Finally, it’s a good month if there’s an R in it
I have never seen the point of VW’s frequent attempts to out-GTI the Golf GTI. Whether it was the last-generation Golf R or the earlier R32s, they’ve all been overblown and overpriced and have asked owners to accept compromises in ride and handling in no way offset by the undoubted gain in performance.
In my most recent review of one – the Golf R cabriolet – I described its modifications as akin to pouring custard onto roast beef.
But this new Golf R is a different proposition, and comes based on VW’s latest, lighter and stiffer MQB platform. Power from its 2-litre engine has risen from 220bhp for a standard GTI to 300bhp, a startling number for so small an engine. And unlike any other Golf, its power is diverted to all four corners of the car. You can buy one with three or five doors, with manual or double-clutch transmission.
And thanks to bespoke bodywork, wheels and tyres, you’ll not struggle to distinguish it from its less potent sisters. In the past these modifications would have served only to heighten the disappointment when you actually got to drive the thing. No longer: an old Golf R is a waste of money, a new one is the best premium hot hatch on sale.
For a start, it is extremely fast. VW claims a 5.1sec dash to 62mph for the manual car I drove, but it’s certainly quicker than that. Either the test car was giving unusually good power in the cool, dense air in which I drove it, or VW is being its usual conservative self. If it had claimed 4.5sec, I’d not have blinked. But it also makes a nice noise, with a smooth but offbeat thrum interesting enough to sound almost like a five-cylinder motor at times.
But it’s what VW has done to the chassis that really makes the car stand out. Instead of setting up the suspension merely to harness its 300bhp, now it’s actually tuned to exploit it; its edges are now sharper, not softer. Indeed for those who find the current GTI capable but slightly antiseptic, an R is not so much an upgrade as a transformation. With optional adaptive dampers, it provides outstanding body control that gives drivers the confidence without which no car can ever be quick from point to point, let alone entertaining. And it comes with electric steering with feel so honest it seems hardly synthesised at all. But best of all the Golf is genuinely agile: the grip levels will make you smile, but what gets you giggling is the car’s willingness to adjust its attitude to every whim of your right foot.
A Golf with a sense of humour? You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking so, and deciding it was well worth handing over the extra £3775 required to buy an all-wheel-drive 300bhp Golf R over a two-wheel-drive 220bhp Golf GTI.
In the past I have always told people they’d be mad to part with thousands more for an ‘R’ model Golf when the standard GTI was so capable. The more I think about it, the more I think they’d now be only a little less mad not to.
Engine: 2.0 litres, four cylinders, turbocharged
Power: 300bhp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 380lb ft @ 1850 rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 39.8 mpg