In 1976 Volkswagen practically invented the hot hatch with its first Golf GTi, but despite its peppy nature it wasn’t really enough. VW then reinvented the hot hatch as a V6 with the Golf VR6 and the following Golf R32 but that still wasn’t enough. Now, still hunting down hot hatch perfection, VW has returned to its four-cylinder roots with devastating results. What’s spawned from VW’s latest efforts is an evolutionary machine that can lay claim to being the most powerful and hardest accelerating Golf ever built. Car and SUV took a drive in the simply named Golf R to sample its distinctive formula of practicality and pure excitement.
Where the outgoing Golf R32 had a naturally aspirated V6 hiding under the bonnet the new Golf R comes packing a turbocharged four in what’s best described as a ‘more from less’ approach. The hard-tuned 2.0-litre engine thumps out 199kW of power a 15kW increase over the outgoing R32 and 350Nm of torque a 30Nm increase. Maximum boost runs at 17 psi and all available grunt comes on at 6000rpm.
The engine isn’t an improved version of the current Mk VI GTi’s unit but is based on the older Mk V GTi mill. The block has been reinforced and the cylinder head replaced, new pistons, conrods, injectors and a new turbo are all used. The results are impressive and the Golf R will sprint from standing to 100 kph in just 5.5 seconds and won’t give up till it reaches a top speed of 250 kph.
What the performance figures translate to in real world terms is a vehicle that’s seriously quick and pulls hard especially through the first three gears. It also sounds fantastic and although some fans may miss the V6 howl of the R32 the R has a popping soundtrack all its own. There is also an underpinning refinement to the Golf R that helps give it a more reserved character than other turbocharged hot hatches that are constantly champing at the bit. The R feels equally happy slowly cruising suburban streets as blazing along mountain passes thanks in part to VW’s clever DSG transmission. While there is still some turbo-lag present the dual-clutch box delivers smooth rapid shifts and makes good use of available power while still helping return an impressive 8.4L/100km fuel economy. For a more hands-on approach to gear changing, steering wheel mounted paddles work quickly and offer total control. The only small complaint with the DSG box is that in it’s standard setting (also has a Sports setting) it up-shifts too early as it seeks out the best fuel economy.
In terms of handling dynamics the big news is the inclusion of VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system. Under regular driving conditions the Golf R is essentially front-wheel drive but if traction is lost up front almost 100 percent of power can be rapidly transferred to the rear wheels. This system successfully eradicates unwanted wheel spin and the traditional hot hatch foe — torque steer. With a 25mm lower ride-height and upgraded springs, dampers and anti roll bars the Golf R handles more directly than its GTi stable mate. On twisted roads the R is supremely balanced, it turns in with gusto, stays flat mid-corner and offers a prodigious level of grip on exit. Although the suspension set up is expectedly firm it still has fair compliance and is fluid during cruising. The power-steering system is an electromechanical set-up that is well weighted and razor sharp.
Aesthetically the Golf R has picked up some stylish yet subtle changes over the GTi but in hot hatch terms it’s a fairly restrained and understated four-door. A modest body kit distinguishes the Golf R, it starts at the front with a low bumper housing a gaping air intake and LED daytime running lights. Gloss black trim features on the front grille, side mirrors and brake calipers. Only closer inspection will reveal some inconspicuous R badging. At the rear there’s a chunky bumper with a black diffuser and twin chrome tailpipes are the instrument for the engine’s brutal melody. Filling the wheel arches are 18-inch five-spoke alloys as standard, that have a modern, distinctive look. Overall, it’s a purposeful looking hatch but only really offers hints at the power beneath. The styling is consistent with the R’s refined dynamic persona but won’t appeal to those who demand that their hot hatch is deliberately styled to set itself apart from lesser siblings.
The same restrained approach applies to the Golf R interior where the stand out feature is the front sports seats. The deep bucket seats look great, are supportive, comfortable and have the R logo neatly embroidered on the headrest. Other charming touches include brushed steel pedals, blue instrumentation needles and R logo detailing on the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel. Elsewhere nothing else needed to be changed from the standard Golf interior that is class-leading in the quality of materials and fit and finish. The Golf body also offers practicality with decent back seat legroom and the hatch can gobble up to 350-litres of luggage. Standard kit includes a 8-speaker CD player, two zone climate air-conditioning, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control and a large colour touch-screen for controlling it all.
Safety systems are numerous and start with an electronic stability program that includes ABS brakes, an electronic diff lock and anti skid regulation. There is a full compliment of airbags including a driver’s knee bag and a deactivation switch for the passenger airbag.
The bottom line is that the Golf R is a brilliant piece of engineering; it’s a winning formula of maturity, exciting raw power, practicality, high-tech dynamics and impressive fuel economy. While the R has retained and built on the Golf GTi’s all-rounder appeal it does come with a steep price premium. At $72,500 the Golf R is $15k more expensive than the GTi, a fair chunk of change in the current economic climate. The price difference will undoubtedly lead many to opt for a GTi instead, which is an impressive vehicle in its own right. But for hardcore hot hatch fans that simply must have the most powerful VW Golf ever produced then the R is an uncompromising, almost perfect offering.
What we like:
- Very powerful engine
- Fuel economy
- Awesome handling dynamics
What we don’t like:
- 15k price premium over GTi
- Styling upgrades are too subtle
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
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Volkswagen Golf R – Specifications
Cubic capacity, litres/cm 3 1984cc
Max. output, kW(bhp) at rpm 199kW @ 6000 rpm
Max. torque, Nm at rpm 350Nm @ 2500-5000 rpm
Gearbox, standard 6-speed DSG
Performance and Fuel Consumption
Top speed, kph 250 (electronically limited)
Acceleration, in seconds from 0-100 kph 5.5
Fuel consumption, litres/100 km with automatic gearbox combined 8.4
CO 2 emission, g/km 195g/km – Euro 5