Motoring journalists just don’t get it. Whenever I read an article about the Golf R, it always seems to involve a racetrack and a comparison with a Focus RS, Honda Type R or some other hardcore device. The reality is track performance has no relevance to the 99 per cent of car enthusiasts.
I feel the reviewers are missing something obvious. In my eyes, the Golf R is not a super-hot hatch or street racer. To me, it is simply the perfect family car.
As a car enthusiast, when it came time to replace the faithful family BMW 3 Series wagon, I cast my net far and wide. The new car would be driven mainly by my wife, and it would need to fulfil her requirements for suburban shopping and lugging around two toddler grandchildren. There are also two young adult sons well over 180cm tall who need to be accommodated for occasional family outings.
Before heading down the dreaded SUV route, and in a wildly hopeful flight of fancy, I convinced the love of my life to have a look at a Golf R. I thought the station wagon might just pass her requirements, and would certainly match my brief for an ‘interesting’ drive. As it so happened, no wagon version was available at the dealership, so we decided to go around the block in the standard R hatch. And god bless her impetuous little heart, she absolutely loved it. “Let’s buy this one!” she said. And so we did. She now calls it the Golf Ratbag!
Now, the Ratbag has an adaptive chassis, so when driven in Comfort mode the ride feels refined and luxurious despite the 19-inch wheels. It’s quiet and comfortable, the newly updated seven-speed ’box slurs smoothly through the gears, and there is always a majestic surge of torque to effortlessly propel you down the road.
Being a Golf it can comfortably seat four adults, and getting kids in and out of their child seats in the back is a doddle (can’t do that in a Focus RS). Being the top-spec Golf means it has all the latest whiz-bang equipment, which makes it feel like a special place to be on the daily commute.
And in Race mode the thing is a beast. The engine not only has a mountain of torque down low, but it comes alive above 4000rpm and encourages you to rev out beyond 6500rpm in a way that is very uncharacteristic of a turbocharged motor.
The chassis is superb, with the Ratbag feeling like it is dancing on its toes the harder you push it. All-wheel-drive traction, a lightning fast seven-speed DSG ’box and a 0–100km/h time of 4.8 seconds means that if you can’t take advantage of that gap in the traffic, it was never there!
Criticisms? With a variable steering rack, lane assist and self-parking, the electric steering – although very direct and accurate – can’t help but feel a little artificial. Also, no-one except fellow car nuts will be impressed by you buying a Golf, and most people will have no idea how special your car is.
I consider the anonymity a bit of a plus. Not being a teenager, I just couldn’t see myself driving the new Honda Type R with that wing and all its scoops and vents around every day. I also find that driven as an automatic, the gearbox changes up to the highest possible gear at every opportunity, which makes the Ratbag feel a little sluggish sometimes. I suppose it is meant to be a fuel-saving thing.
Using the paddle shifters as a manual and keeping the revs just above 2000rpm makes the car feel much more responsive, and I’m still getting less than 10 litres per 100km around town, which for this level of performance is astounding.
Two little annoying things are not being able to lift the windscreen wipers properly to wash the car, and no boot release in the cabin – but now I’m just nitpicking.
All in all, after a month’s ownership I am just starting to scratch the surface of the car’s abilities, and I am loving it more and more every day. And as for the one per cent out there that do venture onto the track – did I mention my other car is a Toyota 86? But that’s another story…