2021 Volkswagen Golf R-Line review

  • Doors and Seats
  • Engine
  • Engine Power
  • Fuel
  • Manufacturer
  • Transmission
  • Warranty
  • Ancap Safety

After a small car that offers sporty style without going all-in on a hot hatch? The Volkswagen Golf R-Line bridges that gap.

  • Comforting Golf familiarity
  • Right-sized, practical interior
  • Much happier transmission around town

  • Tyre noise at speed
  • Bumpy-thumpy ride
  • Advanced infotainment might be a step too far

Sitting atop the mainstream Volkswagen Golf range, the Golf R-Line aims to inject some sporting style into the very liveable non-performance Golf range.

Want to go a little faster? There’s the Golf GTI and soon the Golf R for that, but if getting the look matters most, perhaps the R-Line is for you.

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf R-Line arrives as what could potentially be the last of its kind. As traditional small-car sales shrink, buyers look to SUV alternatives, and overseas emissions regulations push electric vehicles to the fore, the eighth-generation Golf might be the last Golf as we know it.

Putting its best foot forward, this new Golf does what every Golf since the first generation seems to have done so well. Evolving the breed, rather than revolutionising it. Adding new tech, features and finesse, and upholding the Golf’s position as something of an upmarket option among more fleet-focused competitors.

Priced from $37,450 plus on-road costs, the Golf R-Line won’t grab attention with bargain pricing, though that position belongs to the entry-level Golf 110TSI from $29,350 as a manual or $31,950 as an automatic.

All members of the Golf range, before the more sporty Golf GTI, share the same 1.4-litre turbocharged engine and eight-speed automatic. The latter is a new-to-Golf addition in Australia after years of dual-clutch automatics.

Aimed at similar near-prestige rivals like the Mazda 3 G25 Astina and Peugeot 308 GT-Line (the current model is on borrowed time), the new Golf separates itself from the pack with a focus on tech.

Key details 2021 Volkswagen Golf R-Line
Price (MSRP) $37,450 plus on-road costs
Colour of test car Moonstone grey
Options Sound & Vision package ($1500), premium paint ($300)
Price as tested $39,250 plus on-road costs
Rivals Toyota Corolla | Mazda 3 | Skoda Scala

By far the most divisive element of the new Golf is its almost entirely buttonless interior, with the infotainment screen handling most car controls and settings, with a few shortcut buttons within the cabin.

While the concept itself is hardly new, having been pioneered somewhat by Peugeot, more and more brands are making the move. Volkswagen signalled its intention to make the Golf a rolling iPad with concepts and interior mock-ups in the lead-up to the new Golf too.

More on that in the Infotainment and Connectivity section below.

In terms of design, the Golf looks – rather comfortingly – like a Golf on the inside, much as it does on the outside. There are a few changes centred around the user interface, but the design is clearly still very Volkswagen. Simple, unfussed and effective.

As part of the R-Line package, there are some sporting touches, like sportier seats with added bolstering and integrated head restraints, suede-esque microfibre trim, and a leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel.

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The R-Line also comes loaded with manual seats, but with height and lumbar adjust for both front occupants, dual-zone climate control up front and rear temp (but not fan) adjust for the rear, keyless entry and start, wireless phone charging, auto lights and wipers, and 30-colour interior ambient lighting.

If you know the old Golf, you know the new Golf in terms of spaciousness. While this is a new-generation car, its shared underpinnings with the previous generations mean interior dimensions remain largely the same.

That’s no bad thing, as the Golf’s more upright stance and large glasshouse give an airy feel, and the back seat is right-sized for adults.

Run a fine-tooth comb over the interior and in some places it feels like Volkswagen may have taken a step back with finishes and materials to allow it to squeeze in more tech. Some past Golf owners may baulk, but anyone stepping out of a recent Toyota or Hyundai will still feel like they’re getting an upgrade.

Boot space is a solid 374L with the rear seats up – not the biggest in the segment, but not small, narrow or shallow in any way that makes it a challenge to use. A 60:40 folding rear bench (and fairly upright tailgate) means up to 1230L of space is available for bigger, bulkier items, or you can simply lower the rear seat pass-through to load long items and leave the outboard seat in use.

2021 Volkswagen Golf R-Line
Seats Five
Boot volume 374L seats up / 1230L seats folded
Length 4286mm
Width 1789mm
Height 1456mm
Wheelbase 2636mm

Infotainment and Connectivity

The new Golf’s big leap forward comes in terms of its infotainment, with a new 10.0-inch centre screen and a comprehensive software overhaul compared to the outgoing model.

The display is bright and crisp, certainly, but the learning curve is steep. The driver’s interface is designed to mirror that of an iPad or smartphone – great in theory, but not always practical for making adjustments on the move.

Even adjusting the volume or temperature is done via touch sliders, but these don’t illuminate at night, which makes their use imprecise. The same goes for the capacitive touch buttons in the steering wheel, with a haptic ‘click’ feedback that’s so delayed you can often have made your change and moved your finger away before you get that feedback.

No doubt time and careful attention will make some of these quirks easier, but in many ways it feels like Volkswagen is pushing users towards the ‘Hello Volkswagen’ voice-control system, which is impressively responsive and accurate. It’s just that I’m not particularly a fan of barking orders at an inanimate object when a quick and simple button tap would do.

The system itself packs integrated satellite navigation, Bluetooth, wireless connection for both Apple and Android smartphones, plus lets you customise the home screen display and cabin colours. Still, even with all those tech credentials, there’s no way to access digital radio.

Wireless charging comes standard, and the interior is somewhat future-proofed via the inclusion of USB-C ports throughout. Adding in the Sound & Vision package brings punchy premium audio with an eight-speaker (plus centre speaker and subwoofer) Harman Kardon-branded audio system.

