Rated R for Rapid

BY Jonathan Lim

Not long ago, the Golf R32/Golf R had its corner of the market to itself, its power and price elevating it above tamer hatches. But with new rivals from premium brands, is the Golf R still the daddy?

Hot hatches used to be a simple affair. The tried and tested big engine/small car recipe had always been a successful one, and all that needed doing was to fettle the chassis and suspension to keep you on the road (although victims of Peugeot 205 GTI lift-off oversteer might say otherwise). Now though, not only has the hot hatch grown up, but recent years have also seen rise to a new breed of ‘mega-hatch’, as the premium marques’ smallest offerings also get the performance treatment, pushing power and price to a level far exceeding the Golf GTI benchmark; a domain once the sole preserve of the Golf R’s predecessor, the R32. 

With cars like the A45 AMG and M135i bringing to the party some very potent figures, Volkswagen had to up the ante with the latest Golf R to stay in contention and on paper at least, comes mighty close. Out goes the venerable EA113 engine that saw duty in the mk5 GTI and previous Golf R, replaced by the EA888 used by the current GTI and uprated with a new cylinder head and turbo, with revised pistons and valves, to produce 300 bhp and 350 Nm of torque. This helps makes the new Golf R the quickest production Golf ever, with DSG models capable of a sub-5 second century sprint – on par with a 991-gen Porsche 911. Despite a gain of 30 bhp and 30 Nm, the new Golf R is actually 18% more economical than before, thanks in part to optional Stop-Start and brake regeneration technology. Fuel consumption is now at 6.9 L/100km for DSG models, down from 8.4 L/100km before. 

As has been the case so far, the Golf R’s power is sent through all four wheels via VW’s latest 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system, which has the ability to send almost all power to the rear wheels if required. VW’s XDS+ electronic ‘differential’ can also be found on both axles, braking the inside wheels during hard cornering to elicit a torque vectoring effect. The stiffer suspension is now 5mm lower than on a GTI, and a ‘progressive steering’ system boosts agility by increasing the steering rack’s ratio the further the wheel is turned.

Setting the R apart from other Golfs are different bumpers front and rear, as well as a diffuser and quad chrome-tipped tailpipes. 18-inch ‘Cadiz’ wheels are standard, 19s an option, and the R gets a unique paint colour called Lapis Blue metallic. Inside, you get sports seats trimmed in alcantara or Nappa leather, stainless steel pedals and door sills, as well as a smattering of R badges throughout the interior, including on the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Granted, the new Golf R is a chunk less powerful than the M-fettled 1-series and steroidal AMG, but with less baggage associated with the badge, it should be a damn sight cheaper than either, and probably not much slower. The only way we’ll know for sure? We’ll just have to wait for its arrival…