Volkswagen Golf R: Fast & Classy

TEN BRAKE HORSEPOWER Ten. Doesn’t sound a lot, does it? And, truth be told, I’m not sure I can tell the difference on the road – not without driving old and new Golf Rs back-to-back. But that 310hp headline power figure subtly but assuredly elevates the latest R above the recently revised SEAT competition. It’s also now a hot hatch with a power output that begins with a ‘three’ – even in old money – which is very much a la mode.

There are no changes to the chassis setup with this ‘Mk7.5’ Golf R, but there is an all-new twin-clutch DSG gearbox, now featuring seven (not six) gears. Other than that, it’s a case of the usual slight evolution of the styling front and rear, a new design of optional 19in wheel, and all the other modifications that have been implemented across the Mk7.5 models as a whole: a suite of driver assistance systems, a glossy new optional touchscreen infotainment system and a ‘virtual dial’ pack (VW’s answer to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit).

The Golf R is a fascinating car for two main reasons. One, because it so comprehensively nails its target audience. It’s a classy yet classless hot hatch, one that mixes outrageous yet accessible performance with a smart – almost reserved – character. It’s the mega-hatch that’s socially acceptable, much as the Mk2 Golf GTI 16v was in the 1980s, and it’s frankly no surprise that the things are now so ubiquitous, although favourable lease deals have helped, too. And secondly, because it takes a while to be completely won over by its charms. So undemanding is the R, particularly when fitted with a twin-clutcher, that it’s easy to see it as highly capable, but not really special.

Certainly it’s fast – really, really shockingly rapid for so little effort. One of the appealing facets of the old R was the way in which the 2-litre lump combined boosty torque from very low revs with a genuinely keen top end, and this revised engine is naturally the same. It has found a great partner in the new DSG ‘box, whose shifts are virtually instantaneous and pleasingly smooth. If you’re just taking it easy, with the multitude of settings accessed via the driving modes set to normal, then it’ll already be in sixth gear by the time 50km/h is showing on the speedo.

A manual ‘box is still available, but, if the clutch pedal delay has been carried over, then the DSG option looks very appealing, and it certainly suits the engine’s delivery. Yet there’s so much more to the Golf R. It’s like peeling back the skin of an orange to reveal the fruit beneath: the more you drive it, the more you realise its hidden depths; the harder you drive it, the more it seems to enjoy it. It’s not really fazed by any road, and I’d be tempted to add ‘or by any surface’ were it not for the particular spec of our test car…

The pairing of the larger, 19in rims with the omission of variable dampers (DCC) just takes the edge off both the car’s ultimate ability and everyday civility. Urban roads that look smooth to the eye are fed back into the cabin with annoying pedantry, and the chassis can get slightly out of phase over sudden bumps taken at speed, as if the big wheels and meagre tyre sidewalls are a little too much for the standard dampers to contend with. Save money on the bling 19s and spend it on DCC instead. Traction is absolute, and the car surprisingly neutral post-apex when accelerating hard. All in, the Golf R remains – almost annoyingly – the answer to just about every automotive question.

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