Unlike the R hatch, there’s no manual option, and the standard six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox has its foibles. Imagine you’re stopped at a red light, next to some chap in a spruced-up Focus who’s clearly eager to see what you’ve got.
Unfortunately, by the time the engine stop-start system has woken up and fired the motor, and the gearbox has finished organising first and engaged a clutch, matey in the Ford will be long gone when the light has gone green.
The gearbox also has a habit of chasing high gears to have the fewest revs possible when you’re pottering along - no doubt to help those emissions. That’s fine, but the minute you want a little splurge of acceleration, it rushes back down the box in a panic and sends the revs stratospheric.
There is a fix, though: stick it in manual and use the paddles. Then it’s excellent, with crisp, millisecond-quick changes. I do wish it stopped changing up for you as you approach the red line though - for me, manual should mean manual.
The four-wheel drive system uses a hydraulically operated Haldex 5 centre differential, which most of the time sends all the torque to the front wheels. Importantly though, it can send nearly all of it to the back wheels, and in doing so makes this R Estate as playful and entertaining as the hatch version on the limit. And it’s a high limit too, with tonnes of grip helped by the XDS+ system, which brakes the inside wheels in a corner to tame the four-wheel-drive bogeyman of understeer.
You also get an adaptive steering rack with the R. Often these can defile a helm, but with the Golf R it works pretty well. There’s a welcome urgency as you turn in but without any nervousness around the straight-ahead. And if you select Individual mode, you can tune the weighting to suit your preferences.
If you opt for the (£830) adaptive dampers that our car had, you can calibrate the ride to your liking, too. Even in Comfort it can still thud over sharp ruts and you get a little float off crests, but never to the extent that would jar in everyday use.
Switch to Race mode and the body control is much tighter and the car follows the road with a steely focus, but still with enough compliance to avoid a slipped disc.
Inside you get all the usual Golf functionality, so it simply works as a car should. That said, VW have jazzed it up a bit, with a gloss-black fascia, swanky dials with blue needles and neon blue lighting on the doors and the sill treadplates. The part-Alcantara R sports seats are spectacularly comfortable, too.