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. 

Matt Prior

Matt Prior

Editor-at-large
Transmission options include a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic

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.

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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.

The multi-plate clutch at the heart of the Golf R’s Haldex 5 all-wheel drive system is familiar enough, using an electro-hydraulic oil pump to engage and send almost 100 percent of available torque to the rear axle when a control unit deems it necessary.

Volkswagen says that shorter response times and an optimisation of the amount of torque sent rearwards in “specific driving situations” (in other words, aggressive cornering) has helped the R to achieve a more neutral handling balance.

The manufacturer also claims pseudo transverse differential locks on both axles to go with the longitudinal one by virtue of the electronic differential system (EDS), integrated into the stability control, that brakes a slipping inside wheel, letting drive make its way uninterrupted to the opposite side.

Known as four-wheel EDS, the system is enhanced on the Golf R (as it was on the Golf GTI) with the inclusion of XDS+, essentially a cleverer line of software code that works to minimise understeer and thereby improve agility.

Additionally – and notably, because it cannot be performed in the GTI or any other Golf – the electronic stability control can be fully deactivated in the R if the ESC button is held for three seconds.

As with the GTI, there are MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link set-up at the rear, but both have been structurally tweaked for better rigidity and the R’s ride height dips by a further 5mm.

The new model also shares its stablemate’s progressive, electrically powered steering ratio, aggressively metered to take just 2.1 turns between lock stops.

Three-, five-door and estate variants of the Golf R are offered.

Volkswagen was shrewd enough to notice that some of its Golf R buyers would feel inclined to use it on a track day and to improve its track appeal an optional Performance Pack has been offered. The pack doesn't see any fettling done to the 2.0-litre TSI unit, but changes made elsewhere to reduce weight and increase downforce to give enhanced track pace and consistency. 

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