The stunning Golf R is sure to get your adrenaline racing
Volkswagen Golf R
I pulled up at a set of traffic lights, the lights were red. I had 300 horses under the bonnet, four-wheel drive and a gearbox that could change quicker than you could think about it — and a glorious noise bellowing from the four pipes at the rear.
I glanced over to my right to find the driver nodding his head at me, but this wasn’t a challenge for a drag race, or a sign of his affection — or maybe it was — it was a nod of approval.
I was sitting in the stunning new Golf R, wrapped in electric blue, and had a smile on my face that would shame a clown. I got many thumbs up and nodding heads during my week but what made this one stick in my mind was the fact that he, too, was sitting in a gleaming new Golf R.
His shiny red model looked equally gorgeous, and as we pulled away slowly from the lights we couldn’t have been in a better place. The difference being, I had to hand mine back after a week while he had years of pleasure ahead of him.
The Golf R, for me, has been a bit of a strange being. I have broadcast my love for the GTi many times in this column and it is still the pinnacle of hot hatches. The R was, and will always be, a beast. It was more aggressive to drive than the GTi and that’s the reason I favoured the more serene GTi.
The latest R is an animal. But it’s two types of animal. While before it was a dominant male lion roaming the streets, the latest version has a much softer side. Much like the GTi, it can be driven in a pleasant manner without the need to reach the red line but, when prompted, it will throw you back in the seat and get your adrenaline racing.
Driving around the city streets the R has manners, and the DSG (€1,815 option) is so smooth it changes gears effortlessly making the driving experience much more of a Sunday drive than a Saturday racer.
But don’t be fooled, when you get a nice stretch of road that has a few twisty sections, and you need to plant your right foot and listen to the orchestra out the back, the R comes into its own. The higher up the rev range the more aggressive it becomes.
With 300bhp coming from the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, and the added benefit of Volkswagen’s all-wheel-drive system, the R is a highly capable hatch with unbelievable handling.
It sticks to the road like glue and it begs you to power through the corners. It almost feels like it’s on rails.
The suspension is sporty enough to allow you to have fun, but isn’t too harsh on a daily drive. The seats are excellent, with plenty of support to keep you in the seat when tackling the hairpins, and the feel through the steering wheel lets you know what’s happening beneath.
The R sits 20mm lower than the standard Golf, and with the addition of 19-inch alloys, four exhausts and a few R badges, it’s subtle enough for a hyper-hatch.
Cars like Opel’s Astra OPC and the new Honda Civic Type R wear their hot-hatch clothes very well, with huge spoilers and side skirts that are more in your face and, although I love the GTi’s understated design, I think the R needs to be a little more aggressive in the style stakes.
It does sound glorious though. The noise that resonates on a cold morning is like something with a much bigger displacement, and it really gets angry under hard acceleration, which is why the economy wasn’t all that great during my week, as I found myself racing through the gears at every opportunity.
Volkswagen Ireland dropped €9,550 off the price of the Golf R last year, which brings it much closer to the Golf GTi with the performance pack at €37k. It’s a tempting proposition for those who want the hottest of hot hatches. Cars like the OPC and Type R will be closer again to the R, so it’s priced very well against its nearest rivals, and featuring the same inners as the Audi S3, but cheaper, it sounds like an excellent buy.
Would I want the R over a GTi? I’m not that sure to be honest. I could count on one hand the number of times during my week’s test that the R would have outshone the GTi, and it was only in short bursts, and that’s the point, for Irish roads, our speed limits, and my driving style, the Golf GTi is the best car for the job.