The Golf R 7.5 might just be the best car in the world. Well almost. The family hatch, which pumps out 213kW and 380Nm from a 2.0-litre engine might have sounded a bit bonkers way back when, but now isn't so bonkers after all. Unlike its GTI sibling that drives the front wheels, this one instead powers through with the help of Volkswagen's Haldex-based all-wheel drive system, pushing this car to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds (or so they say).
Performance is only one of many requirements of a modern day hot hatch. The performance comes balanced with good comfort and practicality. Yes, the boot is smaller than the GTI's by 40 litres but that's a sacrifice that has to be made. Still it's much better than the rear-wheel drive BMW 1 Series.
The subdued nature of the car helps keep its sleeper look. All that tells that this isn't a regular Golf is a smattering of R badges, bigger brakes, big tyres and the Akrapovic tailpipes. It's perfect for flying under the radar. Interior wise is typical VW - everything is where is should be. The cabin is well thought out and put together, minus the horrible positioning of the USB slot; a big ergonomic boo-boo from Volkswagen. The infotainment unit is nice, save for the smudges on the screen if you use it frequently (a microfibre towel isn't a bad idea to have just in case). And the best thing about it is that if you want someone else to control the music, there's an app for that.
The Volkswagen Active Info Display is crisp and quite frankly good, save for the rather limited display layout.
As standard comes Front Assist and all its attached goodies like Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Assist (there's even a Traffic Jam Assist function which, when below 60km/h, controls the steering and braking) and City Emergency Braking. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert complete this package. A powered driver's seat with memory function all add up the creature comforts.
Add the Adaptive Chassis Control, and this turns into a complete car. There are different modes for different tastes. Eco mode is for the times you might need that extra fuel economy, Comfort mode gives you a nice ride and the noise levels turned down, Normal mode is a default goldilocks setting, Race mode is where engine noise, throttle response and steering all get dialled up to 11, and Individual mode is your mix-and-match option.
The engine is a powerhouse; it'll quite happily rev to the redline, although in some instances if you aren't fast enough you'll hit the redline. The gearbox is quick-shifting and relatively less jittery in traffic compared to its forebears. Rev the car to the redline and the symphony from the exhaust becomes noticeably deeper and shoutier, and as the gearshift hits, the trademark DSG pop is more bark than pop. Stomp on the brakes and the 340mm cross-drilled front rotors and performance pads are sure to have you grinding to a halt, while being less prone to fading.
Flick it into a corner and the car will transmit power to all four wheels and brake any individual wheel to help you slingshot out of the turn. There is no understeer whatsoever to be seen. The Golf is fun to drive but not scary enough to kill you. Yes, if you push it hard enough eventually you might get it to understeer. In the snow the 4Motion all-wheel drive will do its best to keep traction by shuffling power between four wheels, but don't expect much if you are keeping the Continental ContiSports on. In some heavy snow days a pair of snowsocks might be a good add-on. But enough about that.
The suspension is rather balanced between sporty and normal for day to day usage. It's no Bentley in terms of comfort but it isn't as harsh as a Lamborghini. Leave the suspension in its Normal setting and it does its own thing, being comfortable for a performance hatch. Switch it over to Race and everything stiffens up. Leave it in Comfort and it becomes rather wafty and plush. Find a crater big enough and it will bottom out, though.
Practicality wise, there's adequate room for four adults and some baggage for an overnight trip, or if you ditch the people and fold down the seats there's some space for flat packs from Ikea. The ski hatch folds down, allowing for the carriage of ski gear, however, I would have liked a ski bag to contain all that slush.
As for having any fun in something with an engine and a turbo, fuel economy is not much to write home about. 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres is what my trip computer tells me for all the city driving that's being done. Expect to see that figure climb if you feel a bit ham-footed.
Otherwise the Golf R is a beautifully balanced hot hatch. Maybe one of the best cars that's ever made. Non-VW fans fight me.
It's balanced, soulful and effortless. It's the grown-ups choice for a car; subdued and balanced with a bit of panache thanks to that exhaust.