Damien O’Car­roll.

Selwyn and Ashburton Outlook - - MOTORING -

It seems that a trendy thing to do among Ger­man car man­u­fac­tur­ers is to take your re­spected and evoca­tive per­for­mance brand and use it to sell dress-up kits on lesser cars.

All the cool kids are do­ing it. BMW slaps an ‘‘M’’ on any­thing with a body kit, Audi slathers a sur­rep­ti­tious ‘‘S’’ over many SUVs and hatches by way of its S-Line stuff and Mercedes now tries to con­vince us a V6 from a nor­mal pro­duc­tion line is an AMG unit that de­serves to sit along­side the hand-as­sem­bled pow­er­plants.

The less cool kids al­ways try to em­u­late their heroes, so Volk­swa­gen also gives it a go by lever­ag­ing the iconic R badge: as seen on the Golf R32, Pas­sat R36, the crazy Touareg R50 and the Polo R WRC rally car.

The ‘‘R-Line’’ spec­i­fi­ca­tion has been around for a while on a num­ber of cars in the VW range, but now it would seem the com­pany has de­cided to go even more bla­tant with the launch of the lat­est Golf R-Line.

Top­ping the stan­dard Golf range at $43,390 (not count­ing the GTI and R per­for­mance vari­ants of course) the R-Line cops most of the sexy ex­te­rior add-ons that the full-fat Golf R boasts (a body kit, rear spoiler, 18-inch al­loys, trape­zoidal ex­hausts, LED tail­lights), but in­stead of a fire­breath­ing 220kW/400Nm en­gine, the R-Line just sticks with the same 110kW/250Nm pow­er­plant as the Golf High­line.

As well as the more ag­gres­sive ex­te­rior look, the R-Line also gets sports sus­pen­sion, sports seats, rear pri­vacy glass, and shift pad­dles on the steer­ing wheel – on top of the stan­dard equip­ment of the High­line.

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, VW shook up the small­hatch mar­ket by bru­tally hack­ing away at the Golf’s price and set­ting it up as the seg­ment leader in terms of equip­ment and value for money. But it doesn’t quite have its own way any more.

The re­cently re­leased and equally Euro­pean Holden As­tra is a mas­sively good car that is both well-equipped and sharply priced, for ex­am­ple.

But while the Golf’s lead has been eroded, its su­perb classlead­ing han­dling has not.

The As­tra has upped Holden’s game con­sid­er­ably in the han­dling and fun de­part­ment, but the Golf still has a dis­tinc­tive edge that has al­ways made it a lit­tle bit spe­cial.

The con­fi­dent, planted feel that it has in vir­tu­ally ev­ery sit­u­a­tion; the ea­ger, ra­zor-sharp turn in; the beau­ti­fully weighted, chatty steer­ing and, of course, that bril­liantly re­spon­sive chas­sis that feels like the Golf is want­ing to cock an in­side-rear wheel un­der ag­gres­sive cor­ner­ing.

The R-Line’s 110kW en­gine may not pack the head-kick­ing wal­lop of the R’s 220kW en­gine (not by a long shot), but it packs more than enough grunt to have plenty of fun on a wind­ing back­road with.

In fact, you could even make the ar­gu­ment that the much lower-pow­ered FWD car is more fun to punt from cor­ner to cor­ner than the ef­fort­lessly pow­er­ful and end­lessly con­fi­dent AWD R. You prob­a­bly wouldn’t be right, but you could cer­tainly make the ar­gu­ment.

Let’s get to the ele­phant in the room. That ra­dioac­tively bright yellow ele­phant – the colour.

While the sear­ing gold­enyel­low of our test car cer­tainly wouldn’t be our choice, it is the new ‘‘hero’’ colour for the Golf R-Line. And it cer­tainly did at­tract at­ten­tion and com­ment. Not all of it pos­i­tive.

But be­cause it is a VW, you can still buy it in sil­ver, you will be pleased to know.

While the com­pe­ti­tion has caught up to Volk­swa­gen’s ag­gres­sive pric­ing, at $44k the Golf R-Line is still an im­pres­sive amount of car for the money. A com­fort­able and beau­ti­fully built in­te­rior, those ex­tra-sharp looks thanks to the R-Line add-ons, the ea­ger, flex­i­ble en­gine and that sub­lime han­dling all con­spire to keep the Golf at the head of the pack.

Not by as much as it used to be, though; for ex­am­ple, the re­cently re­leased Hyundai i30 of­fers sim­i­lar spec­i­fi­ca­tion and is con­sid­er­ably quicker.

But the Golf still man­ages to hang on by the skin of its sear­ingly yellow teeth . . . for now.

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