The Volkswagen Golf R is one of those machines beloved by lazy motoring journalists for the access it provides to a full range of automotive clichés. It’s the car both your head and heart would choose; it works not just in theory but practice.
Except it’s not quite that simple. It should be because its proposition is quite uncommonly enticing: at one end you have not just estate bodywork, but cavernous estate bodywork. Think Volvo makes large estates? This Golf has more room in its boot than Volvo’s largest, whether you measure it seats up or down. And as you probably know, at the other end there rests a 2-litre turbo motor, offering up almost 300bhp to be distributed via a Haldex all-wheel-drive system to all four corners.
As regular readers of these pages or the motoring press in general will also know, the breadth of ability offered by the standard Golf R breaks new ground for the entire hatchback sector, so who’d bet against the Golf R Estate doing the same for station wagons?
Me, for one. The comparison is unfair, because while hatchbacks rarely cost more than the £30,000 VW charges for a base Golf R, Audi will be delighted to charge almost £80,000 for an RS6 estate and Mercedes rather more for its hottest E-class wagon. But more pertinently, somewhere in the conversion process between hatch and estate, something of the Golf R’s character has gone missing.
It is still a good car, I’d not even quibble with those who called it excellent. It weighs 79kg more than the hatch, but it’s still monstrously fast as its 5.1sec 0-62mph time makes clear. What the numbers don’t convey is the way such pace is delivered. Although they have rarely had cause to do it, engineers have known how to squeeze upwards of 150 reliable horsepower from each litre of turbocharged petrol engine for at least 30 years. The problem was that it couldn’t be done without it all arriving with a bit of a bang, as anyone who has driven anything from a Ferrari F40 to a tuned Sierra Cosworth will attest. Now, however, electronic control means this Golf has zero discernible turbo lag and a rev range that lets it kick as hard below 2000rpm as it does above 5000rpm, probably harder. It even sounds good.
So it’s just a little sad to see that the chassis into which this superb driveline is fitted has been slightly compromised. Coupled with the stiffer rear springs the car must run, the extra weight and its location have robbed this version of the R of the startling agility exhibited by the hatch. The wagon is quick and superbly stable, but in an age when we expect almost no dynamic degradation when going from hatch or saloon to an estate, this one has suffered, just a touch.
The silly thing is that if the Golf R hatch did not exist, I’d be singing this car’s praises to the ceiling. But it does, and that is the context in which this estate must be seen: a car that is clearly excellent but no longer exceptional.