You've done the Volkswagen Golf GTI and now want something with sharper teeth? Try the latest Golf R. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Volkswagen Golf R is back, this time trying to face down some serious competition. It's come equipped though, packing all wheel drive, 300PS and capable of getting to 62mph in just 4.9 seconds. It'll also register better than 40mpg on the combined cycle. Your everyday supercar is right here.
The GTI might be the definitive sporty Golf but there are those for whom even this iconic sports hatch doesn't quite deliver the goods. They want more. More grip, more speed, more presence, just more. The thing is, the market for exactly this sort of thing was turned on its head by BMW's M135i. Here was a car that delivered more. 306PS to be exact, and delivered a premium badge in the process for less than £30,000. It was a game changer. Volkswagen needed to respond and deliver a vehicle that could put the upstart M135i in its place. The GTI couldn't do it. Even at around £27,000 for a five-door manual car, it looked a bit outgunned by its Bavarian rival, ceding over 80PS and the cachet of a rear-wheel drive chassis. Step up the Golf R, a legitimate member of the 300PS club and which fronts up with all-wheel drive and a sub £30k price tag. Wolfsburg has hit back and hard.
That 300PS power output is the headline number as far as the Golf R is concerned but delve a little deeper and you'll find some other facts that will stop you in your tracks. In manual form it gets to 62mph in 5.3 seconds, but unleash its potential with a DSG twin-clutch sequential transmission and it rockets through that benchmark in just 4.9 seconds. Power is delivered through a fifth-generation Haldex all-wheel drive system, which sends drive to the front wheels during modest throttle loads, but can then direct almost 100 per cent of drive to the rear axle if required. Top speed is limited to 155mph. The ride height is 20 mm lower than the standard Golf's and 5 mm lower than the GTI's, while Adaptive Chassis Control (DCC) is an option. For the first time, this offers a 'Race' mode, which increases damping, reducing body movements in the process. In conjunction with the driver profile selector (standard on all Golfs from SE upwards), Race mode also sharpens the throttle response and alters the shift pattern of the DSG gearbox.
Design and Build
Apart from that hoovered-to-the-tarmac ride height, the Golf R is distinguished by its revised front bumper assembly, indented with massive air inlets, a modified radiator grille with 'R' logo and daytime running lamps that are integrated into the standard bi-xenon headlights. Move round to the side and you'll clock the aggressive body-colour sills and matt chrome-capped door mirrors. The R comes as standard with a tasty set of 18-inch 'Cadiz' alloy wheels wrapped in 225/40 tyres, but the optional 19-inch 'Pretoria' alloys are sure to be a popular fit. The brakes are ventilated discs all round, measuring 30 mm by 340 mm at the front and 22 mm by 310 mm at the back. A big part of the Golf VII design process was a determined weight loss plan and the R benefits from this by shedding around 45kg from the kerb weight of its predecessor. Its kerb weight of 1,476kg might seem quite hefty for a family hatch sized car but factor in the all-wheel drive transmission and it doesn't seem quite so bad. The interior features cloth sports seats with Alcantara bolsters, with leather upholstery available as an option, while the instrument dials are unique to the R and include some smart touches such as blue needles.
Market and Model
That sub £30,000 asking price nets you a manual Golf R three-door. You'll pay another £600-odd if you want a five-door, while DSG transmissions tack another £1,400 onto those prices. All variants come with air-conditioning, a Driver Alert system, seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag, five three-point seat belts, ABS with ESP, XDS electronic differential lock and ISOFIX preparation for two rear child seats. There's also a touch screen Composition Touch media system includes a 5.8-inch colour touchscreen, DAB digital radio, a CD player, MDI interface (for connecting iPod or MP3 player), Bluetooth telephone preparation and audio streaming and eight speakers. There are also LED reading lights, ambient lighting in the doors and centre console and electrically foldable door mirrors with puddle lights, and front and rear parking sensors with visual display.
Cost of Ownership
Granted, you don't buy a car like the Volkswagen Golf R to wow your friends with its environmental credentials, but it's hard not to be impressed with a combined fuel consumption of 39.8mpg for the manual car or 40.9mpg if you spring for the DSG transmission. Likewise, emissions are also very good, registering 165g/km for the manual and 159g/km for the DSG. That's one area where the Golf R scores a decisive advantage over the BMW M135i, which features a 3.0-litre six-cylinder lump up front that the Munich company does very well to massage down to 188g/km and up to 35.3mpg.
The Volkswagen Golf R might seem a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, it's a four-wheel drive, 300PS, two-litre turbo road rocket; the sort of car that you thought had gone out of fashion with the demise of the Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. On the other, it's a wholly civilised, beautifully built family hatch that can better 40mpg and emits less carbon dioxide than a VW Lupo GTI. That, more than its incredible performance figures, shows us how times have changed and how fast hatches have needed to rehabilitate themselves or die. Offering a strong value proposition and no shortage of capability, it's hard to see how the Volkswagen Golf R can fail. Can it match the vivacity and excitement delivered by the BMW M135i? That will very much depend on how you like your sports hatches but one thing's for sure. You've never had it so good.