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The Volkswagen Golf R

About as far away from ‘boy racer’ as you can get; yet it is quick, smooth, safe, and communicative
Never did the term ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ describe a car so well!

Now this is quite remarkable. We are at Brands Hatch race circuit in a standard road going Volkswagen Golf R with no modifications, just standard Golf R spec, yet it seems to be passing everything in its wake.

Unstressed, no tyre scrubbing, all temperatures normal, not even stressing the brakes, yet the new Golf R is showing its mastery over so many fine-tuned, track ready cars that had to be trailered here for the purpose. All I did was drop my daughter off to school, pick up my race helmet, drive the car to the track, overtake everybody, and go home...or something like that.

Credit must go to the car rather than the driver. All of a sudden, spending about twenty eight to thirty two (ish) grand on a 2.0 litre turbo charged, spacious, comfortable, understated (grown-up), and very well built hot hatch, makes an awful lot of sense. Especially if its my own money rather than the Company’s. They ought to call this car the Golf DJ/MH (Dr Jeckyll/Master Hyde) and never did the term ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ describe a car so well!

The low down

To the uninitiated this is what you need to know. The new Golf R is the fastest accelerating production Golf ever with the 0-62 mph benchmark coming up in just 5.1 secs in manual, and 4.9 secs with the DSG automatic box. It’s a four wheel drive, using what is now the fifth generation Haldex 4MOTION system; it’s pretty clever, for when under low loads or just coasting it decouples the rear axle to save fuel, and re-engages it in fractions of a second when activated by a hydraulic pump. What’s more, like a true enthusiast’s car, almost 100 per cent of the power can be sent to the back wheels. I’m liking this……

And it gets better. On a touch control screen located dead centre of the dash, you have a choice between ‘economy’ ‘normal’, ‘individual’, and ‘race’ driving programmes. They’re pretty much self-explanatory, coming under the umbrella of Dynamic Chassis Control thus adjusting suspension, throttle and steering accordingly. In the Golf R – ‘Race’ mode replaces Sport mode in the GTI, immediately transforming the sound and the feel of what, without doubt, is the greatest Golf GTi since the original Mark 1. Interesting observation that; it’s like comparing the latest BMW M3 to the original E30; it was good in the beginning and now it’s the best it can be.

The engine’s a newly developed 2.0-litre turbocharged 300 PS EA888; up to 18 per cent more fuel efficient than its predecessor (the 2.0-litre turbocharged 270 PS EA113). This latest reiteration is very different in character to what many of us have become accustomed to from the legendary Golf. Whilst very refined at low speeds it’s a bit rougher in sound and feel when pushed hard, but boy…does it deliver. On track it was so totally composed, yet the engine crackles and sings at the top end, and the car is totally at home being driven hard, for as long as you want to do it quite frankly.

The grip, composure and balance of this car is truly exceptional; a little twitch here or there on the wet Indy circuit was predictable with plenty of warning  and a doddle to correct. That chassis talks to you nice and early, giving you lots of warning when it is getting near to the limit, and almost tutors you to apply power, lift off, or brake, to keep it all flowing nice and smoothly. Very clever, because it is deliberately intuitive and works with you to achieve rhythm and flow in the drive. It is mature, grown up, and about as far away from ‘boy racer’ as you can get; yet it is quick, smooth, safe, and communicative. I suppose you could say it’s brilliant.

And the performance on road?  Well, set to ‘normal’ or ‘economy’ you could just as well be in an ‘economy’ version of the car. You’d never know it’s an ‘R’. It’s quieter, refined, effortless; almost a contradiction in terms. Step up the drive for a brisk cross country bash and surprisingly, I was finding second gear a bit too ‘short’, thus kissing the rev limiter when my right foot and I needed more. You get into the habit of ‘short-shifting’ to compensate, whereas on track second gear just takes you out of the pit lane and from thereon it’s the higher gears.  

More of a good thing

Either way the Golf R cabin is a nice place to be. Ours was a cloth and alcantara finish, with streak blue ambient lighting across the upper interior door sills and running through the kick plates. It fitted the dash lighting perfectly, and certainly gives an aesthetic boost to the interior. There is ample passenger space and comfort front and rear, although several observers commented that they would have liked a little more boot space.

What makes this Golf R special is that unique combination of performance and all-purpose usability, combined with high build quality and that german engineering integrity. It’s more of what we have come to know and expect from the Golf Rs’, only this time it’s more special than ever.

- Kevin Haggarthy