Mo­tor­ing

Wolfs­burg's per­for­mance flag­ship might not look very ex­cit­ing, but ap­pear­ances can be de­ceiv­ing in the new Golf R, writes wheel's Imran Ma­lik

Friday - - EDITOR'S LETTER -

We take the Golf R for a spin.

T his is the fastest Golf ever. Volk­swa­gen likes to call it “a street fighter ready for the race­track”. Big words you might think, but the car­maker is qui­etly con­fi­dent and called a group of jour­nal­ists to the Au­to­drome to put that claim to the test. I got to drive a Euro­pean-spec R with 289bhp and it didn’t take long to re­alise VW wasn’t minc­ing its words.

It felt right at home on the me­an­der­ing 5.39km track where I reg­u­larly touched speeds of 200kph thanks to the tur­bocharged and di­rect-in­jected 2.0-litre TSI. Its peak came at an ear-split­ting 5,5006,200rpm and with a long enough straight it would have hit a top speed of 250kph. But when the R goes on sale in the re­gion, it’ll have a re­stricted to­tal of 280bhp. I’m not com­plain­ing; that’s still 25 more than the pre­de­ces­sor and a whop­ping 60 more than the GTI.

It’s abun­dantly clear that this is a lot of car for the ask­ing price, make no bones about that. For just Dh149,500 you get a pumped-up four-pot turbo (they’ve given it ex­tra boost, a mod­i­fied cylin­der head, ex­haust valves, in­jec­tion valves, valve springs and pis­tons), not to men­tion 4Mo­tion all-wheel drive, a snappy DSG and loads of tech­nol­ogy.

The lat­ter in­cludes an ESC sys­tem that can be turned off com­pletely. Not that I dare. “You break it, you buy it,” said a beam­ing Thomas Milz, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Volk­swa­gen Mid­dle East, and for less than Dh150K, I’d be very tempted.

He wasn’t able to con­tain that smile for the rest of the day, hav­ing re­vealed the price. I couldn’t blame him though; af­ter blast­ing it around the cir­cuit half a dozen times, it’s a given that it will shift from show­room floors as quickly as its six-speed dual clutch swaps those cogs. Those who like to fly un­der the radar will lap up the third-gen­er­a­tion R – which is lighter, faster and more ef­fi­cient than the out­go­ing model.

With a di­rect vari­able as­sis­tance electro­mechan­i­cal steer­ing that re­quires just 2.1 turns lock to lock, it’s also aided by one of the sharpest of throt­tles in the hot-hatch seg­ment. Turbo lag is barely no­tice­able, so surely it’s time for it to be held in the same af­fec­tion as the GTI? Well, it’s one sec­ond faster around the Nür­bur­gring.

Is this the com­plete hot hatch? There’s no doubt in my mind. It is as ex­treme as VW gets (even though it doesn’t look like it) and it knows how to put a smile on your face as big as those 18in Cadiz al­loys (19in are avail­able, but will add weight).

Don’t go crazy with the op­tions as your bar­gain R could cost closer to Dh170,000. You don’t need a sun­roof, leather in­te­rior or any­thing else; the stock ver­sion is fright­en­ingly good just as it is. And 380Nm of torque and 0-100kph in just 5.0 sec­onds is only half of the story. What we’ve grown to love about the R is that it comes into its own on the twisti­est of roads. With a prodi­gious amount of grip cour­tesy of the Haldex sys­tem (it sends the grunt to whichever cor­ner needs it most to keep it glued to the sur­face) the re­sult is a car that ea­gerly sniffs out the cor­ners.

When launched in 2002, those V6-en­gined R32s were su­perb but un­der­steered a lot. This, on the other hand, is on an­other level. It’s al­most a sur­real feel­ing to en­ter a bend with your foot buried... and leave it floored. Noth­ing seems to un­set­tle it, not even if you lift-off the throt­tle mid­way through a cor­ner.

The e-diff with VW’s lat­est XDS+ sys­tem brushes the brakes on the in­side wheel when cor­ner­ing to help tighten up your line. It’s nat­u­ral bal­ance and com­po­sure is just ex­tra­or­di­nary.

There is enough power to un­stick all four wheels, though it takes some do­ing. I did – those poor cones didn’t stand a chance. The ESC Sport mode al­lows you to slip and slide a tad and doesn’t cut in crudely; it knows when you are in con­trol or when you need a hand and it sounds bru­tal in Race mode where those quad chrome tailpipes re­ally come alive.

Sit­ting 20mm lower than the stan­dard Golf and 5mm lower than the GTI, body roll has been al­most to­tally elim­i­nated; a stiffer sus­pen­sion has done the trick, while the MQB plat­form has shaved some weight too.

The re­sult is an ag­ile and pow­er­ful street fighter that’s ready for the track. Hmm, that sounds fa­mil­iar...

It’s a good job that the cabin packs sports seats to hold you in place while the stain­less steel ped­als add a touch of glam­our. The blue in­stru­men­ta­tion – syn­ony­mous with top-shelf Golfs – car­ries over but the ex­te­rior is rather un­der­stated. It ben­e­fits from a beefed-up front bumper with larger air ducts, a chrome bar across the grille and a smat­ter­ing of R badges.

Nope, it doesn’t seek any at­ten­tion but the way it han­dles un­der full throt­tle means it’ll def­i­nitely get some. It’s smooth, prac­ti­cal and big on qual­ity, mean­ing Volk­swa­gen’s fastest Golf ever is also its best ever.

mo­tor­ing

i IN­SIDE INFO Specs & rat­ings Model golf r En­gine 2.0-litre four-cyl turbo Trans­mis­sion sixspeed auto, aWD Max power 280bhp @ 5,500rpm Max torque 380nm @ 1,800rpm Top speed 250kph 0-100kph 5.0sec Price Dh149,500 (base)

‘R’ lo­gos on the boot lid and cal­lipers look good, but are the only in­di­ca­tions of how fast this car is

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