Both the Golf GTI and Golf R are sporty 2-litre preda­tors that could pass as or­di­nary trans­porters, but which wolf from Wolfs­burg is the more de­cep­tive preda­tor?

Torque (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

MAY 2018

LET’S talk about the Volkswagen Golf. Not the gonzo ones you see on these pages; just the reg­u­lar, run-of-the-mill one that seems to have slipped un­no­ticed but in­dis­pens­ably into every­one’s life, re­gard­less of their sta­tion.

The VW Golf is an easy car to de­scribe. It has four wheels, and an en­gine tucked neatly away in front so the un­apolo­get­i­cally box-shaped body, which is only slightly hand­some, can ac­com­mo­date you, your fam­ily and your dog. It is box-shaped, so much so that its door aper­tures are sen­si­bly large and you’ll never hit your head get­ting in or out.

Its steer­ing wheel is the per­fect dis­tance away, the glass ar­eas are gen­er­ous, while the gad­gets fall in­stinc­tively to hands and fin­gers.

Ev­ery­thing about it is just right. Feels just right. When the skies are grey, the traf­fic is op­pres­sive and your day had been one of cease­less ha­rass­ment, you will be glad to see that this Ger­man box is the one that takes you home. Such is the Golf’s un­think­ingly ef­fort­less ease of use.

Buy one of these in your fledg­ling ca­reer, and you could make it all the way to CEO and con­ceiv­ably not be gripped by the temp­ta­tion to im­me­di­ately jet­ti­son it for some­thing flashier, like you would with any one of its less con­fi­dent peers. You would still go to the shops in one, feel­ing noth­ing more than be­nign sat­is­fac­tion that you bought a good car in good taste.

In short, the Golf is a tool of con­veyance per­fected over

gen­er­a­tions to its log­i­cal ex­treme. So, does ram­ming 290 horse­power un­der the bon­net, paint­ing it a ce­les­tial shade of blue, squar­ing off its jaws and pow­er­ing up the rear axle make it even bet­ter? Ab­so­lutely!

Aes­thet­i­cally declar­ing this turn­ing up of the wick is a sub­tle but ef­fec­tive af­fair. By way of a new front bumper, larger in­takes, uniquely cut wheels and the ad­di­tion of mul­ti­ple tailpipes, the Golf R flexes its new­found mus­cle without any­thing ap­proach­ing the vul­gar­ity of the Civic Type R.

As with its GTI sibling, at the end of the day the R still looks like a box. I like that. There is some­thing se­duc­tively against the grain and re­bel­liously anti-fash­ion about a squat hatch with so much malev­o­lent po­tency. Like your chem­istry teacher who just hap­pens to be a meth-cook­ing drug lord.

Nor does its in­side ad­ver­tise hooli­gan­ism. Nat­u­rally, be­ing at the top of the peck­ing or­der, the R gets the full-fat Dis­cover Pro in­fo­tain­ment treat­ment, which in­cludes a 12.3-inch dig­i­tal dis­play in the in­stru­ment bin­na­cle and a 9.2-inch touch­screen with soft­ware so in­tu­itively laid out that the learn­ing curve is a straight line. Oth­er­wise, it is the same high­qual­ity but som­bre en­vi­ron­ment you get in any mod­ern Golf.

If merely sit­ting in the R pro­vides lit­tle clue to the car’s dy­namic tal­ents, start­ing it up and mov­ing off cer­tainly will. While Com­fort mode on the Dy­namic Chas­sis Con­trol still makes for a per­fectly live­able ride that doesn’t pun­ish your spine even after driv­ing 300 kilo­me­tres in a sin­gle day, the hot hatch greets the road start­ing with a firm hand­shake – a re­la­tion­ship that only gets keener from there as you move up the drive modes.

There is an ea­ger­ness to bite into and chew up the tar­mac ab­sent in cook­ing Golfs all the way up to even the GTI, steered by a rack that is un­err­ingly ac­cu­rate and quick but just for­giv­ing enough to never be twitchy. Steer­ing com­fort and sta­bil­ity will never be al­lowed to be prob­lems in Golf-land.

