Volkswagen Golf R
Does new powerhouse roar to top of the class?
The problem with the V6-engined Golf R32 MkV was that it delivered only a marginal performance advantage over the much cheaper GTI. Volkswagen obviously noted this, because the latest R model has ditched the big six-cylinder engine in favour of a more powerful 266bhp four-cylinder turbo unit.
As before, the newcomer gets four-wheel drive, but this time it’s available with a six-speed manual gearbox, as well as Volkswagen’s quick-shifting DSG semi-auto.
Buyers wanting a head-turning hot hatch should go elsewhere. Other than the bumpers, LED daytime running lights and centrally mounted twin exhausts, it could be mistaken for any Golf. Look closer, and you’ll spot the special alloys and a 25mm lower ride height, but it lacks the visual impact of the RS.
The cabin is equally understated. Apart from some R badging, blue needles on the dials, unique seat fabric and piano black trim, the interior is standard Golf. However, the fit and finish are excellent, while the materials look and feel classy. Quick adjustment of the seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel ensure a near-perfect driving position – certainly better than in the high-set Focus. But its bucket seats are no match for its rival’s.
On start up, the four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine doesn’t sound as exciting as the RS’s unit. Its power delivery is more linear, though, which means the R is deceptively quick. Unfortunately, the wintry conditions meant we were unable to record full performance figures at our test track.
But on the road, the R was able to make the most of its power, thanks to a clever four-wheel-drive system which can shift up to 100 per cent of the engine’s torque to the rear axle in extreme conditions. Strong traction, meaty steering and fine body control combine to make the German machine an all-weather supercar.
It also has the advantage in terms of refinement. The ride is composed, even on our model’s optional 19-inch alloys.
The biggest stumbling block for the Golf is its hefty list price – £30,000 is a lot to pay for a hot hatch, particularly one that looks this subtle. However, there’s no denying the R’s performance, poise and premium feel. Has the suave newcomer done enough to topple the brash Focus?
Volkswagen Golf R 2.0 tsi 4motion
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 266bhp
Claimed 0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
AE economy: 27.3mpg
WHY: VW combines 4WD with a tweaked 2.0-litre turbo engine to make this the fastest Golf on sale.