Finally, the wait is over. It’s been a whole year since deliveries of the latest Volkswagen Golf R got under way in the UK, a year since we discovered what a high-achieving driver’s car the mega-hatch is in Mk7 guise.
For various reasons, we’ve had to bide our time until now to get our hands on one for long-term appraisal, getting more and more excited as the Golf R won our ‘best in the wet’ shootout and then earned the number one spot in our list of the top 50 cars on sale in the UK.
On the face of it, the Golf R represents remarkable value for money. For just a whisker over £30k in three-door manual form, you get 296bhp from a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, all-wheel drive and a level of performance well beyond that of regular hot hatches such as the Ford Focus ST.
The five-door, dual-clutch automatic Golf R we’ve chosen starts at £32,220, but that’s still significantly cheaper than performance rivals such as the BMW M135i auto and Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG.
Whichever bodystyle you go for (there’s also going to be an intriguing estate version soon), the Golf R is a handsome-looking (if understated) car by hatchback standards, especially with the Lapiz Blue paintwork and optional 19in ‘Pretoria’ alloy wheels of our car. I’ve never been a fan of the factory wheel offerings on fast Golfs in the past, GTI included, so it’s pleasing to find that there’s a genuinely desirable option on the R this time.
Inside, we’ve upgraded to Carbon/Grey nappa leather — a strange name, given that the centre sections are actually beige, but the two-tone hide does a welcome job of brightening up the cabin. It costs a hefty £2615, but for that you also get the heated front seats that would otherwise be part of the winter pack (which becomes hardly worth having, I now realise, because all it adds is heated windscreen washer jets).
Other desirable options fitted to our car include the Discover Navigation Pro multimedia upgrade (£1765), with an 8.0in touchscreen, and the £815 Dynamic Chassis Control, which brings adaptive dampers and a revised batch of driving modes that includes a relaxed Comfort setting. Among the five modes, there’s also a Race setting that allows the driver to fully deactivate the stability control for the first time, and Eco, which introduces a coasting function for economical cruising.
Although my normal preference these days is an automatic gearbox over a manual, in the Golf R’s case the decision wasn’t clear-cut in favour of two pedals. The DSG model may be slightly quicker (0-62mph in 4.9sec, compared with 5.1sec for the manual) and more economical (40.9mpg versus 39.8mpg), but VW’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox isn’t necessarily the best of its breed for smoothness or shift speed, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’ve made the right choice.
First impressions, though, are overwhelmingly positive. The Golf R is not only effortlessly fast but also sounds amusingly growly under acceleration (synthesised but a welcome dose of character nonetheless), and it takes no time at all to realise that the way it rides, handles and steers is really rather special. It’s incredibly comfortable by most performance hatchback standards, too.
Although the Golf R’s star quality is already evident, we’re confident that there’s much more to learn about it from living with one for nine months. Personally, I’ll be interested to see if the VW can supplant the six-cylinder BMW M135i auto as my favourite mega-hatch. That won’t be an easy task, but the Golf R appears to have all of the tools required. Either way, it’s going to be a rewarding nine months for all of us.