R for refreshing
Volkswagen Golf R
Tweaking VW’s hot-hatch flagship doesn’t rock the boat
AGolf R with DSG will now get to 100kph in 4.6sec, by VW’s usually pessimistic estimates. This is in no way hanging about. It’s a massive 0.3sec quicker than last year’s.
What’s new? Not what you’d think. None of the usual Clubsport/RS/ Superveloce trickery: air-conditioning and the back seat are still mercifully present, there’s no carbon-fiber roof, and power rises by a mere 10hp.
Main credit goes to a seven-speed DSG, supplanting a six-speed equivalent. The standard six-speed manual hasn’t altered, and so remains at 5.1sec 0–100kph. It’s quick enough against the clock, and even faster in real life because of all the mid-range wallop, and the near-inexhaustible traction to make use of it. The engine is game as you like, revving hard to a soft limiter somewhere near 6,800rpm.
If it boosts performance only a little, the new engine does bring vital Top Gear kudos. It’s the exact same motor fitted to the Golf GTI Clubsport S, as pedalled by Sabine on telly to overtake a million pounds’ worth of metal on a lap of the Nordschleife.
The mechanical remainder—AWD system and chassis—is unaltered. The steering isn’t the over-quick kind, but it’s reactive and precise, and not bothered by the bumps and cambers that so upset the Ford Focus ST. And you don’t have to get to the R’s cornering limit before you feel messages from its tires. If the headbanging Focus shouts at you in CAPS LOCK, and the Audi RS3 in a sparse few emoji, the Golf speaks poetry.
Cosmetic tweakage on the outside is limited enough that last year’s owners won’t be alienated. A new bumper holds slightly different intakes and headlamps, which are LED, as are the taillights, with sweeping indicators. The bumper has black-lipped ears on its outer edges to gulp air in—but without strakes and red stripes it’s subtler than a GTI.
Indoors, the virtual cockpit TFT dials are standard, but I find myself defaulting back to the setting that looks like real clocks, so what’s the point? The standard navigation/comms is uprated, and is good. Don’t on any account get the optional all-glass nine-incher, which is too fiddly and distracting.
if you want an all-rounder, get a Golf
Changes to the look are kept to a minimum
Performance and practicality all in one