You've done the Volkswagen Golf GTI and now want something with sharper teeth? Try the latest Golf R. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Volkswagen Golf R is back, this time trying to face down some serious competition. It's come equipped though, packing all wheel drive and an uprated 310PS output that sees 62mph flash by in under 5 seconds. It'll also register better than 40mpg on the combined cycle. Your everyday supercar is right here. There's now even a desirable 'Performance Pack' option.
The GTI might be the definitive sporty Golf but there are those for whom even this iconic sports hatch doesn't quite deliver the goods. They want more. More grip, more speed, more presence, just more. The thing is, the market for exactly this sort of thing has been turned on its head by cars like BMW's M140i. Here's a car that delivers more. 340PS to be exact, and offers a premium badge in the process for less than £33,000. Volkswagen needed to respond and deliver a vehicle that could put the upstart M140i in its place.
The GTI can't do that, even in its uprated 245PS 'Performance Pack' guise. But here's a Golf that can. The recently upgraded Golf R model, which now packs a 310PS punch and, unlike the BMW, has standard AWD. All for prices that start at around £32,000. Wolfsburg has hit back and hard. Go for the DSG version and you get the option of a 'Performance Pack' with uprated brakes and larger wheels, plus you can now specify a bespoke sports exhaust.
That 310PS power output is the headline number as far as the Golf R is concerned but delve a little deeper and you'll find some other facts that might stop you in your tracks. In manual form it gets to 62mph in just over 5 seconds, but unleash its potential with a DSG twin-clutch sequential transmission and you can expect a few tenths to be shaved from that benchmark. Power is delivered through a quick-reacting Haldex all-wheel drive system, which sends drive to the front wheels during modest throttle loads, but can then direct almost 100 per cent of drive to the rear axle if required. Top speed is limited to 155mph.
The ride height is 20mm lower than the standard Golf's and 5mm lower than the GTI's, while Adaptive Chassis Control (DCC) is an option. This offers a 'Race' mode, which increases damping, reducing body movements in the process. In conjunction with the 'Driver Profile' selector, 'Race' mode also further sharpens the throttle response and alters the shift pattern of the DSG gearbox.
Design and Build
Apart from that hoovered-to-the-tarmac ride height, the Golf R is distinguished by its revised front bumper assembly, indented with massive air inlets, a modified radiator grille with 'R' logo and daytime running lamps that are integrated into the now standard LED headlights, these part of a subtly re-styled front end. Move round to the side and you'll clock the aggressive body-colour sills and matt chrome-capped door mirrors. The R comes as standard with a tasty set of 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 225/40 tyres, but the optional 19-inch alloys are sure to be a popular fit. The brakes are ventilated discs all round, measuring 30mm by 340mm at the front and 22mm by 310mm at the back.
A big part of the Golf VII design process was a determined weight loss plan and the R benefits from this. Its kerb weight of just under 1.5-tonnes might seem quite hefty for a family hatch sized car but factor in the all-wheel drive transmission and it doesn't seem quite so bad. The interior features cloth sports seats with Alcantara bolsters, with leather upholstery available as an option, while the instrument dials are unique to the R and include some smart touches such as blue needles.
Market and Model
The base sub-£33,000 asking price nets you a manual Golf R three-door. You'll pay another £650-odd if you want a five-door, while DSG transmissions tack another £1,400 onto those prices. There's also a Golf R Estate model, though for that, you'll need a £35,000 budget. All variants come with air-conditioning, a Driver Alert system, seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag, five three-point seat belts, ABS with ESP, XDS electronic differential lock and ISOFIX preparation for two rear child seats.
Go for the DSG version and your dealer will offer you the option of an extra cost 'Performance Pack'. This gives you larger 19-inch 'Spielberg' alloy wheels, an uprated 'R-Performance' braking system, a de-restriced top speed and, on the hatch version, an extra rear spoiler lip that adds a useful 20kg of downforce at high speeds. With all Golf R models, there's also the option of a bespoke sports titanium exhaust package that produces a rortier engine note. It'll add nearly £3,000 to the asking price though.
Cost of Ownership
Granted, you don't buy a car like the Volkswagen Golf R to wow your friends with its environmental credentials, but it's hard not to be impressed with a combined fuel consumption of 37.7mpg for the manual car or 40.9mpg if you spring for the DSG transmission. Likewise, emissions are also very good, registering 180g/km for the manual and 160g/km for the DSG. That's for a 3-door model. That's one area where the Golf R scores a decisive advantage over the BMW M140i, which features a 3.0-litre six-cylinder lump up front that the Munich company does very well to massage down to 179g/km and up to 36.2mpg.
The Volkswagen Golf R might seem a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, it's a four-wheel drive, 310PS, two-litre turbo road rocket; the sort of car that you thought had gone out of fashion with the demise of rally replicas like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. On the other, it's a wholly civilised, beautifully built family hatch that can better 40mpg and emits less carbon dioxide than VW's old Lupo GTI. That, more than its incredible performance figures, shows us how times have changed and how fast hatches have needed to rehabilitate themselves or die.
Offering a strong value proposition and no shortage of capability, it's hard to see how this latest Volkswagen Golf R can fail. Can it match the vivacity and excitement delivered by the BMW M140i? That will very much depend on how you like your sports hatches but one thing's for sure. You've never had it so good.