As you’d expect for a car at the pinnacle of the range, Volkswagen Golf R performance is impressive.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is the same as found in the Golf GTI, but VW’s engineers have heavily reworked it so it produces around 80bhp more. Headline figures, then, are power of 296bhp and torque of 380Nm available between 1,800rpm and 5,500rpm.
Thanks to that latter it’s a very flexible engine, and you’ve got impressive power reserves in almost any situation. It’s smooth and easy to drive slowly too, though. There’s a fairly linear power delivery considering the engine’s turbocharged nature. You don’t get a sudden punch in the back, it’s more of an increasingly exciting ferocity the higher up the revs you go.
As you get towards the redline end of the rev range you’ll find a car with a savage power delivery that slingshots you up the road. It feels every bit as quick as its acceleration figures suggest, covering 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds if you’ve got an automatic or 5.3 seconds if you’ve got a manual.
We’ve only driven the six-speed manual gearbox at the moment, but can report it’s excellent. There’s a very satisfying shift action – it’s a short throw yet it’s solid and feels very robust, which inspires confidence. Sure, it’s not the fastest way to play Golf, but it’s certainly more satisfying for the common enthusiastic driver than an automatic.
You can alter the engine’s response using the Driver Profile Selector button, which allows the driver to choose between Eco, Normal, Race or Individual settings; the latter allows you to configure each adjustable parameter individually for your own bespoke ‘preferred’ setting.
The first thing you need to know about the way the Golf R handles is there’s an absolute lorry load of grip on offer.
While the GTI is front-wheel drive, the R makes use of the firm’s 4MOTION four-wheel drive system for superior traction and confident handling in all situations.
It works by diverting torque to the rear wheels when it detects the front ones start to slip. In extreme cases it can even send all power to the rear wheels, or some to either end of the car as required. The system reacts in fractions of a second, which means you’re never struggling for grip.
So it’s got go-anywhere capability, but at the expense of excitement? Not exactly – the Golf R is a rewarding car to drive. Not only does it feel seriously fast but it’s composed and balanced when cornering too.
The steering is surprisingly good, full of feedback and nice and responsive. VW has re-worked the Golf’s steering for the R and it certainly shows. Other cars on the same platform can only dream of this sort of precision.
While normal driving makes the R feel nearly peerless, those who enjoy taking the car to its limits will feel short changed if they’ve tried the BMW M135i and its rear-wheel drive chassis. At the limit the Golf’s front washes predictably wide, where the BMW offers a level of adjustability in corners by using your right foot.
To provide more engagement, Volkswagen has built in a system where the driver can either have full stability and traction control operational, or a Sport mode which allows a little more slip before intervening.
The steering can be adjusted using the Driver Profile Selection button, which means you can add weighting by choosing Sport or Race modes. The latter also allows the traction control to be switched off altogether, should you find yourself on a race track where you don’t require electronic intervention to prevent crashes.
Available as an optional extra, Adaptive Chassis Control allows the driver to use the Driver Profile Selection feature to sharpen up the handling for ultimate cornering or soften it for the most comfortable ride.