Add in a virtual instrument display with a range of display options (standard) and a head-up display (part of the Sound & Vision package), and the Golf certainly has vital info for the driver covered.

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf range scored a five-star ANCAP safety result based on 2019 test data (in line with its European introduction). Section scores include a 95 per cent adult occupant protection rating, 89 per cent for child occupant protection, but a lower 76 per cent for vulnerable road user protection (pedestrian and cyclists).

All Golf models come with eight airbags, outboard rear ISOFIX child anchorage points, and a space-saver spare wheel under the boot floor.

Safety systems wear the IQ.Drive label, including functions like forward and reverse low-speed braking, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian, cyclist and intersection assist, driver fatigue detection, stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, exit warning, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

2021 Volkswagen Golf R-Line
ANCAP rating Five stars (tested 2019)
Safety report Link

There’s no hiding the fact that the Golf R-Line sits at the higher end of the small-car pricing spectrum, particularly with the optional Sound & Vision pack added. For that you do get a very comprehensively equipped vehicle.

The R-Line packaging is rather fetching, and helps the Golf carry its price tag a bit more comfortably than the more basic looking lower-grade models.

If you’re watching your week-to-week spend, Volkswagen claims the Golf will use premium unleaded at a rate of 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres. For this test we stayed within urban confines and returned 7.3L/100km, which is damn near the official 7.2L/100km city-cycle claim.

Servicing is due at 12-month/15,000km intervals, whichever comes first. Servicing can be pre-purchased with $1200 three-year and $2100 five-year plans available. You can also pay as you go via capped-price servicing, but will pay $1504 over three years and $2898 over five.

At a glance 2021 Volkswagen Golf R-Line
Warranty Five years / unlimited km
Service intervals 12 months / 15,000km
Servicing costs From $1200 (3 years) | $2100 (5 years)
Fuel cons. (claimed) 5.8L/100km
Fuel cons. (on test) 7.3L/100km
Fuel type 95-octane petrol
Fuel tank size 50L

The new Volkswagen Golf R-Line delivers mixed results on the road – some of which may be the fault of the sportier R-Line package.

Before I touch on that, though, the engine itself, found in the entry-level Golf, Golf Life and Golf R-Line, is a happy little camper under the bonnet of this car.

It’s a 1.4-litre turbo petrol, which might seem small in a class with plenty of 2.0-litre engines, but the turbo boost helps to bring it up to speed – so to speak. With 110kW and 250Nm, there’s enough grunt available to feel nimble about town, or to confidently accelerate up to speed on a freeway entry ramp.

The engine pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission, but for the new Golf Volkswagen it moves away from a dual-clutch auto and back to a conventional torque converter automatic. It’s not an all-new transmission, appearing elsewhere in the Volkswagen Group range, and having been used in overseas markets for a while now.

Still, it’s one that perhaps ever so slightly dulls the super-slick gear changes of the old, instead feeling a little ‘softer’ as it travels through gears. The ultimate upside, though, is that any hint of jitteriness or hesitation when parking or trying to move through slow traffic is now gone.

That feels like a real win for urban buyers, though the reality is that the more efficient dual-clutch auto and a new 1.5-litre engine used overseas have been prioritised for markets that demand low emissions.

As for the mixed side of things, the R-Line equipment largely centres around the car’s visuals, but also adds firmer sports suspension and upsized 18-inch wheels, both of which eat into ride quality slightly.

There’s no doubt the Golf R-Line feels like a keen little steer when the conditions are right, but it can also be left feeling uncomfortably tense over the kinds of patched tarmac and speed-bump-strewn roads that often litter suburban streets.

Some hits crash into the cabin with an alarming shock, and even lightly scarred roads tend to jitter and jiggle occupants.

There’s also an over-representation of tyre noise at higher speeds, almost like a door has been left ajar, and certainly more than feels comfortable at times. Regardless of the R-Line’s sporty skew, for something attempting to be premium, better noise management would do wonders.

If the ride were more compliant, and freeway cruising were less raucous, the Golf R-Line could be a segment-leading all-rounder.

Key details 2021 Volkswagen Golf R-Line
Engine 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Power 110kW @ 5000rpm
Torque 250Nm @ 1500-4000rpm
Drive type Front-wheel drive
Transmission Eight-speed torque convertor automatic
Power to weight ratio 84.4kW/t
Weight 1304kg (tare)
Tow rating 1500kg braked, 660kg unbraked
Turning circle 10.9m

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf R-Line’s smart presentation is sure to win over plenty of buyers.

Perhaps a word of warning, though, for buyers who fall outside of the ‘digital native’ age group. Poke, prod and voice-prompt carefully in the showroom and make sure you’re happy with that buttonless interface.

Volkswagen usually doesn’t turn the world on its head, and in terms of how the Golf drives, or how it fits passengers and luggage, that’s the case yet again. This is another subtle evolution; a comfortable refinement of a format that’s worked well so far.

Equipment and features are sure to impress. No, it may not be cheap, but you’re not sold short on inclusions, either. Plus, the R-Line styling, big wheels and subtle body enhancements provide a tailored and sporty look – as long as you can live with the compromises that sporty edge brings. 

Ratings Breakdown

2021 Volkswagen Golf 110TSI R-Line Hatchback

8.3/ 10

Interior Comfort & Packaging

Infotainment & Connectivity

Kez Casey migrated from behind spare parts counters to writing about cars over ten years ago. Raised by a family of automotive workers, Kez grew up in workshops and panel shops before making the switch to reviews and road tests for The Motor Report, Drive and CarAdvice.

Read more about Kez Casey