The 2025 VW Golf R Is a Gigantic Tablet With a Hot Hatch Around It

Who approved the size and placement of that thing? And what happened to the GTI's steering wheel buttons?
Image of 2025 VW Golf R interior with steering wheel controls and screen highlighted.
Volkswagen/The Drive

The 2025 Volkswagen Golf R has undergone a mild refresh similar to its stablemate, the GTI. VW has done away with the manual transmission in both models, but that may not be the only sore point for fans of the hotter hatch. The latest Golf R has a new infotainment system with an even larger screen than the outgoing 10.2-inch panel, that designers seem to have slapped on haphazardly with little attention paid to dashboard integration. Indeed, VW boasts of the new Golf R interior design having a “free-standing display,” which sounds like code for “we stuck it on at the last minute.”

The problem is that the Golf R is, of course, intended to be a driver’s car. VW calls it the “world’s fastest Volkswagen, along with the Arteon R Shooting Brake.” This is due in part to the slightly more powerful engine, which now makes 328 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. And, yet, the automaker continues to undermine the concept by making the Golf R a frustrating car to actually drive. You wanted more buttons? The GTI may have gotten its steering wheel buttons back, but the revised R keeps the same annoying capacative keys it’s always had. Hate touchscreens? Here’s a bigger one that’s almost always in your line of sight. (At least the HVAC touch strips are backlit now.)

The need to change the interior of the Golf R for the sake of making it seem new and tech-forward is only introducing more problems. I don’t know why, but carmakers insist on putting larger displays in their cars, or more of them, every year. As if following in the footsteps of Big Tech makes equal sense in the vastly different environments of sitting on your couch, scrolling on your phone and operating a 3,500-pound vehicle.

Here is a picture of the previous Golf R interior, for reference.

Volkswagen

Don’t stare too long at the gear shifter, with its familiar and comforting H-pattern. What we’re looking at is how the previous 10-inch screen didn’t monopolize the view. Even if it was smaller, it seemed to be tucked into the dash rather than atop it. The previous display was integrated into the cockpit, and easily got out of the way. The new display—nearly 3 inches bigger, measuring 12.9 inches—doesn’t look like it’ll be so easy to visually discard when focus needs to be on the road. It’s just a big frame sucking up space, suspended obtrusively (but within easy reach) near the driver’s hands at the wheel position of 10 and 2. The size and placement is preposterous.

Of course, it’s not all bad. The new Golf R is rocking a slew of upgrades from the interior, to the exterior, and everywhere in between. The Golf R’s 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four gets a small power bump of 13 horses. The available Akrapovič titanium exhaust system has been optimized for more rumble. There are optional, forged 19-inch “Warmenau” wheels, named in honor of the city of VW’s R headquarters, which weigh just 17.6 pounds each to reduce unsprung weight. The Golf R retains its all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring, and its suspension still has adaptive dampers working behind the scenes. The front and rear end have been tweaked for better aero and better brake cooling. There are new LED matrix headlights and taillights with customizable effects. And there’s also a light-up VW badge, because that’s cool now.

Oddly enough, the Golf R gets a tow bar for the first time, which has a max trailer weight of 4,188 pounds. That is pretty welcome; less so, the addition of ChatGPT to VW’s new infotainment operating system. One more reason you’ll wish that big glass slab wasn’t killing the vibe.

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