Let’s cut to the chase. The big news about the VW Golf R is the engine; it’s what anyone ogling the most powerful Golf would be drawn to when the subject matter pops up on the radar.
Under the bonnet lies a caged powerhouse ready to shunt 276 horses and 380Nm of torque to both axles in a display of power, sound and glory. That’s 59hp and 30Nm more than what the Golf GTI can deliver.
For a 1.5-tonne hatch, that’s a lot of firepower on tap. Wait till the next R comes around – we hear a crazy 414hp and at least 450Nm are in the works. That’s a tale for another day.
We had driven the GTI some time ago and it was a fine piece of work. Now good gets better with the potent R. Like the GTI, the R is a niche car. By and large, it looks about the same as the GTI but adds on additional goodies and electronic razzmatazz to shape its character.
The odious point about the R is the steep asking price of RM291,888. But if that doesn’t faze you, well, time to play Golf then.
On the face of it, the R looks unassuming for a powerful sports car and that’s apparently how Volkswagen thinks its target buyers like it.
Unlike the GTI, the R is lower, gets 19-inch wheels and quad exhaust tips, embellished with sportier bumpers, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps and smoked LED tail lights.
A lower-priced three-door version used to be available but no more (also same situation as the 3-door GTI). The five-door hatch – like the one you see here – gets the Tech Pack, offering a long list of bells and whistles such as panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and start, cruise control, rear view camera, automatic headlights as well as front/rear parking sensors.
Since this is a Golf R, the cabin has to exude sporty intent, starting with a flat-bottomed leather steering wheel equipped with paddle shifters. The ambience is further amplified with R-stamped leather sports seats and dark headliners enhanced with soft touchpoints and carbon fibre-like inserts and piano black accents for the centre console.
The R dashboard looks all too familiar if you have just hopped in from a GTI. There’s some variation on the sporty cues to ensure the R cabin isn’t a copy-paste job. These are evident from the colours of stitchings and meter needles to important bits such as the inclusion of a bigger eight-inch touchscreen, 4Motion drive to control all that power and engine start/stop button.
The drive profiles also includes a Race mode for some frisky action when the mood arises.
Proximity sensors in the centre display add a cool touch: as soon as the driver or front passenger moves a finger near to the touchscreen, the system automatically switches from display mode to input mode. Such gesture controls are bound to become more pervasive as they filter across VW’s product lines.
Yet in a nod to practicality, the car can take in five people with sufficient head and legroom especially for those in the rear bench seats. Four cupholders, door pockets, an underseat tray, and ISOFIX points speak to the driver who could be a family man as much as he is a car enthusiast.
Storage space in the rear is adequate and there’s a space-saving tyre on standby in case of punctures. iPhone connectivity via Bluetooth was easy to set up and worked like a charm with the eight-speaker stereo system.
If you have read this far, you would know early on the R packs a wallop. It gallops from 0 to 100kph in 5s and continues on to a top speed of 250kph.
Like the GTI, VW has managed to wring a good measure of practicality from the R, which is easy to live with. While it has the capacity to deliver brutish power, it’s also forgiving on lesser drivers. Multiple drive modes and dynamic chassis control (DCC) turn the car from a pliant city runabout into a roaring beast, displaying acceleration that is impressively quick with high levels of grip.
The DCC system responds continually to changing driving situations, taking feedback from the brakes, steering and throttle. Changing driving profiles is just a push of a button away.
The electrically adjustable damping system adapts automatically to the specific mode, as does the electromechanical power steering, which in the tamer settings feels muted until you flip it to Sport or Race modes. The Race setting shows the R at its most agile, accompanied by a rich throaty rumble that can be addictive.
Great power comes with great responsibility, and the 4MOTION all-wheel drive system assumes it with fervour to ensure reliable traction and stability even in gusty conditions. Cornering at speed is made even sportier and more precise, thanks to the electronic differential lock XDS+, which builds up brake pressure on one side. The stoppers are effective, scrubbing speed quickly, when they kicked in.
You might expect the set of 19-inch wheels to be a bone-shaker but they aren’t. On the contrary, the ride was quite decent in all drive modes.
Overall, the chassis was neutral and compliant to make driving the R that much more involving. Adding to the enjoyment are heavily bolstered front seats that keep the driver and passenger bolted down particularly when the road ahead starts to snake through rustic landscapes.
“Fantastic drive, lah! It’s so damn quick and responsive,” uttered a colleague after taking the car for a spin across Shah Alam.
Having tried the Golf R for the first time, the driver of a BMW 3 Series was looking at the VW with newfound admiration as he handed back the key.
Volkswagen is asking a lot for this smallish car. But when you think about the heaps of entertainment derived from one of the most competent hot hatches around, the price just goes with the territory.
After all, if you wanna play, you gotta pay.