Historically, the R family line has produced very handsome variations on the stock Golf profile. The aim has always been much the same, described by Volkswagen’s head of design as “a balance between respectability and sportiness, restraint and differentiation”.
The means used to achieve it are familiar, too. The R gets a new front bumper, bigger intakes, a tweaked grille, meatier sills, prettier wheels and many more tailpipes. The 2017 facelift did very little to change this formula, with the introduction of gloss black exterior trim adding to the potent look. The car isn’t perhaps as memorable as during its R32 phase, but it’s more sinewy than the GTI and yet emphatically no more in your face. Job done, then.
The established game plan has been adhered to elsewhere, too. The biggest alteration underneath – aside from the larger but lighter MQB platform – is the replacement of the heavily tuned old four-cylinder ‘EA113’ motor (a leftover from the Mk5 Golf) with the ‘EA888’ unit, which has been fitted to the GTI for the past two generations.
Inevitably, this has been attacked with the spanners. A newly designed cylinder head has been attached, alongside modified pistons, injection valves and turbocharger, yielding a 306bhp output from 5500-6500rpm – 39bhp more than its predecessor delivered. Almost as welcome are the gains made in efficiency, including a 34g/km drop in CO2 emissions.
As before, the power finds its way to all four corners via a six-speed manual gearbox (or an optional seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic) and the latest version of VW’s 4Motion system, including Haldex’s fifth-generation multi-plate clutch and an updated suite of electronic aids.