Volkswagen Golf R 2014 Review

words - Michael Taylor
Grip faster. It's an Audi S3 for The People

Volkswagen Golf R

Launch Review
Arvidsjaur, Sweden

The Golf GTI has received rave reviews everywhere it’s been, with the exception of those fussy few who wanted even more power and even more grip out of their four-cylinder Volkswagens. And here, just for them, is the flagship all-wheel drive Golf R, complete with 221kW (or 300 horsepower in the old money), 380Nm of torque and a 0-100km/h sprint in the sub-five second range.

For some reason, some people think the Golf GTI isn’t enough Golf. And they’re prepared to pay more for more Golf. In its current engineering surge, Volkswagen is happy to accommodate them, so the new Golf R is more advanced in every way.

It’s a car that capitalises on all the advantages it inherited via the best-in-class Golf VII and gets more power, more torque, more grip via a new all-wheel drive system, better fuel economy and even more speed than before.

That it now gets to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds will be enough for plenty of people, but it’s the manner of the acceleration that’s now astonishing. We only drove it on the frozen lakes of the winter testing havens of northern Sweden and on the graded, patchy part clean/part snow/part ice tarmac near the village of Arvidsjaur. While we’ll reserve a final judgement until we get it on more solid ground, it felt pretty bloody good.

The direct-injection, turbocharged 2.0-litre four still sits across the engine bay, but it now delivers 30PS (22kW) more power and uses 18 per cent less fuel than its predecessor.

The sophisticated little motor gets a new, electric engine coolant control system to shrink its warm-up phase as well as variable valve timing with two-stage camshaft adjustment and the ability to vary the valve lift on the exhaust side.

It’s also a grippier proposition than the second-generation Golf R, thanks to the fifth evolution of the Haldex centre differential – which can now direct almost 100 per cent of the drive to the rear axle – the GTI’s progressive, variable-ratio steering system, a new sports suspension system and a sports-oriented skid-control system that can be fully deactivated for track use.

There’s also an optional dynamic chassis control that lets the driver toggle between Normal, Eco, Race and the customised Individual modes to tweak the throttle response, engine noise, shift speed and skid- and traction-control responsiveness. It also gets XDS+ at both ends of the car, which means it brakes the inside wheels independently if the car is drifting off the chosen line to subtly bring it back into the good books.

It rides on a chassis and suspension system that betrays an uncanny likeness to the Audi S3 Sportback, complete with a development of its four-link rear suspension and strut front end. It carries over nearly all of the Golf VII’s dimensions, too, including its 4276mm overall length, its 1790mm width, its 55-litre fuel tank and its 343-litre luggage capacity. It’s 20mm lower than the Golf, which means it’s only 5mm lower than the GTI.

It uses a solid braking lineup of 340mm x 30mm ventilated front discs, clamped with black-painted, four-piston calipers, while there are 310mm x 22mm ventilated discs using two-piston calipers.

Visually, it gets a unique front apron that aims to set it apart from the GTI (but only partially succeeds), though you’re never going to mistake its four exhaust tips emerging from beneath the bumper, nor its unique 18-inch alloy rims, complete with 225/40 R18 boots all round. For sure, they won’t be the Lampi short-spiked snow tyres we had, but Michelins.

The tyres and conditions might have blunted the search for the outer edges of the Golf R’s speed and grip, but ice tends to show up inherent balance issues and the third-generation Golf R has far fewer of them than its predecessors.

For starters, the engine is a lovely sounding device, full of fat tones, rich bellows and timbre changes through the rev ranges. More importantly, it fairly throws the 1476kg Golf R (it’s 19g heavier with the DSG) forward whenever you want it to.

It’s also brilliantly smooth and spins with a freedom that belies the 1800rpm arrival of the 380Nm power peak. Sure, that peak stays around, in the modern idiom, until 5500rpm, but it spins out to its 6800rpm cutoff with an ease and verve that suggests it’s actually enjoying it as much as you are.

There are traces of turbo lag if you’re asking big things of the throttle from below 1800rpm but from then on you’ve got a crisp, reactive, snap-punching mid range and a sweet-sounding upper end to help you enjoy its 5500rpm to 6200rpm power peak plateau.

It’s also plenty fast as well as being smooth and flexible, and we found the Golf R punching just as hard on patchy ice/tarmac conditions as it did on pure dry tarmac. It runs to 250km/h before a speed limiter spoils the party but also cruises at 2500rpm at 100km/h in sixth gear to help it to a combined consumption figure of 6.9 litres/100km.

The odd thing is that for a car as tautly tied down as the Golf R, the thing rides pretty well at all speeds, but especially at highway speeds. There can be a touch of drone about the engine as persistent low speed and low revs, but other than that the thumping four-pot doesn’t intrude unless it’s asked to.

But then there’s the handling. Unlike its front-drive GTI stablemate, the Golf R is capable, we now know, of setting up for and holding long, long four-wheel drifts with nothing more than a flick of the wheel and a few twitches on the throttle.

The steering now has some of the feedback lacking in its predecessor and a lot more accuracy for less effort, thanks to its variable ratio.

While flinging a car around on a frozen lake can tell you only so much, it did tell us that the Golf R could, if driven properly, let you enjoy long, perfect all-wheel drifts, slightly understeering all-wheel drifts or glorious oversteering odysseys, depending on your preference. It can also flop into understeer if not perfectly adjusted early enough, but its skid-control system is clever enough to run it close to an expert driver in a Golf R with everything switched off.

It’s more of the same out on the road (though with less exuberant sliding), with the sheer balance of the powertrain belying its nose-heavy weight distribution and the constant delivery of simple, fuss-free acceleration out of just about any corner you can find.

It also carries speed through corners far better than it did before and, when you exploit that new-found ability, you’ll be happy you’re sitting in one of the best and most supportive sports seats in the sub-$100k car business. Same goes for the leather-clad steering wheel with its perfect diameter and spoke positioning.

The interior gets a slight upgrade over the GTI, though it retains all of the software and multi-media stuff, and includes things like pedal covers and unique headrest stitching.

It creates an atmosphere that makes the cabin simply a nice place to be. It has a chassis and powertrain that makes the cabin simply a fast place to be.

And it’s a very big upgrade over the old Golf R. In the right conditions, when you need the extra bite from the rear end, it’s also a big upgrade over the Golf GTI. Whether it’s a big enough upgrade to justify the hike in price is up to you.

2014 Volkswagen Golf R hatch pricing and specifications:
Price: TBA
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Output: 221kW/380Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch transmission
Fuel: 6.9L/100km (combined, six-speed DSG)
CO2: 159g/km (combined, six-speed DSG)
Safety Rating: Five-star NCAP

What we liked:Not so much:
>> Fantastically strong engine
>> Slight turbo lag at low revs
>> More nimble all-wheel drive
>> Needs more visual differentiation
>> Retains all Golf VII strengths
>> Where's the Jetta or Golf Wagon R?

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Published : Wednesday, 22 January 2014
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