another 15 lb-ft on top of that.
Cosmetically, the anniversary model stands apart thanks to the deletion of the standard sunroof, saving weight and lowering the center of gravity. The 19-inch Estoril wheels are painted Gloss Black and come with 235/35 summer performance rubber, but the Euro version's wheels are offered in both plain black and a two-tone black-and-blue finish.
Both versions come in Lapiz Blue Metallic, Deep Black Pearl, and Pure White, "with a limited allocation of vehicles for each color," says VW. The mirror caps on Deep Black and Pure White models are painted Lapiz Blue, while blue cars get gloss black items. For all of these, puddle lights with the "20 R" script are standard, as are "20" badges on the B-pillars. R logos in blue rather than chrome complete the exterior changes. These features mirror those of the Euro model.
It's not specifically mentioned, but it appears that the R-Performance spoiler is included here, too, as on the international version. Some digging reveals that Volkswagen has quietly made this a standard item for all Golf R models.
Inside, the Golf R 20th Anniversary Edition gets real carbon fiber trim accents, a D-shaped steering wheel with a blue R logo, and blue R logos on the Nappa seats. Besides the addition of genuine carbon fiber for the first time, the interior is the same as on any normal Golf R, and that's not an issue specific to our special edition either. At least both special editions add a limited-edition key fob with another blue R logo. So far, most features have been similar, but now we must address the major differences that make us feel like the American spec is a bit of a letdown.
Europe's variant adds as standard an optional Akrapovic exhaust, which is not even available here. In addition, the European gets an Emotional Start mode, which revs the car to 2,500 rpm on startup, and when in S or S+ modes, the DSG transmission gives what Volkswagen deems "noticeable" feedback on upshifts. The turbo is also always preloaded under partial throttle for better acceleration on kickdown, which basically means it's got an anti-lag system. While our model manages 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds, the Golf R 20 Years goes faster in less time: 62 mph in 4.6 seconds.
To be fair, we should just be grateful that we in North America still get a manual transmission while the rest of the world doesn't. This is basically just an appearance package, but since there may not be a Golf Mk 9, it's worth considering.
The 20th Anniversary Edition goes on sale this fall with an MSRP of $44,940 for the manual and $45,740 for the DSG, an increase of only a couple hundred bucks over the normal R.