ROAD TEST: Volkswagen Golf R
The seventh-generation Golf does little wrong, and combines a class-leading brew of refinement, driveability and ride quality. Which is why we voted it as this publication’s 2013 Car of the Year.
The only thing the bread-and-butter Golf models lack is a bit of character, as near-perfection can sometimes breed boredom. The GTI goes a long way towards addressing this with its extra speed and even tauter handling, but the newly-launched Golf R hikes the fun factor another few notches.
This is a Golf in touch with its dark side. The R has a menacing presence with its darkened tail lamps and windows, black brake calipers, a set of exclusive 19” mags, more aggressively-styled bumpers and air scoops, and a quartet of exhausts (compared to the GTI’s two). This detailing endows the Golf’s rather meek styling with a real edge, and gives an appropriate visual depiction of the hellfire beneath.
Hellfire, from a 2-litre engine? Yes indeed. The fangs may be medium-sized but they’re pretty sharp, and behind the grille is a highly-tweaked version of the 2-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo that does duty in the Golf GTI. With 206kW and 380Nm at its disposal the Golf R is 44kW and 30Nm more powerful than the GTI.
Inside, the most powerful Golf is glammed up with carbonfibre inlays and a bottom-flattened steering wheel, but our favourite feature is the nappa-covered bucket seats with their carbonfibre-look side bolsters. As stylish as they are supportive, they’re a R6000 option we’d happily fork out money on.
Other R-specific eye candy includes blue needles for the speedo and tachometer, which illuminate when you open the driver’s door and sweep across their dials when you switch on the ignition. Very cool.
The performance matches the visual flair. Present the Golf R with a clear road and it raises all sorts of hell as it romps from rest to 100km/h in a very spirited 5.2 seconds. This high-altitude time we attained was just 0.2 secs off VW’s sea-level claim, and makes the Golf R the second quickest hatchback we’ve yet tested – slower only than the fire-spitting, 265kW Mercedes A45 AMG. A quarter-mile time of just 13.5 seconds also gives the Golf R a commanding place in our quarter-mile kings chart, while the usual governed 250km/h top speed applies.
The Golf R can reel off these swift sprints all day thanks to an easy-to-use launch-control system which comes with the six-speed DSG transmission. The numbers are impressive and so is the seat-of-the-pants feel. The performance is lag-free and a rampant rush of acceleration is always a quick throttle-prod away, making this a deeply satisfying drive.
This rapidness is accompanied by a very vocal and deep-throated howl, and it is here where the car most evocatively expresses its dark side. How VW managed such a raunchy roar from a four-cylinder engine we don’t know, but kudos to them.
There’s a lighter side to things with the 11.3 litres per 100km our test car averaged, which is respectably frugal consumption for this kind of power. If you can control your boy-racer impulses that figure should drop below 10 litres, but VW’s 6.9 litre claim seems more than a little far-fetched.
There’s some clever technology keeping this car stuck to the tar.
In addition to electronic stability control and 4Motion permanent all-wheel drive there’s an XDS+ electronic torque transfer system performing the same function as a limited-slip diff. A two-stage stability control system offers a reduced-intervention mode which allows some wheel-sliding fun before saving your bacon.
The effectiveness of this high-techery came into play when we tested the Golf R on a handling track in a light drizzle. In the slightly slippery conditions the car felt very composed and grippy, with very quick steering that made it scurry through s-bends like a startled rodent. It revels in being pushed hard and the throttle can be booted early out of tight corners with no leery moments of under- or oversteer.
The steering’s more direct than a regular Golf’s and becomes progressively firmer as the pace heats up. It feels beautifully weighted, and because of the power being directed to both axles there’s no torque steer either. The one drawback of the all-wheel drive is it gives the car a rather wide turning circle when parking or making u-turns.
R Sports suspension comes standard but an option fitted to the test car was Adaptive Chassis Control which allows the driver to select between Eco, Normal, Individual and Race modes on a dash-mounted touchscreen monitor. It affects damping, engine response and gearbox shifting points, and so too the intensity of the exhaust howl.
The suspension – whichever stiffness mode is selected – does a fair job of coping with bumps in a not-too spine-crushing fashion, but potholes are a nemesis to the low-profile 19” mags.
How we didn’t bend a rim on Gauteng’s crater-infested roads I don’t know.
At a price of R462 200 the Golf R comes gizmoed-up to its eyeballs, and standard fare includes items like rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlamps, cruise control, heated front seats, climate control, and a 5.8” touchscreen audio system with Bluetooth, SD Card and USB port.
You’ll have to pay ten grand extra for the Adaptive Chassis Control and 18 grand for the Discover Pro navigation system.
It’s fairly straightforward to make a high-performance car but a little harder to give it real charisma. As an Idols judge might say it needs sound, stage presence, and that certain X-factor. The Golf R has all three. For its handling, high-adrenaline performance and rebel yell, it’s our favourite Golf yet.
Volkswagen Golf R
Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: Six-speed double-clutch DSG
Power: 206kW @ 5500-6200rpm
Torque: 380Nm @ 1800-5500rpm
0-100km/h (tested): 5.2 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 250km/h
Consumption (tested): 11.3 litres per 100km
Price: R486 200
Warranty: Three-year/120 000km
Maintenance plan: Five-year/90 000km
Audi S3 Sportback AT (206kW/380Nm) - R500 500
BMW M135i 5-door AT (235kW/450Nm) - R522 243
Opel Astra OPC (206kW/400Nm) - R480 400
Renault Megane RS Cup (195kW/360Nm) - R399 900