The R name has been used on a lot more than you may think
Placed above their flagship GTI models, R is Volkswagen’s highest standard performance trim, which means more power, often has 4Motion (AWD) and available DSG (Dual Clutch gearbox). The R name is also used on a lot of their motorsport vehicles, even if there's no street-legal R version. Seeing as the GTI brand is too sacred to use on anything other than hatchbacks, there has been a recent explosion of new VW R models coming out recently, which seems weird to me as it feels like there has only ever been R-badged Golfs, which isn’t the case. In fact, I had this post in a completed state for quite a few months, but the new Golf R reveal was just around the corner, so I decided to sit on it until then. I’m glad I did, because in the time since I ended up roughly doubling the length of this list with more findings. VW compete in a lot of different motorsports. That and although it’s more in regard to their classic models, VW are much more upfront than most about showing off their prototypes and cancelled models.
As for the origin of R, for a brief period between 2001 and 2004, Volkswagen Motorsport changed their name to Volkswagen Racing. Take a look at that letter R in their logo, it’s the same one used in the Golf R32 logo. It also apparently ties in with the Volkswagen Käfer GSR (Gelb Schwarz Renner or Yellow Black Racer), a special edition Beetle considered the first VW performance model. Which is funny as the changes were mostly cosmetic and it caused a lot of controversy from the government for promoting speeding, which dissuaded VW from making a fast Golf (with the Golf GTi developed in secret).
1998 Volkswagen Golf TDI-R
This isn’t a R32... No, it had a predecessor in a couple diesel-powered Golfs, built by Volkswagen Motorsport to compete in endurance races.
2000 Volkswagen Bora R-TDI
And they did it again for the Volkswagen Bora (aka Mk4 Jetta) with the name being altered a bit. They seemed to use R for endurance racers back then.
2001 Volkswagen Golf Kit Car
By now they were named Volkswagen Racing, and they offered an official kit to build Mk4 Golf Rally cars. This particular example was displayed at GTI-Treffen 2001 at Wörthersee (it might have even been the kit’s debut) and is the earliest case I could find of the R logo being used on it’s own.
2001-2003 Volkswagen New Beetle RSi
The first production R model.... is not the R32. It’s actually the New Beetle RSi, essentially being a Golf R32 in a different suit. Take a look at the logo, it’s the same R. Plus R stands for Race/Racer/Rennen etc. and RSi stands for RennSport Injection (Racer Injection), seeing as it’s the road-going version of the New Beetle Cup racecar. Interestingly the concept used a different RSi logo.
2001 Volkswagen Golf R Concept
And we’ve finally reached the R32. Well nearly, this is the concept version, officially known as the Studie VW Golf R, no numbers. I’m guessing this was just in case it didn’t make it with a 3.2l engine.
2002-2004 Volkswagen Golf R32 / Volkswagen R32
6 cars in, and we’ve reached the first “actual” R model. I guess the only difference between the R and the RSi nameplates is that RSi models look crazy and off-the-wall, while R models are... subtle? Let's say they have much more reserved styling, and they aren't super limited.
2003 Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet RSi prototype
Only a few prototype convertibles were made.
2003-2004 Volkswagen Golf GTI R
In South Africa, for a few models they used the standalone R for some performance models, although the application varies. This was essentially a Golf GTI with a Golf R32 bodykit, no performance enhancements.
2003 Volkswagen Golf R32 Racer
Come to think of it, I guess every vehicle from Volkswagen Racing with that logo could be a pseudo R model? I won’t list them all, but I wanted to shout out the GTI-powered Volkswagen Caddy Racer.
2004 Volkswagen Polo "R25" prototype
Made to see what a potential Polo R model could look like; it's believed to be bog-standard under the hood. Because an engine was never fully decided before it was cancelled, it doesn’t really have an official designation. R25 is the most popular nickname, although it could have been more realistically called the R18 or R23.
2004-2005 Volkswagen Jetta R
Another South African exclusive, this was essentially the equivalent of the Jetta GLI in North America, with the same styling and engine, although I don’t know if that’s enough to call them the same car under different names. If you wanted more R styling in your R...
2005-2006 Volkswagen Bora R
...you could go to China for basically the same thing, difference being it now looks like a Golf R32 with a trunk and rectangular headlights. It was originally named the Bora Sport, which matches the name of the European performance equivalent.
2005-2008 Volkswagen Golf R32 / Volkswagen R32
From here on, the "proper" R models started to be produced by Volkswagen Individual.
2005-2008 Volkswagen Golf TDI-R
Remember the very first model listed here was a diesel-powered Golf racecar? Well it seems that a Mk5 version was offered as well.
