The 2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20th Anniversary Edition begs the question, “Are you ready to celebrate?”

 Volkswagen’s R brand debuted with the 2002 Golf R32 20 years ago

For many of us, 2002 feels much further away than it did 20 years ago. Consider how much has changed in the world since then. Smartphones were not even available. Volkswagen’s Golf R was present and remained, even though it has evolved much since then. The hatchback’s origins as the still-loved Golf R32 in Europe and, subsequently, in America, gave way to a lineage of hardcore Golfs, albeit the “32” has long since been omitted from their designations, leaving them as Rs alone.

The first R32s were powered by a 3.2-liter VR6 engine (VW’s narrow-angle V-6), therefore when the follow-up appeared with a 2.0-liter turbo I-4, the “32” portion of the name was dropped. Since then, the R has retained the same all-wheel-drive, turbocharged-four-cylinder architecture, and VW is now honouring 20 years of “R” with a limited-edition 2023 Volkswagen Golf R 20th Anniversary Edition restricted to less than 2,000 units and just three colour options for the North American market.

 

Typically, “Anniversary Editions” of performance automobiles, you know, the ones that lack performance improvements, aren’t all that exciting. Of course, brand fans gobble them up for their uniqueness or unique hues. Volkswagen’s Golf R 20th Anniversary Edition combines the standard stylistic enhancements and rarity with a few unusual tweaks. Also, this Golf R is not the same as the “20 Years Edition” Golf R that was presented in Europe earlier this year.

The first and truly unique performance booster? VW removes the sunroof off the Golf R, removing some heft from the roof and presumably lowering the centre of gravity slightly more than a standard R. The Golf R’s interior has actual carbon fibre trim, which VW claims is a first for the brand. But wait, didn’t our European friends get a chance at the ultra-rare and ultra-efficient XL1 diesel-hybrid a few years ago, which not only had a carbon fibre monocoque, but also carbon fibre in its interior? According to VW, the Golf R is “the first mass-produced VW with carbon fibre trim, and the first ever for North America.”

 

Everything else on the Golf R is standard, including the 315-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged E888 I-4, six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, front 14.1-inch cross-drilled rotors, and 235/35R19 summer tyres. Every R comes standard with all-wheel drive, torque vectoring, and DCC electrically variable dampers. These mechanicals make every Golf R thrilling to drive, at least when you don’t unintentionally hit the steering wheel’s sensitive capacitive touch controls, which means the 20th Anniversary should be just as quick.

So, how about those images? The Golf R 20th Anniversary Edition will be available in only three colours, each with distinct mirror caps. Lapiz Blue will have gloss black mirror caps, while Deep Black Pearl and Pure White will have Lapiz Blue mirror caps. The 19×8-inch Estoril wheels are coated in Gloss black regardless of paint colour. The bumpers and front fenders have distinctive blue finished R logos, and each B-pillar has a gloss black 20th Anniversary insignia. The steering wheel clasp will also have a blue finish, and the key fob will be unique to the Golf R 20th, with a blue “R” emblem painted on it.

Finally, the Golf R 20th Anniversary Edition is not significantly more expensive than a conventional Golf R. The six-speed manual variant starts at $46,035, with an additional $800 for the seven-speed DSG. This is a $850 premium above the same ordinary Rs. The main issue is that just 1,800 20th Anniversary Edition models will be available. If you’re a die-hard VW Golf and “R” lover, you can’t pass this up; otherwise, you can go with the normal Golf R, which is already a fantastic vehicle—except for its irritating interior climate and radio settings.

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