Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring
STEP UP IN CLASS
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
CARGO 374 litres
SPARE Inflator kit