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Volkswagen Golf R review - a consummate all-rounder
On paper, what is essentially a Golf GTI with more power and four-wheel drive doesn’t sound all that exciting yet, in the R, VW has made a genuinely rapid car with that rare knack of feeling totally secure and, at the same time, fantastically biddable, as if it were always working out the best way to extract the most pace from any given input on any given road.
Think of it as a Golf GTI with a reprogrammed ability map that comes into its own beyond 8/10ths, where the less powerful front-drive car would be starting to get distinctly ragged, and you’ll have a fair idea of the Golf R’s exceptional skill set.
If it lacks the nth degree of hardcore conviction and precision that make the RS Megane such a sublime driving tool, it arguably more than compensates with a fully-rounded repertoire of practical everyday abilities as well as the sophistication, myriad refinements and build excellence synonymous with the Golf. A potent package in every sense.
Attractive as the Golf R hatchback is, you might be tempted instead by the Golf R Estate, launched in 2015. It offers 605 litres of room with the seats up and a whopping 1620-litres with them folded flat. It loses few of the regular hatchback's abilities - with a 79kg weight gain it's only two tenths slower to 62mph, at 5.1sec, but it's handsome to behold and very practical. The only real problem is the lack of a manual gearbox option - though since so few opt for this in the hatch, it didn't make sense offering it in the estate.
Volkswagen has confirmed rumours of a GTI Clubsport S, which features no rear seats and a 306bhp output. We've not driven it yet, but it could most definitely be one to watch for those interested in a Golf R.
'The Golf has crazy stability and security, so you feel like you can drive right up to the limit and then jump around all over it. I keep expecting the next corner of the next to eventually reveal some sort of limiting foible, but the VW is simply demolishing the road. Crests, bumps and yumps can all be attacked with confidence because the damping is superb and the steering is beautifully calm and linear.' (Henry Catchpole, features editor, evo 203 - evo Car of the Year)
> Performance and 0-60 time - Far quicker than a Golf GTI, with extra power and traction offsetting the increase in weight.
> Engine and gearbox - Four cylinders, a turbocharger and the option of either manual or dual-clutch transmissions. It's all-wheel drive too.
> Ride and handling - Belies the sometimes staid Golf image. Great to drive fast, even better to drive at its limit; always fun and engaging.
> MPG and running costs - Combined economy of around 40mpg makes the R a reasonably sensible purchase, enhanced by strong residuals.
> Prices, specs and rivals - More expensive than a GTI, but at just over £31,000 it's not overpriced for its performance. VW has some tempting finance deals too, which make the R ridiculously affordable.
> Interior and tech - Little to excite visually and it loses the GTI's neat tartan trim, but this is a cabin you'll never become irritated with. Comfortable, well-equipped and well-built.
> Design - Subtle but purposeful. Some may call it dull, but if you don't want to shout about performance than there are few better cars.
> Videos - Watch our collection of videos on the Golf R, from its launch, to its appearance in evo Car of the year 2014, to our Deadly Rivals battle with the Audi RS3.