A frozen lake on the icy plains of Sweden became the playground for the most extreme Golf.
To say it was cold would be an understatement, as the mercury settled at minus 15 degrees Celsius.
We had arrived in darkness and it was only 4pm (in Sweden).
This had us secretly wondering if the impact of travelling for nearly 30 hours had disoriented us severely...regardless, welcome to Arvidsjaur (pronounced ar-vitz-yo), Sweden.
There’s not much to be seen in this snowy land, except for elk with large antlers if we were lucky.
Nonetheless, Santa Claus would find this a homey retreat during the “off-season” with pristine powder-white snow that glistens almost like diamonds at sunrise (happens at 8am).
A 15-minute bus ride to our snow-covered lodging at Hotel Laponia seemed instantaneous, compared with our long flight-time.
Apparently, this - mild snowfall in sub-zero temperatures - was considered to be good weather; clearly they jest?
Not at all; it seemed we were in luck with the “warmer” weather, for not more than seven days prior, the temperature had dipped to a more extreme minus 32 degrees Celsius.
Regardless, we were relieved to finally rest our aching souls warmly and awoke the next morning for a sight to behold with all that powdery-fresh snow reaching beyond the horizons.
Other motoring journalists from Spain, Italy, Hong Kong and Singapore, had joined us for this delectable experience.
The whitewash was marred by a few fourth-generation Volkswagen Golf R (Mk7) cars parked in the courtyard and coated in Lapis Blue.
As the wind picked up speed and snow began to fall, we drove to a nearby frozen lake where our 225/40 series tyres with studs wrapping the R’s 18-inch alloy wheels would be put to good use.
To get those tyres spinning will be the EA888 engine block (the EA113’s replacement), rated at 296bhp from 5,500 to 6,200rpm with peak torque of 380Nm found between 1,800 and 5,500rpm.
Our test drive unit was powered by a 1,984cc four-cylinder turbo charged petrol engine mated to a six-speed manual.
We doubt the manual gearbox would make an appearance in Malaysia, as the market seems to prefer the 6-speed DSG (Direct-Shift Gearbox).
The R runs the 100kph dash from standstill in just 5.1 seconds for the manual, while the DSG comes in 0.2 second quicker at 4.9 seconds.
It has an electronically-limited top speed of 250kph.
Volkswagen’s written materials have indicated that the Golf R requires a minimum of RON98, but Volkswagen Group Malaysia has communicated that it can accept our RON95.
In any case, fuel consumption for the manual is rated at 7.1 litres/100km while the DSG is better by 0.2-litre at 6.9 litres/100km.
However, it is the manual that triumphs over the DSG, bringing the R’s kerb weight to only 1,476kg versus the DSG’s 1,495kg.
It should be noted that the DSG variant has better all-round performance figures.
Dimensions-wise, it is 4,276mm in length, 1,790mm in width, and stands 1,436mm tall with a 343-litre rear cargo capacity that’s expandable to 1,233 litres thanks to the 60:40 split rear seats.
Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive (AWD) system is found within; we were told that everything else inside was “all new”.
The only similarity is that the R still retains its ‘Golf genes’ in the looks department.
“Typically Volkswagen” comes to mind for the interior, but there are elements to help remind us that a Golf R is being driven such as blue instead of red needles within the instrument cluster.
There is also a dash of blue around the base of the gear knob and the electronic-brake toggle. Relatively understated.
With a pair of twin tail pipes, the noise level was not very intrusive up front, but rear passengers will get plenty of drone, even at docile speeds with the revs kept responsibly low.
The frozen lake had courses featuring orange cones and snow banks, which were designed to help us become familiar with the lack of grip when driving on ice.
For this experience, our Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) had to be deactivated – a function that no other Golfs are able to perform except those wearing the “R” badge.
The first short course had four sharp corners, thus allowing us to be gradually introduced to the lack of grip and the way the R handles in snowy conditions.
The second threw in an S-bend; the third involved a pair of slaloms, a skid pad, and finally a technical course for us to apply all that we had learned.
Our experiences gave us an idea of what the R had to offer in the handling department.
Being a 4WD system, it’s got that typical under, then over-steer characteristic.
However, the wonderful thing is that the transition is now faster and more controllable with better response, thanks to the use of the fifth-generation Haldex coupling to manage power delivery between the front and rear axles - at low loads, the front receives the bulk of power, but at full loads it is the rear that gets it.
We understood the R’s handling characteristics better after we completed the slaloms.
Mind you, there was no engaging of the electronic parking brake, because all four brakes would be engaged instead of just the rear and that would be a recipe for disaster.
Since ESP had been deactivated, the system relied on the driver’s accelerator foot pedal play, and a sense of balance was required.
The driver had to play the role of the ESP.
It’s hard to relate to real-life applications in Malaysia, as we have a different climate compared with Sweden, but nonetheless being able to control the car on ice is one tough nut to crack.
We had some fun driving without ESP and having full reign over the car, managing the Haldex coupling with the throttle and going sideways with the car (albeit in a controlled environment).
The new R had earned our trust in such icy conditions, and it did so while planting a grin on our faces.