• Feel of understated quality u2013 all class and no shouting
  • Ability to fill many roles so well
  • Amazing resale value - which is a pro for me
  • Brittle ride on 19 inch wheels
  • Not hard core enough for some
  • High second hand value is a con for anyone buying one now
5 Star

About the Volkswagen Golf

David Festa purchased this Volkswagen Golf new with additional options for $61,000 (including all on-road costs). David Festa would buy this car again because: “Purchased in 2017 for $61,000 as a demo with 285km on the clock and affectionately known as the Ratbag.

I would buy this car again because nothing else I have owned has been so good at playing the role of a safe, practical family car and yet had this much performance and so much fun to drive. And it still maintains close to 75 per cent of its purchase value after more than 5 years.”

How reliable has your car been? Tell us about any issues.

The Golf R is a very complex, highly tuned sports car that is loaded with every bit of tech imaginable. My Father was a mechanic and the reason I have the car disease now. Ever the pragmatist I imagine he would have been horrified at the thought of a car with a 2.0-litre engine putting out 213kW and mated to a computer controlled DSG gearbox and 4WD system.

Not to mention the multitude of computers and sensors in all the equipment such as adjustable shock absorbers, radar cruise control, autonomous emergency breaking, lane assist with active steering and so on and so on.

My Father always looked at complexity as just an invitation for something to go wrong. Maybe I have been lucky but I am glad to say the Ratbag has never let me stranded.

There have been a few niggles and the odd recall but nothing urgent and all have been dealt with at routine 12 month services.

A warning light came on for the DSG gearbox about two years into my ownership. It did not feel any different to drive and the on-board computer reassured me it was safe to keep driving until a service could be arranged. There was no problem getting this sorted under warranty.

The fix did take two days and apparently involved removing the transmission from the car so I shudder to think what it would have cost out of warranty.

This exact same model Golf R was later sold by Volkswagen under a five- year warranty but mine only came with three years of coverage. I continue to service it with a dealer due to a promise of Volkswagen Australia “looking after me” if something came up that would have been covered by a five-year warranty.

During the last service, a leak was found in the thermostat and this needed to be replaced. Now, I am no mechanic but I remember changing a thermostat on a FJ40 Toyota LandCruiser in the late 1980s and the part cost $20 and took about 20 minutes to install.

For the Ratbag I was quoted $1200 or more, depending on “how difficult” the old thermostat was to remove. With a bit of haggling VW agreed to cover half the parts cost and in total the job cost $1000. Not sure if the experience made me feel that well “looked after” but I suppose the car is now more than five years old so there will be no more quibbling about what should be covered under warranty.

When I first got the car the centre arm rest was incorrectly fitted as was the front carpet. These minor quality control problems were sorted quickly under warranty.

The only other faults that came up a few years later were cracked and peeling silver finish on the trim around the gear selector and the rear Volkswagen badge. The peeling trim was very sharp and I actually cut myself a couple of times especially on the badge because you lift this to open the boot. Interesting the faulty trim around the gear selector was a recognised recall and replaced for free but the boot badge cost me more than $200 to replace.

Overall, for such a high performance car, I consider the maintenance costs to be entirely reasonable. Services are every 12 months and alternate between just over $300 for a minor service and just over $600 for a major service. This is more than an average Golf but absolute bargain next to a comparably performing BMW or Porsche. Insurance costs are also a lot less than these prestige brands.

The 19-inch high performance tyres do not last long and at 65,000km I am well into my third set already. The first two sets of Continentals lasted barely 20,000km.

The current set of PS4 Michelins seem to be a lot more durable. I am still on the original brake pads and discs, which is a very pleasant surprise. Previous BMWs and Alfa Romeos I have owned seemed to chew through pads and discs at the same rate as tyres.

Reassuringly I check the oil level regularly but still have the original bottle of motor oil I bought with the car and it remains unopened.

What do you think of the ownership experience with your car?

The Ratbag has pretty much been the perfect car for my family. I really like the understated nature of the Golf R.

