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