What is it?
According to VW the new £28,930 Golf R is “the most powerful and fastest accelerating Golf ever produced.” And seeing as it has 267bhp from its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, and can hit 62mph in just 5.7sec (or 5.5sec with the optional DSG transmission fitted), it’s hard to argue against VW’s claims.
Not that you’d ever realise just how potent the Golf R is merely by looking at it. Given how much poke it has and how quick it undeniably is, this has to be one of the subtlest genuine high performance hatchbacks there has ever been.
Apart from its twin exhausts, mildly restyled black door mirrors, LED running lights and tiny rear boot spoiler, you’d simply not pick this car as anything special were it to pass you in the high street. In reality, a GTi on 19in wheels probably looks meaner in the raw, despite the R’s tinted rear windows and its almost too-subtle badging front and rear.
What does make a difference visually is the reduced ride height. Thanks to the R’s slightly stiffer suspension and new ride height it sits some 25mm nearer to the ground than normal. While this doesn’t quite provide the R with the full Cal-look low rider appearance, it does makes it appear more purposeful than normal if you look closely enough.
Mechanically the big difference is the addition of a new version of VW’s 4-Motion all-wheel-drive system. Apart from allowing the R to handle the extra power and torque that has been squeezed from the venerable 2.0-litre VW engine (it’s actually the same lump as you’ll fid in an Audi S3), the 4WD system endows the R with more on-road decorum in virtually every way, even if it does ad a few unwanted kilos to the kerbweight.
What’s it like?
Look at the raw performance figures and you might expect this to be VW’s answer to hot rods such as the Focus RS and Mugen Civic Type R. But in reality the R is nothing of the sort. It’s very rapid, yes, but it’s also a smooth, grown up, refined kind of hot hatch, very much in the same vein as the old six cylinder R32 but, sadly, without the creamy soundtrack to go with it.
What the R is categorically not is a B-road monster. It rides extremely well for such a rapid hot hatch, and the noise emitted from its big-ish 225/40 18in tyres is unusually well suppressed. On a motorway it doesn’t feel a whole lot less refined than a Passat, or, indeed, a more regular member of the Golf family.
Is it wooden in feel, as so many quick Golf have been in the past? No, but neither is it what you’d call cutting edge dynamically. VW’s aim with this car is to attract the kind of customer who likes the wolf-in-sheeps clothing approach, hence the reason the ride is so well resolved and the engine/exhaust note are so reserved.
This same restrained, well thought out but slightly plain approach also applies to the interior, which boasts a great pair of front seats and the odd R logo to distinguish it above other Golf, but not much else. The whole thing is quite beautifully put together, however, and this does lend the R an unusually mature feel, not just inside but on the road – and in the showroom as well.
Should I buy one?
It depends what sort of person you are, and what sort of hot hatch you like to drive. If you’re a Focus RS kind of bloke (or bloke-ess) then the R is unlikely to appeal. But if you like a more subtle approach and don’t want the rest of the world to know how fast your car really is, the R could be right up your street.
You will need to like its subtle approach an awful lot, however, because at nigh-on £29k before you have added the must-have DSG option, it costs significantly more than its obvious competition, most of which is more exciting to drive. As ever, you pays your money…
*Please note that the car was tested in all conditions, not just snow as depicted.