The sensational Golf R combines shattering pace with to-die-for handling with unexpectedly real practicality, and comes highly recommended for all lovers of cars with five-star performance, writes Declan Colley
There’s no two ways about it — the Golf R is an absolutely sensational motor car.
So much so I would recommend it without hesitation to anyone looking for a machine which combines shattering pace with to-die-for handling and unexpectedly real practicality.
In fact there is only one other car out there which embodies these fantastic characteristics and that is the equally thrilling Ford Focus RS, so if you are in the market for the hottest of hatches then you only really have to look at either of these cars to fulfil your dreams.
Both are five star performers and are the stuff of legend when variously appraised by afficionados, but there are those — like drug-crazed infidels — who just can’t get enough of this sort of thing.
Apropos, I was approached recently by an enthusiast who truly loves his cars and is prepared to spend inordinate amounts of money on them. To this end, he told me he was considering buying a Bentley Continental GT but was wondering if there was anything else at that level of expense that he should be looking at.
“Get a Golf R,” I told him. “You’ll have the same level of driving enjoyment and thrills and save yourself a packet.”
“A Golf R?” he flubbed, aghast at the suggestion. “But that’d only take up a fraction of my budget.”
“Get eight of them,” I replied. “That’ll soak up the budget and you’d have a different one for every day of the week and one for your holidays as well.”
His response — largely unprintable — was to the effect that I was the insane progeny of illegitimate and irresponsible parents. He did see the point, however, of a 310bhp, 4WD sub-fifty grand pocket rocket, but it was not quite what he wanted. Not even eight of them.
Having pointed the man in the direction of the Aston Martin Rapide S rather than the bloated and common Bentley, I mused quietly as to why anyone would want to lash out vast amounts of wedge to satisfy their driving needs when you could get a Golf R for a fraction of the price. It doesn’t make sense.
It does not make sense because the Golf R is as complete a motor car as it is possible to have for a very affordable price.
Sure it is not affordable to everyone, but to anyone who wants blood-draining performance and the resulting vicarious thrills in a package which is almost as anonymous as a normal Golf, then it’s hard to look any further.
Certainly, you could make a claim for the 265bhp front wheel drive Golf GTi ClubSport which we tested in these columns recently — and adored, it has to be said — which is slightly less competent, slightly cheaper and loses little of the thrill factor.
Or you could make a case for the Focus RS which is every bit as capable as the
R — although a little more powerful and a little more expensive. Maybe even the new and apparently completely bonkers Type-R Civic.
Decisions of this nature will, naturally, come down to personal preference but the Golf R is not a car which can be overlooked. The latest version we drove has been minorly tweaked in the look department (LED lights and a few minor nips and tucks in the body), while the interior has been gifted with an excellent new 8” touchscreen system and the Active Info Display which is a copy of Audi’s digital instrumentation system.
The engine has also been given a minor overhaul to squeeze another 10bhp from the two litre turbo engine but, truthfully, you’d want to be Gilles Villeneuve to notice the performance difference.
From a visual point of view, the car is obviously lower than even a normal GTi and sits on optional black 19” ‘Pretoria’ alloys which, along with the car’s ‘deep black pearlescent’ overcoat, give the whole thing a sense of menace.
Personally, I would go for a colour scheme which is not so intimidating or which stands the R out more than I would like, particularly as the designers have worked so hard and so successfully to make the car fly under the radar. Part of the attraction of the R is the fact it does not scream ‘performance,’ so there’s no need to undo that good work.
But, really, what this thing is all about is what it does on the road. And what it does on the road is nothing short of astonishing. The 5.1 second 0-100kph time, the 250kph top speed, the 380Nm of torque and the 310bhp might all look good on paper, but nothing like as good as when you’re sitting behind the steering wheel.
The pace of the thing is scintillating and the poise and balance of the chassis over a variety of roads and road surfaces is nothing short of flabbergasting. The six speed manual ‘box is also a joy.
Sure you can tweak the engine/chassis settings, but I found that the R operated best when you left it in mere ‘comfort’ mode.
The slightly ridiculous ‘race’ mode does nothing obvious apart from making things a little louder thanks to acoustic trickery and certainly does not add much by way of ‘raciness’. And, in any event, the truly practical nature of the car — genuine five door, five seat usability — does not need such fripperies.
But the combination of this terrific engine and the Haldex 4x4 system makes the Golf R one of the most engaging cars you will ever drive, blessed as it is with pace, power, balance and poise.
Worth noting too is how good VW’s electric power steering system is — fast, communicative and beautifully weighted.
Colley’s Verdict: Volkswagen Golf R
The Cost: From €45,570 - €48,058 as tested.
The Engine: Mildly tweaked version of classic two litre turbo petrol. Fantastic.
The Specification: Good but understated.
The Overall Verdict: A flawless car, blemished only by the people who make it.
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