Pictures: Denis Droppa.

Johannesburg - As part of a range-wide rev-up for the Volkswagen Golf, the high performance flagship gained a few extra kiloWatts to keep it at the sharp end of the hot-hatch grid.

Power in the 2-litre turbo engine was tweaked from 206kW to 213kW, while torque in the all-wheel drive car remains at 380Nm. It’s done the trick, and when we took the updated Golf R to Gerotek for acceleration tests it outsprinted its predecessor, scooting from 0-100km/h in just 4.86 seconds (VW claims 4.6 secs at sea level) compared to the previous car’s 5.18 secs. The quarter mile is also improved from 13.53 secs to 13.16 secs.

This places the Golf R in some elite company, as you can see in the performance comparison chart below. 

All the cars in this list were tested by us at Gauteng altitude using a satellite-based Racelogic Vbox. If the Golf’s acceleration figures appear a little too quick for its relative engine outputs, that’s par for the course as VWs always seem to punch above their weight; we’ve long suspected that Volkswagen underquotes the true power and torque figures of its cars.

And, as we’ve often said it’s not just about power but how the car lays it down. Racing off the line quickly in the Golf R is child’s play with the launch control system that allows you to build up the revs while you left-foot brake, while the 4Motion all-wheel drive ensures there’s zero wheelspin off the line. Sub five-second 0-100 times all day, no fuss.

We also took the car around Gerotek’s dynamic handling track, where it danced through the bends in suitably nimble style. VW’s sportiest Golf attacks the curves with crisp steering and well-surpressed body roll, though on the limits I’d have preferred a tad more rear bias in the all-wheel drive car. It was very neutral handling up to a point, but at the ragged edge it still tends towards understeer if you don’t employ your Finnish-flick technique. 

The brakes are powerful too and take a reasonable amount of punishment without overheating, making the Golf R a suitable toy for track days.

The new, quicker-shifting seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox is a delight. It’s so slick, and shifts so intuitively, that you don’t feel the need to employ the steering wheel paddles.

At the press of a button the car’s personality can be adapted to four different modes: eco, comfort, normal, race and individual. 

Stick it into race and the steering, dampers, and transmission all go into full assault mode, and so does the exhaust which adopts a much fuller, rortier sound that prickles the hairs on your arms.

For all its high-performance poise the Golf R makes for a respectably practical form of daily transport. The car rides surprisingly comfortably and impressed me with its relative waftability on imperfect roads, although those 19” low profile tyres don’t like being rushed over very bumpy sections.

Like the new GTI, the Golf R gets a slight exterior makeover in the form of new bumpers and standard LED lights front and rear. The quad tailpipes have been moved further towards the outer edges.

Standard in the new car is a 20.3cm touchscreen infotainment system, and our test car was fitted with the fancier 23.4cm Discover Pro navigation touchscreen with gesture control, which adds R22 000 to the bill. 

The new non-touch swipe function on the audio system needs a little extra research and development, I’d say. I occasionally changed radio stations accidentally when moving my hand towards the touchscreen for something else, for instance to change the volume. On that note, I’m sorry to see the demise of the good old volume knob in the newly revamped Golf cockpit, replaced by less user-friendly buttons (small ones at that). It’s so much easier to quickly twiiiirrrl the volume up or down than jab-jab-jab-jab-jab-jab it.

The R647 300 price tag comes fairly well stocked but the seats still have to be adjusted manually, not electrically. It does however come standard with an Active Info Display digital instrument cluster and a panoramic sunroof.

VERDICT

The new Golf R is a fine sports machine with all the speed, noise and poise you’d expect from the king of VW’s hot hatch range. 

Spending nearly 650k on a Golf might seem hard to swallow, but the price tag looks a lot better in the context of bang-for-the-buck against its rivals, as the comparison chart shows.

PERFORMANCE CHART

VolkswagenFordAudiBMW
Golf RFocus RSS3 SportbackM2 Coupe
PriceR647 300R699 900R646 000R968 910
Engine2.0 turbo2.3 turbo2.0 turbo3.0 turbo
GearboxDual-clutchmanualDual-clutchDual-clutch
DriveAWDAWDAWDRWD
Power216kW257kW228kW272kW
Torque380Nm440Nm400Nm500Nm
0-100km/h4.86 sec5.03 sec4.98 sec4.58 sec
1/4 mile13.16 sec13.58 sec13.29 sec12.91 sec
60-120km4.39 sec3.99 sec4.74 sec3.85 sec

* All cars tested at Gerotek test centre in Tshwane using Racelogic Vbox