To most people it is just a better looking Golf but underneath it is a truly capable performance car. It is easy to drive, loaded with safety gear and of course 4WD, which is reassuring as 90 per cent of the time it is driven by my wife and on occasion by my adult kids.

Vehicle size is always a compromise but a Golf strikes a good balance between fitting four adults in reasonable comfort but still being small enough to zip around in traffic and park easily.

I know it’s popular to say Volkswagen represents all that is evil and corrupt in the corporate world and dieselgate was solely responsible for every premature death since the start of the industrial revolution, but I like VW products. They seem a little more premium and I really like how they feel on the road.

The overall customer service may not be up to Lexus standards but I have owned lots of different car brands and the VW dealerships I have dealt with have been better than most. And I enjoy trying one of the latest models as a free loan car every time I get mine serviced.

So far this has been my personal experience buying a new car from different brands.

  • Alfa Romeo made me feel that I was in on a the secret of how good the brand was and everybody else was missing out
  • BMW felt luxurious and nothing was a problem as long as I did not dare question the cost of anything ($300 to change a rear light globe!)
  • Toyota made me feel I was going to a friendly neighbour’s house for a barbecue
  • Subaru made me feel like I should be wearing a flannel dressing gown and slippers
  • Honda.
  • Take a number and sit down

How has the purchase and aftercare experience been with your car?

When I was looking the replace my previous family car, a BMW 318d Touring wagon, I was hoping to get something a bit more sporting to drive.

My wife would be driving the car most of the time so the decision would ultimately be hers, but I wanted something I could enjoy while doing the mundane family car thing. The Golf R wagon had just come out and I thought it was worth having a look at.

When we went to the dealer, despite ringing ahead and making a booking, there were no Golf R wagons available for a test (I really hate when dealers do that!). So we had a go in the hatchback instead. And bless her cotton socks my wife absolutely loved it! I asked her about practicality and she said “who cares” and wanted the hatch because she thought it was sexier.

When we bought the car she immediately christened it the Ratbag. The reason for buying a demo was not so much to save money but more to do with the six-month waiting list at the time. This seems normal now but in 2017 it felt intolerable.

When I found a near-new demo available for immediate delivery in the exact spec I wanted (DSG, signature colour, driver assistance package which included the then fancy digital dash, no sun roof) I jumped at the chance. The fact that it saved me a couple of thousand dollars was an added bonus.

Apart from all Volkswagen warranties changing from three years to five after I bought my car the aftercare has been good. I keep getting invited to VW test drives and new car launch events but I have never attend any.

When I purchased the car there was an active VW driver program with track days and driver training but this all got shut down with COVID and has not been restarted.

Are you happy with the price and features of your car?

The Ratbag is absolutely loaded with tech and safety features that even today, five years later, can be optional on many much more expensive high-end luxury cars.

In my case the absolutely essential Driver Assistance Package was a $2000 option that included a digital instrument cluster that still looks modern today, as well as radar cruise control, lane keeping assist with active steering, auto high beams that actively shadow oncoming cars, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.

At $61,000 on the road the Ratbag seemed expensive at the time but that barely gets you a Golf GTI nowadays and my car has retained its value very well. The new Golf R is more powerful with an improved 4WD system but well into the $70,000 plus range. And the buttonless driver interface on the Mk8 Golf R is an absolute deal breaker for me.

What do you think of the performance and economy of your car?

The Ratbag earns its nickname with a 0-100km/h time of well under five seconds. In past I have generally gravitated towards light, sporty cars that have handled well rather than looked for outright power and speed.

The Ratbag is the first truly powerful car I have ever owned. There is more than enough straight line performance for anything you need to do on Australian roads. And on a wet road this car will eat V8 Commodores for breakfast.

Everyone reading this probably enjoys their cars in different ways. Maybe it is spending all day polishing chrome and cruising with your mates down a crowded street. Or maybe you prefer crawling along bush tracks through a metre of mud. For me driving the mountain roads in the Yarra Valley outside north eastern Melbourne is what brings a smile to my face.

