Since its introduction in 2009 with the sixth-generation Golf, replacing the fifth-gen Golf R32, the Volkswagen Golf R has remained the top dog of the Golf line-up, and one of the best performance hatches bar none.
The lights are new: Headlights receive new hexagon-patterns inside the reflector unit, paired with a new DRL LED light signature, and there are active ‘pulse’ indicators for both the head and taillights.
Underneath the headlights, there’s a shaplier air intake section – it has a grimace to go with the ‘frown’ of the headlights – and there’s plenty of go-faster piano black skirting the entire body. All of which makes the Golf R look hungrier for tarmac than ever,
Like the GTI, the Golf R gets a modest 10hp power bump, bringing the total to 290hp. In Golf R tradition, our warm weather versions lack the full 310hp of other markets.
Yet in the historical view, keep in mind the Golf R now has 34hp more than its first iteration and is almost a whole second quicker in 0-100km/h time.
Mated to the engine is a new seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (codenamed DQ381), which uses a wet clutch, and so should offer good reliability when dealing with the engine’s grunty 380Nm of torque.
The Golf R has always been mighty in comparison to its size, and the incremental updates VW has given it means it still easily keeps up with the likes of far more expensive and powerful machines.
The bassy engine note and crisp, superquick upshifts endear the refreshed drivetrain to the driver as much as its predecessors, the Golf R rushes towards the horizon quicker than ever – 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds is still properly fast.
Scream towards a familiar corner and your mind thinks you won’t make it, then the car rips through it feeling like it hardly broke a sweat. So you push it further and further, and it’s almost obscene how much you can get away with because not only is the Golf R forgiving, it’s also very communicative.
You can brake until it feels like the rear wheels are no longer on the ground, but the Golf R is the type of machine that can make that feel almost normal, the extra power, tuning and all-wheel drive don’t impinge on the car’s transparency.
If you’ve driven a regular Golf, it’s staggering to think the Golf R springs from the same root stock. A wider front and rear track, more power, better brakes and adaptive dampers (Dynamic Chassis Control) are just some of the changes that account for the difference, but the tremendous pace and involvement means the Golf R is truly more than the sum of its parts.
Even then, the Golf R’s not done with its eyebrow-raising act. While it has an active ride quality, it’s nowhere near as bad as a crossover’s. Switch to ‘Comfort’ mode, the exhaust quietens, the steering relaxes along with the rest of the car, and the Golf R is content to cruise like a normal car.
Once hooligan mode is shuffled away at the press of a button, you can enjoy the other improvements to the interior. Like the GTI, there’s a new 12.3-inch active instrument display ‘Active Info Display’ as seen on the Passat and Tiguan, which is clear, customisable and very useful for navigation.
Pairing up with that is the top-of-the-line infotainment system, the 9.2-inch ‘Discover Pro’ unit, which has features and graphics sharp enough to rival an Audi’s.
New is a gesture control feature – swiping a palm across the screen without touching brings you to the next page, or vice versa. You can also connect a smartphone to it via Android Auto, Apple CarPlay or MirrorLink, and even backseat passengers can get in on the fun: With VW’s ‘Media Control’ app they can control the tunes blasting through the excellent Dynaudio sound system
In the noise/pace to size ratio, the Golf R is outgunned by the cars like the Audi RS 3 and Mercedes-AMG A 45, though the VW still has them beat when it comes to fun/noise/pace to price ratio metric.
The Golf R has always been a car that can do everything a driver wants, from carving corners to serene commutes, but is at its most snorting gleeful self delivering staggering real-world pace and anti-social fun. Yet the recent updates highlight that it can also punch well above its price point when it comes to being nice too.
Volkswagen Golf R
Engine 1,998cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 290hp at 5400-6500rpm
Torque 380Nm at 1850-5300rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 4.6 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.1L/100km
CEVS Band C2
Price $206,400 with COE
Agent Volkswagen Singapore
Verdict Volkswagen’s searing Golf R is top of the hot hatch class, but also a stupendous performance bargain