With a slight power climb, added tech and that same AWD composure, the Volkswagen Golf R has few rivals in the performance hatch stakes.
It could have been the late Eighties (might have been the Nineties actually) but before GIFs and memes, there was a popular term – ‘blinding flash of the obvious’. BFO it would be now wouldn’t it? Well, I’ve got a BFO for you.
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf R is excellent. Yeah I know, surprise, surprise.
Hot on the heels of the announcement that an even more affordable R – the Golf R Grid – will hit our shores late in 2017, CarAdvice is at the local launch of the GTI, GTI Performance Edition 1 and the range topping R, on the back roads around Lithgow and the Jenolan Caves in NSW.
While the Golf R plies its trade in the mundane grind of city traffic more often than not, these variable, coarse chip, winding country roads offer up the perfect playground to push the AWD performance hatch to its outer limits, thus questioning its credentials as the best, most capable Golf ever.
Is it then? You better believe it.
You can read our full pricing and specification story for all the details but the basic breakdown is this – the Golf R is as capable as always, but now even more affordable. While we don’t know exact numbers, the R Grid will start below $50k, while the R we tested at launch will start from $52,990 (manual) and $55,490 (DSG), before on-road costs.
We drove R with both the six-speed manual and seven-speed DSG at launch, and while it’s hard to argue with the outright precision of the DSG, the manual gearbox is excellent, even around town. If you love manual cars then, the manual gearbox in the R is absolutely one to consider. In a hot hatch of the Golf’s ilk, it makes a lot of sense too.
The Golf R’s engine remains a refined powerhouse, pumping out 213kW and 380Nm and in effect, the R (as befits a range topper) comes equipped with the best of everything.
The 9.2-inch Discover Pro system is excellent, gesture control works faultlessly, Apple CarPlay did too, and the 12.3-inch Active Info driver’s display is classy, modern and beautifully executed. The Vienna leather upholstery is tasteful, the front seats are heated and the driver’s seat electrically adjustable too.
Exterior highlights cover the mild changes for the 7.5 update, as well as 19-inch Spielberg alloy wheels, premium LED tail-lights with dynamic indicators, and auto LED headlights with dynamic cornering lights.
The Golf R cabin nails the perfect balance between sporting pretension and premium execution in that it is comfortable but driver-focused. The twin screens are both exceptional in design and the way they display whatever information you choose to view, and the general driver-focused seating position and control layout is near perfect, too.
We found the seating position for the driver to be spot on in both manual and DSG variants of the R, and all round visibility is also excellent. There’s a clear rear-view camera to help with reverse parking manoeuvres, but the inherently excellent visibility coupled with the Golf’s compact dimensions makes low speed parking a breeze anyway.
I love the customisable driver’s display, with my preference being for smaller dials at the outer edge and the navigation screen in the middle. That leaves the centre stack screen for phone information, music, or whatever else you want to keep an eye on.
The proof of the Golf R is in the driving though, not the comfort offered up by the interior. You choose the Golf R over a GTI variant for its AWD capability, higher power output, and real world performance ability.
Sure, you need deeper pockets to step up from GTI to R, but the Golf R is the thinker’s hot hatch, for those who desire more stability, and outer reaches of performance that are easier (and safer) to access than a FWD GTI.
Where the Golf R shines brightest is in its all-purpose ability. It can roll around town in comfort, hit the highways with ease and hook into a twisty road with gusto. All with seating for four adults, usable luggage space and the ability to just about fly completely under the radar.
In Eco or Comfort drive modes the Golf R is effortless, quiet and refined. The Continental tyres transmit only the barest hint of road noise into the cabin, even on coarse chip surfaces and at cruising speeds, you could be in the cabin of any beautifully crafted, luxury car.
The stop/start system is responsive, the steering direct and beautifully weighted and the brakes decisive. The quiet burble from the exhaust pipe belies the performance of the engine beneath the bonnet.
Switch over to either Race or Sport modes though, and things start to get simultaneously interesting, and fun.
In Race mode, the R is a rocketship in hatch terms. The exhaust note deepens and sounds more serious, even if it isn’t as loud as we’d like. In fact, the soundtrack – a little too muted for our liking – is one of only two gripes we have with the R after two solid days behind the wheel. In Race mode especially, the R definitely needs a nastier note.
The R features launch control – should you wish to use it – but even without launch active, the R fires off the line rapidly. Outputs of 213kW and 380Nm are serious numbers in the hatch class and they propel the R from 0-100km/h in just 4.8 seconds with the DSG. Not so long ago, that 0-100 time would have been full-on sportscar acceptable.
What’s most addictive when you hammer the throttle pedal is the thumping power delivery through the mid range. The R jabs hard from just off idle, hammers even harder through the middle of the rev range, and then keeps punching all the way up to redline when you ask the DSG to move into the next gear. The acceleration is relentless, corners rushing up at you faster than you expect, before you’re hard on the brakes and tipping into the apex.
We love manual gearboxes at CarAdvice, but the rapid fire nature of the DSG when you cross over to manual shift mode, mounts a compelling case for covering ground as quickly as you’re able. There’s a subtle blip on down shift, and the DSG fires up through the ratios at speed with lightning precision.
When you do let off the brakes and turn in, the Golf R bites hard into the hot mix, the front end never wavering from your desired line. The feedback through the wheel is perfect, the front tyres delivering incredible feel and grip on any surface.
The 19-inch wheels ride hard through deep ruts, the suspension bottoming out more than once with a bone jarring end to the travel, but take those ruts out of the equation and the R is a point-and-shoot weapon – way faster than you will ever need.
Even through damp patches mid-corner, the R’s tyres never scrabble, never lose grip and never push to understeer. The chassis is superbly balanced, always confidence inspiring, always reassuring, even when you go into a corner too hot and need to hook in harder to keep things in line.
In short, the Golf R is a genuine all seasons AWD hatch. The speed with which you can attack a twisty country road behind the wheel of the Golf R is both hard to fathom and grin-inducing in equal measure.
The aforementioned suspension bottoming out issue doesn’t happen often, but we need to note it here. Hit a deep, sharp enough bump and it’s ungainly, crashing through the front end and into the chassis. It sounds nasty and doesn’t feel great either, but over the course of two days behind the wheel, it only happened three times – and the ruts were pretty sharp.
Every crucial element of the Golf R’s portfolio is perfectly tuned to the task at hand. The steering, brakes, road holding, and AWD system all work together to take the brunt of any abuse you dish up.
The gearbox – either manual or DSG – and the exceptional 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine are a match made in heaven in mechanical terms and encourage you to explore the outer reaches of the rev range whenever you get the chance.
If there is a more capable hot hatch on the market than the Volkswagen Golf R in all round terms, I haven’t driven it. It continues the tradition of the Golf R being the most user friendly, capable and effortless hot hatch available.
It’s as good as it always was, perhaps even better for this 7.5 upgrade. There’s no better way to part with just over 50 grand. It’s that simple.