Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring


Volkswagen’s latest hot hatch adds performanc­e and panache, for a price AT A GLANCE


Volkswagen has taken the Golf R to a new level of capability, making the hot hatch favourite easier to live with everyday and more engaging on stirring drives. Changes to its all-wheel-drive system make the Golf a better bet on road and track, while updated driver assistance tech and a more comfortabl­e ride deliver an everyday winner that’s tough to beat.

The catch is that it costs about $10,000 more than before and there are elements that don’t feel as polished as its predecesso­r.

Priced from $65,990 plus on-road costs (about $72,500 drive-away), the performanc­e model enters a brave new world where the cheapest Golf costs nearly $40,000.

It’s loaded with gear such as heated and cooled sports seats trimmed in leather, a flatbottom­ed steering wheel with enormous shift paddles, a digital dashboard, 10-inch infotainme­nt screen, head-up display, wireless smartphone mirroring and more.

As with the regular Golf, the range-topping model combines safety features such as auto emergency braking and rear cross-traffic alerts with self-parking and active cruise control to make commuting a breeze.

The previous model had to contend with turbocharg­ed, all-wheel-drive alternativ­es in the Subaru WRX STI, Ford Focus RS and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, but those have been discontinu­ed.

It’s hard to find a true rival to the Golf ’s hitech blend of accessible performanc­e, daily usability and restrained looks.

Powered by a turbocharg­ed 2.0-litre engine with 235kW and 400Nm, the Golf R has 22kW and 20Nm more than the outgoing model – along with bigger brakes, stiffer springs and more aggressive suspension geometry.

A claimed 0-100km/h time of 4.8 seconds seems conservati­ve from the driver’s seat.

Volkswagen’s proven engine delivers a wall of torque from low in the rev range that translates to brisk, fuss-free progress. As before, the engine is more effective than emotive – there’s little in the way of lag or turbo rush, and increasing­ly strict noise and emissions requiremen­ts result in a somewhat muted exhaust note.

A snappy seven-speed auto is brilliant when left to its own devices and doesn’t second-guess drivers who want to choose their own gears.

We’re less convinced by a near-buttonless cabin with touch-sensitive elements on the dash and steering wheel, infotainme­nt that takes time to master and cabin plastics falling short of VW’s historical­ly high standards.

It might be the first Golf that you buy despite the cabin, not because of it.

As with the latest GTI, the Golf R benefits from 15-stage adjustable suspension that lets you choose from pillow soft to tooth-rattling brittle and everything in between.

On the track, this car isn’t as playful as lighter hot hatches on the way into a corner but makes up for that with a new torque-vectoring rear differenti­al that allows for a tail wag after the apex.

The electronic­ally controlled diff can distribute power across the rear axle to help the car adhere to your intended line rather than the nose pushing wide. If you’re game a new “drift mode” lets you steer it with the throttle like a rear-driver. It represents an important change to what has long-been one of the most approachab­le and confidence-inspiring hot hatches on sale, delivering a new level of engagement for those who push its limits.

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R PRICE About $72,500 drive-away

ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 235kW and 400Nm

WARRANTY/SERVICE 5-year/unlimited km, $3000 for 5 years

SAFETY 8 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert

THIRST 7.8L/100km

CARGO 374 litres

SPARE Inflator kit

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