The VW GTI has been one of the best cars, if not, best hot hatches of all time. In various incarnations from Golf I to Golf VI, all have been the car to beat in terms of performance, driving dynamics and all day drivability. VW has however always given a special edition run the limelight, usually in the form of the R32, mated with a larger V6 and VW’s four wheel drive system.
The Golf VI R however changes things up a little. Purists cry in the corner as it drops the V6 for the very popular 4cylinder 2litre turbocharged Golf V power plant tuned up to push out 1.2bar on the turbocharger. This pushes the output to 188kW and 350Nm, which makes it near on the least powerful unit when compared to the Megane & Focus RS, but not in the last the slowest. The change to the use of the small turbocharged engine was probably mainly due to emissions and fuel consumption pressure internationally, but also a great decision because it’s one of the VW group’s best engines of all time in my view (It is also used in the current Audi S3)
While we’re on the engine, I must say that it’s a fantastic lump of metal. Sadly the over-cautious German engineers have decided to down-tune it by 11kW for us South African folk due to the warmer and dryer climate we have here… I think they could have just given us those 11kW. 0-100km/h drops on the clock at just over 6seconds on the manual, and sub 6seconds for the DSG. There’s heaps of torque and strong pull all the way from the low down revs. It builds up fairly linearly all the way past 6500RPM but there’s masses of torque right on from 3000RPM. It’s a lot less psychotic than the Renault RS or the Ford RS, being a little more sedate in every day driving. Fuel consumption is fairly scary, I averaged close on 15l/100km which is a far cry from the 8.5l/100km claimed by VW.
I was glad I got the manual version as I drive a Golf with a DSG gearbox. The manual is a sweet shifting 6speed with usual VW feel and very easily modulated clutch. The gears are a little longer in throw, but you easily get used to it. DSG might be quite a bit faster in gear changes, but the manual is heaps of fun pushing through the rev range keeping the turbo on the boil darting through traffic.
Speaking of darting, the Golf R comes with the Haldex 4 wheel drive system that is also shared with the Audi S3. This system is different from the Haldex system in the golf R32 due to the electronic pump which ensures that power can be delivered to the necessary wheels not only after there’s been a loss in traction, but nearly pre-emptive to that. You never really feel it working, which is great, but there’s definitely something to be said for the feeling of security and surefootedness when pushing through the bends. The usual front wheel loss of traction when pushing into a corner on pull off isn’t there, and neither is the crazy front wheel torque steer. You might say it’s too reserved and not crazy enough, but I for one prefer the stability, and sure-footedness of the 4wheel drive system. Sure, it’s probably there for the northern hemisphere clientele, and less so because the 188kW can’t be handled by the front wheels. Thankfully there’s ESP, ABS, EBD and ASR as standard for when things get a bit hairy. Oh, and there’s also a standard launch control function, a very welcome addition.
The R also features a lower suspension than the GTI as well as large 19inch 5 spoke alloys (which I like a lot). Any performance hatchback requires an exhaust note that makes your chaaaiirnas super jealous of your new set of wheels, and the Golf R doesn’t disappoint. It’s not as downright crazy as the Megane RS, but it manages to produce a fairly meaty growl through the centre mounted twin pipes. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of that forced induction noise from the front, which is a pity, because that’s one of the sweet sounds from a turbocharged engine that you can play up.
The model I had to test featured VW’s DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control), which adjusts the shock absorbers automatically according to varying road conditions. Three modes, sport, normal and comfort. I have got to be honest and say that you should probably not opt for this option (Around R10K) as the regular set up would surely be sufficient. I found myself driving around in normal or comfort most of the time as the suspension already has a very sporty bias. To be frank, it’s a jarring drive, and can really get a bit much when you’re when driving over our famous Joburg blacktop.
Thankfully, things on the interior of a usual VW masterpiece. It’s not a very exciting interior, but damn everything just works, is easy to operate, and has a high quality feel. It’s something I really appreciate, as you spend all your time looking and touching the inside of your car, and very little time peering at the outside… in all honesty. The test car I drove had the optional Dynaudio 300Watt Excite system (R13K option) with colour touch screen, and that’s an option box it’s definitely tick. The R interior is much like the Golf VI GTI interior, however blue and white dials are employed, as well as R nomenclature throughout the leather bits. There is an option for racing bucket seats however the standard seats are more than capable of doing the job.
Other standard features that set it apart include the bi-xenon swiveling headlamps, daytime LED running lights, park distance control with visual display and of course the R badges.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the R, coming straight out of the Megane RS into this made it easy to do a direct comparison, where the Megane RS and even Ford Focus RS are a lot crazier, hands on, the naughty cousins of the family, the Golf R is a little more reserved. It also harnesses a seemingly more accomplished feel not only in driving but also quality of vehicle. I’d probably not opt for it on a track day or for a gymkhana but it’s incredibly easy to drive as an every day car and then tear the tires off it if you’ve had a really bad day.
At R415,100 for the standard Golf R 4Motion Manual and R460 000 for the unit I drove as tested we’re very close to BMW 1 Series and other performance model territory which then raises other questions. I stand firm in saying it’s the best quality model when compared to its rivals, which, when paying this much money for a car if it’s not just your weekend drive, is worth keeping in mind.