With the area of V6-engined Golfs a fast-receding memory, the latest R is, predictably, powered by a four-cylinder turbocharged engine. It’s a heavily ‘breathed on’ development of VW's familiar 'EA888' unit, as used in the Golf GTI for the past two generations. The modifications are pretty substantial and include a new cylinder head, new injectors, a larger turbo and different pistons.
Peak power is 297bhp - a 29bhp improvement over the old car - yet VW claims the new engine delivers 39.8mpg with the manual gearbox. That’s 18 per cent better than the last R, and comes with a 34 g/km reduction in CO2 emissions.
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Power is channelled to all four wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox or an optional six-speed DSG double-clutch automatic with steering wheel paddles and the latest iteration of VW’s 4Motion Haldex system, now boasting a fifth generation multi-plate clutch and upgraded suite of electronic aids.
Under normal use torque is biased to the front wheels, with drive transferred rearwards when slip is detected. Almost 100 per cent of torque can be sent to the back: but only if the front wheels have no grip. The system is claimed to react more quickly than before, and it will also send more power to the rear if it detects the front running wide.
evo has run a long-term Golf R for nearly a year now. Fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox rather than the optional DSG, it has proven an engaging, if not slightly troublesome spec choice. The gearbox has a slightly notchy shift and lumpy clutch, which can make pulling away in first gear difficult to do smoothly.
evo readers have actually reported similar clutch-related kangarooing with their own Golf Rs. Conversly, the DSG is extremely responsive but doesn't offer quite the level of interaction that the manual gearbox does.