If you consider VW’s GTI brand to be akin to Ford’s ST, then R is more like Ford’s RS: more extreme, more brash. And the firm has allowed the Golf R’s dynamic make-up to expand in those areas – within some Volkswagen constraints, as you’d imagine.
So although there’s optional Adaptive Chassis Control – which progressively firms the dampers, sharpens throttle response and reduces steering assistance as you flick through the modes – the ride starts out firm and ultimately becomes brittle over some surfaces in the firmest settings. But with it comes a welcome keenness and alertness that’s missing from the more rounded, much less incisive Golf GTI.
The Golf R’s demeanour is much more intense than that of the GTI. Despite very quick steering off straight-ahead, the response feels intuitive, and despite being electric, it’s endowed with what passes for genuine feel.
It’s engaging in a way that’s beyond most front-wheel-drive alternatives – beyond a Vauxhall Astra VXR or Seat Leon Cupra and almost up there with a BMW M140i for feel and involvement. It’s tied down, secure, agile and keen, in a slightly old-fashioned way. It's firm yet responsive.
What helps, of course, is that the Golf isn’t exclusively front-wheel drive, so whereas some rivals with this much poke would wash wide under power and have over-assisted steering to prevent corruption, instead the Golf pushes power towards its rear wheels when the fronts find it tough.
And although the Golf is mostly a front-led car, pushing power to the rear only when things get difficult, the hydraulic system is at least electronically controlled so it can push all of the power to the rear if it wants to, allowing Volkswagen a vast range of tuning that it has utilised well to make the R a truly throttle-adjustable and enjoyable steer.
In its honesty and feedback, there are shades of a mid-1990s rally replica to the Golf R – it’s that keen and committed. On bad roads, this results in an occasional harshness and kickback, but the R just feels very honed most of the time. There’s precious little dive under hard braking and turn-in is sharp and accurate. Despite the quickening steering ratio, the rack feels intuitive, too.
Initially, the car will lean towards understeer – as it should – but the limits are so high that you’re unlikely to reach them very often on the road. It’s more likely that it’ll scythe through a corner, giving impressive response and feedback, and that you’ll only broach those limits on a circuit.
Do so there, though, and the Golf displays an impressive neutrality for a hatchback. There’s lift-off turn-in, the four-wheel drive system shuffles power around and, should you get back on the power, it’ll push into a four-wheel drift, especially in the wet.
Very few modern hot hatches drive with such incisiveness and verve.