I love wringing out an engine between apexes, with the car talking to me through the steering wheel and the seat of my pants. I have read about people saying that the Golf R some how lacks character but I never really understood what they meant.

Is their problem with the Golf R the way it so competently manages to do all the day to day stuff with out any drama? As the everyday family runabout I was not looking for a car that was dialled up to 10 and screaming all the time. It seems that sometimes the Golf R’s competence is mistaken for mundanity because it is not shouting all the time.

When the mood takes you, the drive selector can be put into Race and the exhaust gets louder and the suspension stiffens. Unlike a lot of other cars there is a real difference in feel between the comfort and sport settings. The grand kids still ask Nanna to put the Ratbag in race mode when they get picked up.

Is the problem with the Golf R that it is not a tail happy drifter? Fair enough the 4WD system is front-wheel bias but no one accuses front-wheel drive hatches like the Civic Type R or i30 N of lacking character. Ultimately the front end will wash out if plunging into a corner too quickly but seriously the limits are so high that this should only be happening to you on a track, not on the road.

I have driven this car harder than I should on public roads and have always found the handling to be beautifully neutral, there is never a lack of traction, wet or dry and the brakes are phenomenally strong. The EA888 engine loves to rev and has a wicked growl.

Even the DSG which may never be as engaging as a manual, is surely the next best thing with a beautiful tactile, mechanical feel when changing gears. I can understand a DSG is not always the smoothest option but it suits this application perfectly.

Tellingly, whenever I fly back home from interstate, after driving a typically mundane commuter rental car, the communicative chassis in the Ratbag starts talking to me before I have even left the airport car park. To me that is character.

As far as economy goes it has consistently returned around 8 to 8.5 litres/100km in day to day suburban driving and down to mid 5.0 litres/100km on a highway cruise. Yes it absolutely requires premium 98 RON and will use a lot more when pushed hard but for this level of performance I find the economy amazing.

What do you think of the technology in your car?

When released the Golf R 7.5 was at the absolute cutting edge on the technology front, so much so that I am hard pressed to think of anything found in new cars that is missing in the Ratbag.

The only surprising omission is the lack of a digital radio. Having said that the unbranded stereo is very good and smart phone mirroring allows you to stream digital radio if that is your preference.

What do you think of the ride comfort and handling of your car?

I am in complete dismay with the modern affectation for overly big wheels and low profile tyres.

I think they ruin the ride of most modern luxury cars and the Golf R is no exception. When in comfort mode the adjustable dampers do their best to soften the ride but there is not enough suspension travel and the 19-inch wheels and lack of sidewall make the ride brittle and crash out on any decent bump.

Do not kid yourself, the 19-inch wheels are a fashion statement and not a performance item. This car would ride so much better on even slightly smaller 18 inch wheels and, on a public road and not a butter smooth race track, would probably handle better too.

Otherwise the Ratbag is an extremely quiet, smooth, comfortable everyday run about or long distance cruiser. The engine is docile and responsive at low revs with full torque available from 1800rpm, the seven-speed wet clutch DSG smooth and easy to live with and my 90 year old Nonna would be comfortable and never guess at the potential of the drivetrain pottering down to the shops for bread and milk.

Do you have any additional comments about your car?

We have had a good run with the Ratbag and my wife absolutely loves the car. But I suspect service costs are going to increase and it is probably a good time to move on to the next experience.

The problem is what would take its place. I would love to hear any suggestions on what could replace the Ratbag as a practical family car that seats four adults in relative comfort. The new Golf R is tempting but a lot more expensive and has a user interface that really is intolerable.

I have always thought the Audi S3 did not offer anything much more than the Golf R for the money. A Kia Stinger is too big and blunt an instrument for my liking. T-Roc R? I have tried very hard to avoid the SUV craze and would rather not start now. What else can you suggest?

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Overall Rating

Ride & Handling8
Price & Features9
Purchase & Aftercare8
Performance & Economy9
Ownership Experience9