This asking price for this version of the Golf may seem crazy. However, this latest Volkswagen Golf R isn’t only the fastest production hatchback VW has ever built, it also looks like pretty good value when you begin looking at the finer details.
That starting price is nearly £4,000 more expensive than the equivalent GTI, but the new car comes with a whole lot more performance and engineering thrown in.
The engine is a reworked version of the 2.0-litre turbo in the GTI, with power increased by 79bhp to 296bhp.
Maximum torque is up by 30Nm to 380Nm, too – although it comes in 300rpm later, at 1,800rpm. However, it hangs around for 1,100rpm longer than in the GTI, which tails off at 5,500rpm. Anyone seriously considering an R will be interested in these numbers.
But how do they translate in reality? Well, the R’s engine feels just as flexible as the GTI’s from low down but it has much more top-end shove. This means there’s little point spending the extra money on the R if you never plan on wringing its neck every now and again.
Whether or not to spend the money on an R boils down to if you really will exploit its upgrades – and you need to be honest with yourself, because our car’s spec costs more than any other Golf.
Three or five-door models are available on the new Golf R. All get special 18-inch alloys – 19-inch rims are optional – and retuned sports suspension that's 20mm lower than a standard Golf and 5mm lower than a GTI. The Golf R also gets a unique bodykit, redesigned lights and quad exhausts while at the front there’s a chrome bar through the grille.
Buyers will have the choice of eight exterior colours, with the Lapis Blue Metallic in the pictures being made specially for the car. The interior features R-branded sports seats upholstered in cloth and Alcantara, blue lighting and blue instrument needles, a unique gear selector and R-badged multifunction steering wheel.
The interior also gets DAB, USB, Bluetooth, climate and cruise control, aluminium pedals and piano black trim. There’s just enough to set this hottest Golf apart from its rivals - and from the GTI.
Perhaps the best thing about the Golf R is that it lets you use all of its performance. If the front tyres slip, the new 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system can send virtually all of the engine’s power to the rear end in a fraction of a second. Whereas a high-powered front-drive car such as the SEAT Leon Cupra would be left floundering with its traction control light flickering, on a drag-race start the Golf simply digs all four tyres into the Tarmac, grips and goes.
The manual version will do 0-62mph in a mere 5.1 seconds in the hands of an expert. The six-speed DSG’s built-in launch control trims that to 4.9 seconds, regardless of who’s behind the wheel.
The all-wheel grip is even more useful when you encounter bends – and the tighter they are, the more impressive the R becomes. You get the same variable steering rack as the GTI, which takes only two turns lock-to-lock. But halfway through a corner you can really feel the benefit of the traction coming from the rear to help drive you out of the apex.
No front-wheel-drive car can match it, no matter whether it’s fitted with a limited-slip diff. If you want to have some real fun, turning off the traction control fully disengages the system. However, the Golf R is so balanced that to destabilise it you’ll need to be doing silly speeds to get the back end sliding, so that’s best left for the track. But provoke it and it’ll play, although it’s not as adjustable as the rear-drive BMW M135i.
That pretty much sums up who this car is aimed at – people who until now didn’t think a Golf R was focused or fun enough. This version is. And as a Golf, it’s still comfortable – especially if you have the £815 optional adaptive dampers set to Comfort.
The Volkswagen Golf has had a solid reputation for reliability for over 30 years, and the company also scored a respectable 16th place finish in our 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. The car comes with a 60,000-mile warranty as standard, too.
As for safety, the Golf R gets the same Euro NCAP rating as the normal Golf, the full five stars - that's partly thanks to the curtain and driver's knee airbags and stability control, which are both standard. Plus, there are systems in place that automatically brake for you if it senses a low-speed collision to stop you getting too close to the car in front.
Despite its pace, the R is still a Golf – so that means plenty of space inside. So you have a reasonable sized glovebox, huge door bins both front and back, a drawer under the driver’s seat, a large central cubby under the arm rest and a couple of cup holders. There is plenty of adjustment in the seating position and this plus height adjustment for the driver’s seat and reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel means that most people will be able to find their ideal driving position.
There is plenty of space even for adults in the back seats though the transmission tunnel does get in the way of the middle passenger.This middle position is worse in the R model than the normal Golf on account of its sculptured rear sports seats which are designed mainly for two. It’s a similar story with the boot.
The rear differential for the all-wheel-drive system is located under the boot floor and means that the load volume is reduced by 37 litres over the normal Golf to 340 litres, which is still pretty reasonbable.
Considering the supercar levels of performance the Golf R’s 40.9mpg economy and emissions of 159g/km of carbon dioxide are really impressive. The manual fares slightly worse with figures of 39.8mpg and 165g/km but they are hardly bad.
A car capable of such pace is never going to be cheap to insure, but compared to similarly fast models the Golf R is surprisingly affordable. It helps that it comes with VWs range of driver assistance systems that you get with the normal Golf.
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