2005 Volkswagen Jetta R GT Concept
The following three were Volkswagen’s entries for SEMA 2005, built in collaboration with HPA Motorsports. This one was fitted with proper parts from the Golf R32: VR6, DSG and 4Motion.
2005 Volkswagen Passat R GT Concept
Twin-turbo power was added to a Passat 3.2 VR6, compared to the forthcoming Passat R36 with a 3.6 VR6. VW would later offer an appearance package called V-Line to mimic this car’s bodykit.
2005 Volkswagen Touareg R GT Concept
They also added twin-turbos to a Touareg with the 3.2 VR6, compared to the forthcoming Touareg R50 with a 5.0 V10.
2006 Volkswagen R GTI Concept
For SEMA 2006, the R and GTI names met once again. To try to keep this list a bit more succinct, I’ll only list any R based special editions or minor concept cars I feel that are noteworthy.
2007-2008 Volkswagen Citi 1.8i R-Line
The very first R-Line model, and bucking later ‘tradition’, this one actually has more power. Sold in South Africa, it was announced in prototype form as the Citi 1.8iR, yet the number plates here call it the 1.8i Citi R? Essentially the ultimate Mk1 Golf, it’s fitted with a larger 1.8 engine with 121hp. VW would start introducing R-Line models in Germany the next year (although with less GTI inspired styling) and has since been available on nearly every VW since, which is also why I’m not listing the rest of the R-Line models either.
2007-2010 Volkswagen Passat R36
How many cars in, and we've only got to our third "proper" production R model?
2007 Volkswagen Golf Variant RaVe 270 Concept
Geddit? RaVe? R Variant! The R32 longroof they never made! Oh and it has a massive sound system. It actually uses a Golf GTI Edition 30 engine boosted to 270PS. It does have 4Motion though. Also has a front bumper design that was first shown on the Volkswagen Thunder Bunny Concept from the previous year’s SEMA.
2007 Volkswagen Golf "RSi" prototype
Photo by unknown on UK-MkIVs.net.
This photo was taken from what looks like a VW corporate event, and that’s all we really know about it. We don’t even know if that number plate says RSi or RS or something else, although it would fit in nicely with my RSi being a more extreme-looking R theory. Golfs with the same Thunder Bunny bodykit have been shown at various auto shows, but none of them seem to match. Could it be related to a possibly cancelled "Golf R36"?
2007 Volkswagen Golf GTI "Nürburgring"
Ok I said I wouldn’t list any more R-Line models, but this was an interesting case. VW entered some Golf GTIs into the 24 Hours Nürburgring, but they had R-Line branding on them, making it the only case of a GTI R-Line model. Than again it might just be seen as another sponsorship; advertising the R-Line models, but not actually considered one.
2008-2009 Volkswagen Touareg R50
Kind of an outlier of the “proper” R models. Instead of a petrol VR6 it has a diesel V10. It was not available with DSG, and it’s not even the most powerful version of the Mk1 Touareg! At least it has 4Motion, than again all Touaregs have 4Motion.
2008-2010 Volkswagen Scirocco GT24
After the previous year’s Golfs, they entered some Siroccos to the 24 Hours Nürburgring, once again with R-Line branding. Interestingly, the R-Line logo seen on these racecars doesn’t seem to match the ones used on the production cars, resembling more the aforementioned RSi Concept’s logo, although it’s not a match. The Scirocco GT24s used in following years have big R branding instead, despite how the GT24 is technically not named an R model.
2009-2013 Volkswagen Scirocco R
As you can see, the GT24 was the racing version of the then unrevealed Scirocco R, and also previewed by the Scirocco Studie R Concept in 2008. The first model from the newly formed Volkswagen R company, which coincided with alot of changes. A new R logo, ditching of the numbers and VR6s for inline 4s, as well as the numbers. The Scirocco R was also the first “proper” R model that’s FWD.
2010-2014 Volkswagen Golf R
Numbers were presumably ditched to avoid any negative associations of downsizing, Golf R20 sounds worse than the Golf R32.
2010-2014 Volkswagen Scirocco R-Cup
Heavily based off the Scirocco GT24 for the eponymous race series.
2010 Volkswagen Jetta "R" prototype
Photo by unknown.
At the European Press launch for the Jetta, Volkswagen showed this normal-looking Jetta, but it was fitted with a 3.2l VR6, 4Motion, and 6 speed DSG. They wouldn’t call it a Jetta R though, but come on! Sadly nothing came of it
2011-2014 Volkswagen Polo R Cup
For Volkswagen’s entry-level single-make racing series in India, the cars used are usually branded with a Race prefix: Race Polo, Race Vento, Race Ameo. But for a few years, the Polos were branded as R models. These are manual, diesel and FWD.
