ROAD TEST VW Golf R New Golf bridges the performance gulf
PROGRESS doesn’t come for free. If you want more, you have to give more, which is why the latest and greatest high-performance Golf is quite a different beast to its predecessor.
The old car was called the Golf R32, and it packed a creamy 3.2-litre V6 under the bonnet, with its 247bhp delivered to all four wheels. It was the ultimate Golf of its day and had a lot going for it.
Trouble is, it’s hard to make a large capacity petrol engine particularly frugal. It offered a modest 26mpg and C02 emissions were 257g/km. That was then, and the Golf R is now. What you lose is two cylinders and the soundtrack of a six-cylinder engine, which is a bit of a shame. But what you gain is an extra 20bhp, and the four-cylinder turbocharged engine that delivers it is also 35kg lighter. Modern turbocharging is all about efficiency, so the extra punch you get also comes with a large slice of frugality: combined fuel economy is now up to 33.2mpg and C02 emissions drop to a remarkable 199g/km. This is a performance car you don’t need to apologise for.
Neither will you have to explain its purpose. The Golf R has a sporty and tough exterior, but significantly different to that of the GTI. There are unique front and rear bumpers, with large intakes to feed the engine and cool the brakes, while a pair of LED daytime running lights gives it an extra shot of class - as well as a distinctive appearance in rear-view mirrors. At the rear, a pair of exhausts pokes through the rear diffuser, another nod to Golf Rs from the past. That said, the Golf R hasn’t abandoned its clean-cut appearance: this is still a tasteful and well-executed piece of design that will win praise and admiration rather than offend. Yet the extra spice provided by the larger wheels and tasteful bodykit are just the sort of the thing that a performance car requires.
The same goes for the cabin. You should know by now that the interior of a Golf MkVI is worthy of a case study in good design and quality finish. It’s impossible not to feel slightly smug once you’ve slid behind the wheel, sitting snugly in the very supportive sports seats, grasping the thick-rimmed steering wheel and surveying the layout in front of you. The R comes with a piano black finish, gorgeous blue needles on the instruments and a respectable haul of equipment: dual-zone climate control, bi-Xenon headlights, automatic lights and wipers and revised ESP to name a few - and that’s ignoring the hardware underneath.
The Golf R is lower and stiffer than its siblings, including the GTI, and is also the only Golf to use the 4Motion fourwheel drive system. Here it has been revised again, with hydraulic actuation that speeds up response times and also allows up to 100% of the power to be sent to the rear wheels. Which all sounds very technical, but as the driver all you need to know is that the Golf R can use every last drop of that 266bhp almost all the time, thanks to phenomenal traction.
Inevitably there will be comparisons with the GTI, so let’s get them out of the way now. With that extra power and the traction of four-wheel drive, the DSG-equipped Golf R will blast to 62mph from rest in a stunning 5.5 seconds. The GTI takes 6.9, and runs out of puff at an admittedly-quick 147mph. The R on the other hand is limited to 155mph: derestricted it could easily pass 160mph.
The DSG gearbox is worth a special mention here too, for although it adds £1,305 to the price, it cuts the 0-62mph time by 0.2 seconds and saves a little in terms of C02 and fuel economy. But what it means out on the road is a languid, easy one-foot drive when you want it, and instant paddle-flick control when you’re in the mood. With all that traction, control and power to exploit, a twisty road can be despatched in a flash, regardless of the weather. However hard you press there always seems to be more grip in reserve, and control of the gearbox is all yours with a quick flick of the paddles. It’s thrilling, yet with a reassuring amount of control and safety sitting alongside the whole time.
The Golf R has the breadth of ability to make it both practical and a play thing, whatever your mood.
There is a price to pay for this of course, and unsurprisingly it comes when you sign on the dotted line. But there are few cars at any sort of price that are practical, comfortable, wellequipped, well-made, ludicrously quick in all weathers and genuinely desirable to own, whilst being cleaner and greener than before. Consider all the boxes well and truly ticked.
Model: Volkswagen Golf R 2.0 TSI 5-door, £30,885.