Gen­uine, vi­brant grain­i­ness of feed­back like you get in a Porsche is in­evitably lost in this com­pro­mise, but the lev­els of re­sis­tance are well-judged and match grip lev­els suf­fi­ciently well to in­spire con­fi­dence. The en­gine sure sounds meaty enough, but it does make use of a “res­onator” at the base of the wind­shield to ar­ti­fi­cially man­i­cure and am­plify its singing


voice. But if you were never told, you would never know, and the smoothly man­u­fac­tured rorti­ness is matched nicely to gen­er­ous for­ward thrust that makes il­le­gal speeds dan­ger­ously ef­fort­less to achieve. 290 horse­power may not sound like a lot, but it’s the 380Nm of torque that most im­pres­sively gives the R an om­nipresent alert­ness. There is enough oomph in the en­gine and enough in­tel­li­gence in the 7-speed dual-clutch gear­box for the car to never feel off the boil, re­gard­less of your start­ing speed or gear. Op­por­tu­ni­ties to stretch the mo­tor to its red­line will be very scarce, nor is it of­ten nec­es­sary.

Now it bears men­tion­ing that the R’s 4Mo­tion four-wheel-drive sys­tem is not pro­grammed to be a hooning thug in the way that, say, a Fo­cus RS’s hard­ware is, which by default sends 70% of power to the back. While ca­pa­ble of rout­ing 100% of torque rear­wards, the Golf’s com­put­ers will only bring the rear tyres into play when the fronts have had enough. In ex­tremis, in other words, and that en­gi­neer­ing de­ci­sion tells you that sta­bil­ity is the dy­namic pri­or­ity.

How will that af­fect your en­joy­ment of a spir­ited drive? Very ef­fec­tively. Un­like the ob­vi­ously front-led GTI, the R piv­ots around a point just ad­ja­cent to your hip, neatly ban­ish­ing the feel­ing of ei­ther be­ing dragged by the head or pushed from the bum. It is neu­tral­ity in­car­nate, shuf­fling torque around at the speed of thought.

Out of ev­ery­thing the R does well though, it’s the grip that gets you. The R can rear­range

your lungs to one side of your body, ex­haust all your re­serves of courage, and not even come close to chirp­ing its tyres.

On a tight, knot­ted road, the hatch­back’s un­flap­pa­bil­ity means you can keep your foot on the throt­tle, let the chas­sis hun­ker down with steely re­solve, and never once be made to feel like you have pushed the car be­yond its abil­ity to non­cha­lantly re­spond. This is one of those cars whose dy­namic lim­its you are un­likely to ap­proach, let alone broach on a pub­lic road.

Where this un­flinch­ing sure­foot­ed­ness is most hap­pily ex­ploited, how­ever, is on the ev­ery­day, reg­u­lar roads you drive to work and back on.

Ap­proach a tight­en­ing ra­dius com­ing out of the carpark? Give the throt­tle a lit­tle squirt and scythe around it with a grin. Spot a gap in traf­fic? Lunge for­ward, then stop on a dime.

Soon you will find your­self tak­ing ex­press­way ramps and laser­ing your way around the CBD at speeds tech­ni­cally still le­gal, but un­ap­proach­able in many more skit­tish or less well-re­solved cars. My per­sonal Mazda MX5, while more play­ful and in­ter­ac­tive, would get lost in the dust chas­ing the Golf R.

Would chop­ping off the rear drive­shaft, soft­en­ing ev­ery­thing a smidgen and di­alling the power down to 230hp make a lesser Golf? Ab­so­lutely not! But it took a while for me to fig­ure out how and why.

There is sig­nif­i­cantly and per­cep­ti­bly less power than in the R. Where the R just about qual­i­fies for the term “ex­plo­sive”, the GTI is more com­fort­ably de­scribed as sat­is­fy­ingly quick.

In the 6-speed trans­mis­sion’s

gen­tler pro­grammes, the driv­e­train falls be­low the thresh­old of be­ing able to pro­vide an in­stan­ta­neous and gen­er­ous re­sponse to throt­tle prods. Be­low 50km/h in 4th gear, a down­shift is of­ten nec­es­sary to wake the en­gine up to pull off the dart into space the R would have con­sumed im­me­di­ately.

