There’s nothing quite like the launch of a proper hot hatch to get the adrenalin pumping
We’re high up in Tasmania’s alpine region and pushing hard in what is Volkswagen’s latest edition to its hot hatch arsenal.
It’s quick this Volkswagen Golf R, very quick, and it doesn’t seem to mind what you throw at it, twisty roads, hairpin bends or fast straights, Wolfsburg has given us an absolute cracker.
There’s nothing quite like the launch of a proper hot hatch to get the adrenalin pumping, especially when its Volkswagen’s answer to Audi’s brilliant Audi S3 hatchback, but at considerably less money.
The press invite didn’t say a lot, but then again, it didn’t need to. “Only for the genuine enthusiast” was the call to action, and this was one drive program I was quick to put my hand up for, even if it meant climbing over my colleagues for the right to attend. This is one car we’ve all been waiting for.
Faster, lighter, and more powerful than the highly accomplished Golf R32, which it replaces, the Golf R is the new flagship model in the range and after 300 kilometres behind the wheel, I’ve got nothing but praise for what is simply an outstanding performance drive.
Gone is the aurally delicious 3.2-litre naturally aspirated V6 and in its place is the same 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which you’ll find under the bonnet of Audi’s S3 super hatch.
It’s a compact engine packing a big punch with 188 kW and 330Nm of torque, and capable of knocking off the benchmark 0-100km/h sprint in as little as 5.7 seconds, with the optional Direct-Shift Gearbox.
To put that into some perspective, the R32, despite its reputation as a quick steer (it still is), was only good for a 6.2 second sprint in DSG form.
To be fair and honest though, the V6 under load was an aural treat for any enthusiasts and punters alike, whereas the high-pressure boosted four-cylinder powerplant in the Golf R, doesn’t quite play the same racecar like tune, but it’s certainly no deal breaker given the car's blistering all-round performance.
There are those that believe the GTI’s styling is too soft and not befitting of its sports pedigree, but there can be no such conclusion when it comes to the Golf R.
The two centrally mounted exhaust tips carried over from the R32 are a good size diameter and the car’s 25mm lower ride height fits the hot hatch bill to a tee. True to form though, the only nameplate on the car is a small chrome ‘R’ insignia on grille and tailgate and frankly, that’s all that’s required here.
The gloss black louvers on the deep front splitter and side mirror panels are a nice touch although, some folks will miss the aluminium look on the R32 and S3 cars. The stock standard five-spoke alloys are a good look, but the optional Talladega 19-inch black wheels, which I caught a glimpse of on a silver R20, would seem like a must have in that particular colourway.
For $48,490 you get the three-door Golf R with a six-speed manual box, which is precisely the car we’ve ended up with for this test drive route. It’s the entry-level variant but with two very special options, Motorsport Front Seats and Adaptive Chassis Control.
While there’s little to complain about with Volkswagen’s super quick shifting Direct Shift Gearbox, the standard fit manual gearbox employed on this car, would have to be one of the smoothest shifting units I’ve ever experienced and an absolute treat.
There’s no proximity key or push button start for the Golf R, just the old school key fob and steering column mounted barrel, which is strangely refreshing. I guess one can assume that any saving in that department has been duly transferred to the performance area.
There’s a tonne of ‘go’ when you punch the accelerator and absolutely no let up all the way through to the redline. We can thank the extra wide torque curve, which delivers the peak 330 Newton-metres from 2400 rpm to 5200 rpm.
Power delivery as well as the turbo boost is smooth and effortless, with all six gear ratios pulling hard across the entire rev range. Turbo lag is not discernible, at least, not with this six-speed manual edition.
While it’s quite a relaxed, if not docile car to drive in the city, Golf R is a car that begs to be driven with purpose and rewards the driver in spades for doing so.
If you’re concerned about a lack of engine note from the four-cylinder turbo set up, don’t be. Once on song, there’s a sweet low down growl from under the bonnet, and more than enough to satisfy those R32 diehards.
That said I doubt you’ll miss the extra weight of the V6 motor up front, the benefits of which, you can immediately feel once you start carving up the tight bends in Tasmania’s extra twisty alpine region.
The Golf R can carry tremendous speed through corners, and grip levels on relatively dry tarmac are vice like.
Front wheel spin under hard acceleration from standstill has been all but dialed out and in extreme cases, 100 percent of torque will revert to the rear axle, meaning some very quick off the line starts are possible.
While there is a tendency for the front wheels to ‘push out’ when under heavy load through a fast corner, that’s probably more down to me, not selecting the ‘Sport’ mode with the Adaptive Chassis Control system, rather than the 4Motion all-wheel drive set up, which has been further developed for this car.
Good thing that too because one minute the weather was cold and sunny, and in the next, we were driving through a light/medium snowfall with a ‘black ice’ warning.
Despite the slippery conditions for over 40 kilometres across a mixture of both dirt and wet tarmac, there was little or no loss of traction on either surface.
What was also remarkable after several hundred kilometers behind the wheel, is the quality ride and ultra low NVH levels inside the cabin. With such exceptional handling you might expect a noticeable compromise between performance and ride quality, but that’s not the case with this car.
It’s only slightly stiffer than a Golf GTI, yet packs a noticeably heavier punch and regardless of the type of road surface or how hard you push, the suspension remains remarkably compliant.
You can’t fault the steering set up on the ‘R’ car either, turn in is sharp and responsive, and it goes precisely where you point it.
Put that down to the electro-mechanical power steering unit, which has been re-tuned specifically for this car, irrespective of whether you choose optional Adaptive Chassis Control or not.
Less praiseworthy are the ridiculously expensive ‘Motorsport’ style front seats in ‘San Remo’ microfibre. These beautifully crafted and superbly comfortable pews will set you back a whopping $5,300 and while they certainly look the part with a piano black style racing shell design, there is simply not enough seat or side bolster to properly hold the driver secure enough while powering through the twisty roads with a heavy dose of throttle. Again, let me stress the fact that they are very comfortable but I'm looking for more here.
With the upgraded power of the Golf R, special attention has been paid to the brakes, which are internally ventilated all round and unusually large for this class of car. The front discs are 345mm while 310mm makes do at the rear. Although the ambient temperature during part of the drive was a cool zero degrees, there was absolutely no brake fade after repeated use in countless hairpins. They are also more than capable of hauling in prodigious speed in double quick time.
For all the performance the Golf R offers, the inside story is one of luxury and comfort, with a host of standard features and the usual quality materials and switchgear, we’ve come to expect from Volkswagen.
While we didn’t get to sample the Golf R with DSG or employ the car as the family chariot for a week, CarAdvice will bring you a complete road test of Golf’s halo car in the coming weeks.
Driven: Volkswagen Golf R 3 Door 6 Speed Manual - $48,490
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