2011 Volkswagen Beetle R Concept
The New Beetle RSi successor we never got...
2013-2016 Volkswagen Polo R WRC
First shown as a concept in 2011, and a prototype in 2012.
2013 Volkswagen Golf R prototype
Journalists got to drive the Golf R early on, but the design wasn’t revealed yet, hence the normal looking body.
2013 Volkswagen Polo R WRC Street
First shown as a concept in 2012. A limited edition homologation special for the Rally cars. Had 217hp from the previous gen Golf GTI, but unlike the racing versions, it’s still FWD and is manual only.
2013 Volkswagen Amarok R-Style Concept
I couldn’t find if it’s meant to evoke the same R, but it does refer to a high-performance version, and the R name has gotten pretty well-known at this point for it to be an accident. Despite the R name, it seems to be more of an Amarok GTI, but that name would be sacrilege, R is overselling it, R-Line is underselling it, so R-Style! Well, until they renamed it the Amarok Power-Pickup Concept at the last minute.
Volkswagen Beetle “R” Concept
A race-prepped Beetle project built by Volkswagen Motorsports. It debuted at Fastivus 2013, but little is known about it.
2013-2014 Volkswagen Golf R Cabriolet
First shown as a concept in 2011. Unlike the standard Golf R, this is FWD, as AWD couldn’t fit.
2014-2016 Volkswagen Polo R Supercar
Used by Volkswagen RX Sweden in rallycross events.
2014-2016 Volkswagen Golf R
Beloved by enthusiasts everywhere!
2014 Volkswagen Polo R prototype
2 Polo prototypes shown of what could be considered a “proper” Polo R compared to the WRC Street that journalists got the opportunity to test. Fitted with a modified Golf GTI engine that put out around 250hp, along with 4Motion, 6-Speed DSG and the Golf R’s rear differential. Seemed to preview a production version that never came.
2014 Volkswagen Beetle R Cabriolet prototype
Journalists also got to try out a Beetle R prototype, in a puzzling convertible body. Fitted with the Golf R’s less powerful export engine, rear diff, and unlike the Golf R Cabriolet, 4Motion. What appeared to be Beetle R mules were also spotted the previous year. Like the Jetta, VW wouldn’t outright call these prototypes R models, but seriously? Those aren’t R-Line badges!
2014-2017 Volkswagen Scirocco R
2014 Volkswagen Golf R 400 Concept
Return of the numbers, now meaning horsepower. Unfortunately production plans were cancelled in 2019.
2014- Volkswagen Gol R Cup
Used in a spec-racing series in Peru.
2016 Volkswagen Golf R360S
A limited edition Golf R with power boosted to 360hp with a little help from ABT, and exclusive to Switzerland. Is that what the S stands for?
2017-2019 Volkswagen Golf R
2018-2019 Volkswagen Beetle R ARX
Was only R branded for the last year of the Beetle GRC’s life.
2018 Volkswagen Polo R Supercar
Was branded as a GTI in 2017 for a connection with a production model, but returned to being R badged.
2018-2019 Volkswagen I.D. R / Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak
First shown as a concept. The first electric R model and the first standalone R-only model, even if it isn’t for sale, so make of that what you will. Obviously ditched the Pikes Peak suffix once it started racing at places other than Pikes Peak.
2019 Volkswagen Golf Variant FighteR Concept
Mainly listed here for it’s fun name, although there’s also it’s full name of Golf Variant R 4MOTION FighteR, which ewww. Doesn’t FighteR already encompass the R, which encompasses the 4Motion?
2020- Volkswagen T-Roc R
I'm running out of things to say.
2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport R Baja Concept
The Atlas Cross Sport R-Line was the first model to wear the newly redesigned R-Line badge, so it's fitting it's racing cousin was the first to wear the new R badge. Was to compete in the 2020 Baja 1000, but it didn't make an appearance, and seems to have been cancelled.
2020 Volkswagen eR1 Concept / Volkswagen e-Performance Golf R Concept
Initially announced as the e-Performance Golf R, name was changed to the snappier eR1.
2020- Volkswagen Touareg R
Continuing the Touareg R50's tradition of bucking trends, the Touareg R is a plug-in hybrid, and still isn’t available with DSG. Return of a V6 powered R-model though, although I guess that continues the outlier status when no other R models have it.
2021- Volkswagen Arteon R
Prototypes were tested with the VR6, but they decided to go with an I4 instead.
2021- Volkswagen Tiguan R
2021- Volkswagen Golf R
2021 Volkswagen I.D. R Evo prototype
Oh and sorry for all the scrolling.
At the start of 2020 Volkswagen said they were building a second generation I.D. R called the Evo, but they still haven't revealed it, and with them exiting racing, it seems we may never see it.