The catchment area for the already ill-defined category beyond ‘standard’ hot hatches has become even more hazy recently.
At the opposite extreme, Mercedes-Benz or, more accurately, Mercedes-AMG has almost left the reservation entirely with the outrageous and very pricey 355bhp A45. That leaves a Sudetenland-sized tract of real estate available in between, which the new Golf R – appears well qualified to annex. Although, if the Golf R thinks this middle ground is there for its taking then it should be wary of the equally potent, four-wheel drive Ford Focus RS which has been gaining accolades left, right and centre.
Volkswagen has a long and well regarded history in this niche. Aside from the previous Golf R, this car’s other obvious antecedents are two generations of R32 – models that cemented the range-topper’s use of all-wheel drive.
They were both powered by six-cylinder engines – a leftover from the front-drive VR6 – which were a big-capacity solution to the Mk3’s weight problems. Given the car’s current identity, it’s worth mentioning that the left-hand-drive-only Mk2 Rallye edition, with a supercharged 1.8 and four-wheel drive, also makes an appropriate forerunner.
The GTI may get all the limelight, but for almost as long as that model has been around, VW has conceived of something like the R to outrank it. This senior model is not intended as some rough-shod tearaway, either. Having four-wheel drive, brimming with kit and being both styled with restraint and knowingly expensive, the R is once again intended for grown-ups.
But is it overly mature or modestly brilliant? We’ll know soon enough.
It wasn't enough just to review the Golf R on its own, so we have done the hard work and compared it to its nearest and dearest rivals - including a blast across Valencia against the Ford Focus RS, a triple header with the formidable Honda Civic Type-R and Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy, and an estate battle royale between the Golf R Estate and the rapid Audi RS4 Avant.