Rock On | Volkswagen Golf R

BY Azfar Hashim

VW’s ultimate Golf returns — for all family men, there is still hope for non-boring motoring…

Photos: Azfar Hashim

This is the Golf R Mark II. And you obviously know that already by now, because so much hype has been given to the car. But you know also how, sometimes, cars that have been given so much attention long before its arrival disappoints when you finally get to drive them; something us motoring journalists are way too familiar with.

To be honest, I did not have any expectations when given the key to the Golf R. Having driven the Mark I Golf R, I personally opine that version felt too overly engineered for a hot-hatch; if we are talking solely about the Mark 6 Golf, I would still put my money on the GTI instead.

Back to the Golf R Mark II. The exterior is fine, and I must say I appreciate the attention to details given by VW’s designers. The face consists of a bumper that has large air intakes to keep the engine bay constantly ventilated, matched with a pair of detailed headlamps that consist of bright daytime-running light and also LED indicators. Although those matte silver wing mirrors certainly add a nice touch, I still could not agree with those set of rims; it may be just a case of personal preference, but sorry VW, it looks too boring…

The rear comes standard with bumper diffuser, a pair of fart-happy twin-tipped exhaust, subtle spoiler that is not OTT and full LED tail lamps. That little ‘R’ badge should be able to scare tailgaters for sure.

The Golf R comes with a pair of sports seats and to complete the sportiness, gets a nicely sized steering wheel too. Every control button is relatively positioned towards the driver, which is important in such a sporty car like this, as it allows the driver to focus on his driving than fiddling around for, say, the climate control or even radio. However I could not seem to find my perfect driving position; for the entire first day with the car, I kept adjusting the seat’s back and headrest, steering wheel, seat belt height. To the point I wondered whether (a) I had accidentally added more weight or (b) my spine is misaligned. Well to cut the long story short, I finally manage to find my optimal driving position — just before I lock the car to head home.

The rear is comfortable and spacious, with the standard wide sunroof making it even airier (good for star-gazing too). The boot is large and useful for a hatchback; perfect if you’re the sort who treats your car as a mobile storeroom, or even the family man who carries prams and booster seat around.

With a bumped up EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and 6-speed DSG ‘box, the Golf R here has 280 bhp, 380 Nm of torque (available from 1,800 rpm), with the ability to do the century sprint in 5 seconds flat. While I have to agree VW is not lying about those digits, my butt feel tells me that it does slightly faster than 5 seconds — perhaps in the region of 4.5 to 4.8 seconds.

There’s no doubt that in the real world, the Golf R is actually fast off the traffic light, specifically in Race where the car is set to all attack mode. The exhaust note gets angrier, the throttle response sharpens, the transmission willing to pull itself higher up the rev range and even the suspension stiffens up. Out on the expressway, what was surprising is how you do not need to downshift to overtake; power is constantly on standby.

Handling wise, the Golf R is pinpoint sharp and definitely feels one notch higher than the GTI. Thanks to the 4Motion four-wheel drive system, ever alert traction control and XDS cross differential lock, you can enter tight corners at speed and also flick the car into a turn without worrying about any understeer. In fact, you might even feel the rear about to throw itself into a drift but like magic, the car will just correct itself. That said, body-roll is still obvious; it’s not the sort that throws you off, but the type that adds more sensation into your drive. If you want something that is more focused on all out grip and controlled body movements, then you might want to look at Renault’s Megane RS instead…

I managed to take the car across the Second Link for a drive, and what I noticed was how planted the car is. You can feel every sudden steering movement and taking long bends at high speed is not an issue. The brakes are two-thumbs-up good: ever alert with no sensation of fade. However, wind noise can be heard at cruising speeds of between 110 — 120 km/h; thankfully, it has a good audio system fitted to somewhat lessen that.

Before I forget, you can drive the Golf R in five modes - Comfort, Normal, Race, Eco, Individual - in total. If you’re like me, the default setting would be Race with gear shifts done manually via the paddle shifter. But it’s also good to know that you can still drive in Comfort — brilliant when you have to face that peak hour traffic before reaching home. Here, the exhaust note is almost muted, the suspension turns softer and the car feels less brutal — I call this the “rilek-one-korner-bro” mode.

As a whole, the Golf R is one highly satisfying sports hatchback to drive. It is properly fast and grippy, highly practical for daily usage and if you are the sort who’s into tuning and modifications, has lots of potential. So you may think the price errs on the high side, but take my word for it: it is worth every dollar you are paying.

Especially when you put it next to Mercedes-Benz’s A45 AMG and Audi’s S3.

Now that’s another story, for another day…