Volkswagen created the hot hatch segment when it launched the original Golf GTI in the late 1970s, and it has continued to produce class-leading cars in the space ever since. The German manufacturer has released a newly-updated Golf R for 2017, which sits above the Golf GTI in the performance stakes and rivals fast hatches like the Ford Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R. With tweaked styling, power increased to 310bhp and new technology inside, it’s a more potent package and the fastest Golf ever made, but is it hot enough to tempt buyers away from the competition? We recently spent a week living with the Golf R on Irish roads to find out.
What is it like?
The Golf R packs enthralling performance, but it’s pretty unassuming to look at from the outside. Look closer and you’ll notice a quartet of exhaust pipes at the rear, large brake callipers and R badges dotted around the exterior, which demonstrate it isn’t an average Golf however. Changes for 2017 include new LED headlights and brake lights along with reshaped bumpers. Our test car is finish in a deep black pearl effect paint scheme, which matches the optional 19-inch Pretoria alloy wheels very nicely indeed. In terms of styling, the Golf R is understated compared to its rivals like the new Honda Civic Type R.
The updated Golf R feels more connected inside thanks to a digital dash display in front of the driver and a slick new 8-inch touch screen display screen in the centre console. The sports seats are emblazoned with ‘R’ logos and feel supportive as you sit inside, while the new infotainment screen can be operated with gesture control, which means you can control certain functions by waving your hand in the air. Once again, the Golf R’s cabin isn’t necessarily as racy as its rivals, and it is available in both three and five door models. Our test car is the five door and extra touch of practicality as a result.
And now for the talking point; the 2.0-litre TFSI petrol engine which powers the Golf R. It now puts out an increased 310bhp and torque stands at 400Nm, which combined with Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, is an incredibly potent combination. Our Golf is fitted with a six-speed-manual transmission and it can cover the 0-100km/h sprint in just 4.8 seconds, while the automatic DSG version cuts this to 4.6 seconds. We can't think of may hathcback cars which accelerate as quickly as the Golf R from a standstill, and it will go on to a top speed of 250km/h should you ever find yourself on the Autobahn.
The Golf R is incredibly exhilarating to drive with a throaty exhaust note that is artificially boosted through speakers in the cabin, and it’s very impressive just how well it puts all of its power down on the road, even in wet conditions. It isn’t very economical though but that’s to be expected, with annual motor tax at €750 and the best fuel economy we could manage was 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres (circa 31 MPG) with a mixture of driving. Different driving modes can be selected through the touch screen display with Volkswagen’s optional Adaptive chassis control (DCC), including ‘Eco’, ‘Comfort’, ‘Normal’, ‘Race’ and customisable ‘Individual’ modes.
The Golf R is incredibly powerful, yet it is confident inspiring out on the road and never feels overwhelming. Through tight corners it offers exceptional levels of grips with the standard all-wheel-drive system, and even on Ireland’s often wet roads, all of its 310bhp is easily managed. Although the suspension is stiffened for improved road holding capabilities, it’s forgiving enough for the majority of Ireland’s back roads and comfort is good. All of this means the Golf R is just as suited to daily commuting, as it is to hot laps on track.
In Ireland, prices for the Volkswagen Golf R start from €44,795 which is considerably lower than the Ford Focus RS (€52k+) but more expensive than the new Golf GTI (€37,795). While many will consider this for a Golf, it offers unprecedented performance levels and a strong level of standard specification too. All Golf R’s are equipped with features like LED headlights, park distance control, the active information display, adaptive cruise control and the touch screen display that we discussed earlier, which is incidentally far superior to what you will find in a Focus RS.
Carzone verdict: 4.5/5
Few cars combine sheer performance, driving thrills and everyday practicality quite like the new Volkswagen Golf R. It trumps many of its rivals with astonishing acceleration and handling credentials, yet it still serves well as a daily commuter (it is a Golf after all). While the Golf R's main rivals have a racier look and feel (new Honda Civic Type R and Focus RS), it must be commended for the way it excites from the driver's seat. Yes, the Golf R is considerably more expensive to buy than the GTI, but it is in a different league to be fair and we feel the increase is most definitely justified.