If idioms of wisdom from Star Wars are to be believed, anger is a direct result of fear. As the fictional character Yoda once said, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”. There is some truth to this in real life, for when we are afraid of something, someone or the unknown, we feel dread. Left unchecked, this insecurity could evolve into frustration and before you know it, anger.
Volkswagen must have been feeling apprehensive about its pocket-rocket rivals when it created the latest Golf R – the most powerful variant of the Golf model range. After all, the hot-hatch segment is a hotly contested one, with key competitors such as the Renault Megane RS265 and Opel Astra OPC being more powerful than the Golf GTI, so VW needed a more potent contender to keep pace.
The scorching performance of the Golf R, however, isn’t obvious from its styling. The test car, which came in Lapiz Blue, is so understated that you’d have to look closer to notice special details such as the huge air intakes (which explain the missing foglamps) needed to cool the radiator and engine.
While the Golf GTI wears a red stripe that runs the length of its grille, the Golf R has a metallic silver applique, and there are four U-shaped daytime running lights instead of the GTI’s two. Even the R emblems could easily be missed. But there’s no mistaking those quadruple exhaust tips and aggressive rear diffuser, for they tell other drivers that this hatchback means business.
The cockpit is less restrained than the exterior. There’s blue mood lighting, R logos embossed on the front seats, and blue needles for the instrument meters. If these fail to get your attention, then perhaps the “4Motion” badge by the gearshift lever will.
Like the preceding Golf R, the newcomer also has four-wheel-drive. In normal driving conditions, only the front wheels are driven, but if the system detects a loss in traction, up to 100 percent of the power can be sent to the rear wheels.To further enhance handling, VW engineers fitted both the front and rear axles with XDS Plus, a torque vectoring function that brakes the inside wheels when cornering to make the car feel more agile. There are also four Electronic Differential Locks (EDS) that simultaneously send power to the wheels with grip, while braking the wheels that slip. Track-day enthusiasts will also love the fact that this is the only Mk 7 Golf that allows ESC (electronic stability control) to be switched off completely.
These nifty systems are exactly what the Golf R needs to keep all of its 280 raging horses and 380Nm of torque in check. These figures, which closely match those of the Opel Astra OPC (which packs 280bhp and 400Nm), might have been a handful had the Golf R been a front-wheel-drive car. Thanks to 4Motion and its 6-speed dual-clutch transmission, the Golf R can dash from a standstill to 100km/h in five seconds flat – a full second quicker than the front-drive Astra OPC, which is only available with a 6-speed manual gearbox, by the way.The first indication of the Golf R’s hotter temper is in its voice. Its turbocharged 2-litre powerplant emits deep notes at lower revs, but punch it all the way to its 7500rpm redline and it delivers a half-growling, half-purring noise that just sounds right. If you like, you can conduct your own “symphony” using the paddle-shifters – shift up without lifting your foot from the accelerator and you get bassy “farts”, tap the “minus” paddle while braking and you’ll hear rorty blips. Compared to its GTI sibling, the Golf R’s soundtrack is so much richer.
Where the Golf R has really improved, though, is in its ride and handling. The previous model’s damping is entirely too stiff for everyday driving, even with the Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) set to Comfort. The new model is not only more pliant, even with the DCC setting in Sport, it’s a lot nimbler, too, as it’s 46kg lighter than its predecessor and only 50kg heavier than the Golf GTI.
Coupled with the progressive steering, turn-in is much sharper and the car feels flatter around bends as well. It’s a welcome change from the previous model which, in my opinion, feels weighed down by its all-wheel-drive system. I would, however, prefer the brakes to be more linear – their initial bite is too strong and requires finesse if you don’t want to make your passengers sick. The new Eco mode in the Driving Profile selector is also wholly unnecessary – this hatchback is built to thrill and choosing this mode only dulls its racy character.
Anyone can drive the Golf R feeling secure in its performance, for there’s no doubting its ability to outgun unsuspecting boyracers. But remember, if you unleash the full extent of the Golf R’s anger, your driving licence is bound to suffer.
TYPE Inline-4, 16-valves, turbocharged
BORE X STROKE 82.5mm x 92.8mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 9.6:1
MAX POWER 280bhp at 5700-6200rpm
MAX TORQUE 380Nm at 1750-5600rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 197.2bhp per tonne
GEARBOX 6-speed dual-clutch
with manual select
DRIVEN WHEELS All
0-100KM/H 5 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/h
CONSUMPTION 14.1km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 164g/km
FRONT MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
REAR Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
FRONT / REAR Ventilated discs
TYPE Continental SportContact 2
SIZE 225/40 R18
TRACTION CONTROL ABS with ESC
KERB WEIGHT 1420kg
TURNING CIRCLE 10.9m
PRICE INCL. COE $237,800 (no CEVS rebate/surcharge)
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km
+ Great handling, excellent soundtrack, still a practical daily driver
– Understated styling, redundant Eco driving mode, “grabby” brakes