Without the Per­for­mance Pack, the Golf GTI we have here is armed only with an open dif­fer­en­tial. Mas­sive, sud­den throt­tle in­puts can still make the yel­low trac­tion­con­trol light blink and the steer­ing wheel squirm. Nor will the GTI hold on quite as hard for as long


as the R, lean­ing gently into the cor­ner and fi­nally push­ing wide where the R would have ro­tated vo­ra­ciously and bombed away. Quite fun? Not fun? De­pends on how you look at it. For what all this does is cre­ate a com­mute that is less breath­tak­ingly quick but more in­volved. When you buy a Golf GTI, you are buy­ing a rep­u­ta­tion, an icon. And with ev­ery sub­lime ma­noeu­vre, you en­joy the sig­nif­i­cant plea­sure of dis­cov­er­ing just how de­served that rep­u­ta­tion is.

If the typ­i­cal run­about is a supreme tech­ni­cal demon­stra­tion of front-wheel-drive en­gi­neer­ing, Volkswagen has taken a ma­ligned lay­out and fi­nessed the evil from it.

In­stead of frus­trat­ing un­der­steer, joy-killing wheel hop and one-di­men­sional ret­i­cence, you play at the steer­ing and throt­tle while the beau­ti­fully sorted sus­pen­sion dove­tails with the road and its im­per­fec­tions. The Golf GTI is noth­ing if not beau­ti­fully flu­ent.

There is a tight right-han­der where Lorong Chuan be­comes Seran­goon Gar­den Way that best ekes out the dif­fer­ence in dy­namic iden­tity be­tween these two hot Golfs. It arcs sud­denly, and is at once cam­bered and crested in the mid­dle.

The GTI glides over the sur­face, able to pull it­self through with its front paws if you titrate the con­trols well. The R fol­lows the con­tour and sim­ply re­fuses to let go. Nei­ther ve­hi­cle floats or crashes into its sus­pen­sion, where lesser hatch­backs would ei­ther go dis­con­cert­ingly light or pat­ter alarm­ingly across the sur­face.

There is no ar­gu­ment that the R is the faster Golf. Volkswagen would not have the gall to charge you al­most $40k more if it weren’t. The R goes harder, grips harder and is al­to­gether more se­ri­ous.

De­spite this, the GTI is in no way dis­graced. It is plenty fast enough for dic­ing with traf­fic, for one. Also, in its lack of a pow­ered rear axle is an added di­men­sion of in­ter­ac­tiv­ity. You have to man­age your in­puts in this hot hatch, and in a way that is so re­ward­ing it makes an em­phatic case that front-wheeldrive is not wrong-wheel-drive.

Both these Golfs are de­signed for plea­sure without the pun­ish­ment. The truly amaz­ing thing is how lit­tle these os­ten­si­bly con­tra­dic­tory en­gi­neer­ing ob­jec­tives com­pro­mise each other. If your car is not just your toy but your ev­ery­day means of trans­port, few oth­ers have such breadth of abil­ity. Jekyll and Hyde re­ally can be one (Ger­man) per­son.

If flashier per­for­mance ma­chines are one-night stands with supermodels, the Golf GTI and Golf R are like mar­ry­ing Natalie Port­man. Who, bee tee dubs, is an alum of Har­vard Univer­sity.

Pho­tos Low Fai Ming

Story Dr Kong Yongyao

GTI’s 2-litre (top) gives 230hp and 350Nm, while R’s rortier 2-litre gen­er­ates 290hp and 380Nm.

MAY 2018

These Golf cock­pits have iden­ti­cal ameni­ties, but dif­fer­ent niceties – racy red high­lights for GTI (above), car­bon-look in­serts for R.

MAY 2018

Golf R (blue) is more pow­er­ful, more hard­core and more-wheeldrive; Golf GTI (white) is less ex­plo­sive, but sat­is­fy­ingly fast and beau­ti­fully flu­ent. MAY 2018

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