Volkswagen ‘R’ Past, present and future

The Volkswagen ‘R’ brand turns 20 this year and while synonymous with limited run, high performance VWs in the past, ‘R’ virtues will be offered across more model lines than ever before in 2022.

Apr 28, 2022

We take a look at the past, present and future of Volkswagen’s performance offering.

It’s unusual these days for a carmaker not to have a performance division, let alone a German one.

The time-honoured practice of a performance brand-within-a-brand has after all given the world some of the most desirable, iconic vehicles. Celebrating 20 years, Volkswagen’s R brand, wasn’t first to the party, but it has gone on to redefine high performance cars offering not just track-capable performance, but also the combination of everyday usability and a stylish understatement. It all started with the now legendary Mk IV Golf R32.

While GTi was a well-established sporty Golf variant by the turn of the millennium, the compact performance market was heating up rapidly, establishing pedigree on the world’s rally stages Subaru’s turbocharged Impreza STi and Ford Focus RS were now giant killers. Volkswagen needed to remind the world who invented the hot hatch and in 2002, the Golf R32 did just that and Volkswagen’s R Brand was born.

‘R’ has always stood for racing and that theme was made evident with stylish body enhancements, a performance exhaust, wider track and lower suspension with lightweight OZ racing wheels and the interior with furnished with leather Konig race seats, a sports steering wheel and aluminium pedals.

It was an innovation showcase, offering a potent version of Volkswagen’s VR6 engine, the 3.2 litre, 24 valve V6 featured a very narrow vee, required just a single cylinder head.

Even more impressively, it was the first vehicle ever fitted with a dual clutch, direct shift gearbox (DSG). Technology that’s since become cornerstone of the entire Volkswagen group. The R32 kept everything in check with ventilated disc brakes. signature blue callipers as well as Electronic Stability Control.

To maintain a competitive edge against its rally-bred rivals, power was put to the ground through a Haldex 4motion system reigning in the VR6’s impressive torque and 241hp (177kW). The short wheelbase, squat stance and tenacious grip took the Golf’s already fun characteristics to all-new exhilarating levels.

When rivals were intentionally stripped out and left wanting for everyday convenience, the R32 introduced a blend of technology, performance and comfort. A winning formula all Volkswagen R models have adhered to since.

There’s been a few models through the years, the Passat R36, one of the most well-suited performance wagons for New Zealand conditions, the nimble and eye-catching Scirocco R and even a very rare R50 variant of the first generation Touareg, sporting a tuned 5.0 litre V10 diesel that produced a whopping 850Nm of torque and propelled the Touareg to 235km/h.

The R brand also spearheaded Volkswagen’s strong resurgence in global motorsport, most notably the rally world with the Polo R WRC car taking four world championships and 2 World Rallycross Championships.

In its twentieth year, the hugely successful Volkswagen R Brand is entering a new phase for 2022. Bringing with it more models than ever before, and ultimately transforming ‘R’ into an accessible performance brand more closely reflecting people’s diversifying needs and tastes.

Arriving in limited numbers from April, the new Golf R and Tiguan R will be Volkswagen’s most powerful production vehicles to date, while the fun and fizzy T-Roc will get ‘R’ treatment later in the year with a Touareg R PHEV being added toward the end of the year also.

And where will it go from there? Well, it’s no secret Volkswagen’s record-smashing ID.R provides us a clear window to the R brand’s future. After asserting dominance at the torturous Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 2018, beating the previous record by over 15 seconds, it proceeded to break the electric record at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and now holds the record for the fastest lap by an electric car on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, as well as securing the overall track record in Goodwood and at Tianmen Mountain in China. While its technology is helping develop Volkswagen’s entire ID. Family of electric production vehicles, the ID’s impact on motorsport simply cannot be overstated.

Motorsport will be forever changed directly because of the ID.R and, like the Mark IV Golf that started it all, has cemented Volkswagen R in the automotive lexicon.