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Volkswagen Golf R AWD 2014 review

EXPERT RATING
9
We've just driven the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R - but there's a little asterisk attached to any claim of this being a full review: We really only drove it on ice - on a frozen lake up in northern Sweden.

galleryWe've just driven the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R - but there's a little asterisk attached to any claim of this being a full review: We really only drove it on ice - on a frozen lake up in northern Sweden, an area often used for cold-weather testing.

Why on the ice? Partly, it served to show off just how well the Golf R’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system can fit the traction needs of the moment; and partly, it emphasised the differences between stability modes and driving, including a snarling new Race Mode.

DRIFTING ON STUDS

It was a (frozen) blast to get the Golf R out on the ice - with studded Lappi Winter Tyres. With this setup, VW was able to show off that Golf R now has a stability control system that can be completely turned off (not reactivated the moment you tap the brakes, like the last generation), and that it also has a Sport Mode that allows lots of freedom to drift and rotate before the system calculates a little nudge in the right direction.

Ice driving demands both finesse and, at times, some aggressive manueuvres affecting steering and loading. Thankfully the Golf R's 4Motion all-wheel drive system is ready to play both sides; as we experienced on the ice, it's ready to respond quickly and send up to 100 per cent of power to the rear wheels if needed, or vary the power almost infinitely and discreetly from the front to rear, depending on the conditions and what you dial up with your right foot.

The only thing we missed at times was a real handbrake lever to help out just a little bit with the rotation, although with experience, we were able to control that rotation by 'powering through' a drift, while being a lot more deliberate with steering inputs than we would be on pavement.

A drive on ice doesn't reveal all that much about driving nuance -- when the coefficient of friction goes up to normal road levels -- but it does demonstrate some of the benefits of the 'progressive' steering system, which has just 2.1 turns lock-to-lock, as opposed to 2.75 for the standard Golf's rack. That allowed us to quickly apply opposite lock during that time spent drifting sideways.

ENGINE / TRANSMISSION

We also weren't able to make much use of the R's boost in power, with its 2.0-litre EA888 four-cylinder engine making 221kW of power and 380Nm of torque -- although that will be detuned to 206kW and 330kW for Australia to cope with our extreme heat conditions, which demand changes to the electronic management system.

This version of the engine gets a different cylinder head, exhaust valves and valve seats, valve springs, and pistons; the fuel-injection system and turbocharger are also different compared to what you get in the GTI. And with other versions of this engine, it has variable valve timing for intake and exhaust valves, as well as two-stage valve lift on the exhaust side - plus water-cooled exhaust gas channels.

And if you do have the available traction, you'll find that it's the fastest-ever Golf, with a preliminary 0-100km/h time of just 4.9 seconds for the six-speed dual clutch auto (more than a second faster than the 2015 GTI) and 5.3 seconds with the six-speed manual. Out on the ice courses, we only had access to manual versions.

As for the exhaust, it's more than a visual difference. While gases escape only through the inner two of the four exits under light-load driving, high-throttle or high-rev conditions open butterfly valves at the exit of a rear resonator chamber open, to open the outer exits and give the exhaust a note that's raspier when revved. Engaging Race mode opens those butterfly valves for the outside two outlets all the time, resulting in a noticeably more bellowy sound just off idle and up to the mid revs, where it seems that the piped-in intake sounds chime in just as much if not more.

In addition to Race mode, we'll get Normal and Individual drive modes, and each of these modes allow different throttle and steering settings, as well as different shift points if you opt for the DSG transmission. The European cars we drove had an Eco mode, too.

DESIGN

Ride height is 20mm lower than the Golf, but only slightly lower than the GTI. And most of the changes to the latest Gen 7 Golf apply here: it's longer c to the previous-generation Golf R, about the same width, with a wheelbase that's about 50mm longer. Just as with the current Golf, we find the profile to appear less svelte than the previous generation, with a higher cowl. Despite a stronger structure, it's somewhat lighter than the previous car, though, due to the use of more high-strength steel.

PRICE / FEATURES

While Australian pricing and specification isn't yet finalised, expect the Golf R to go over the $50,000 bar. Standard spec could include leather (sport-contoured) seats, heated front seats, ambient lighting, bi-xenon headlamps with adaptive front lighting and LED daytime running, 18-inch wheels, the MDI system with Bluetooth connectivity, and the Drive Mode Selector. Navigation, keyless entry and push-button start, Park Distance Control, and Fender premium audio will be among the options.

DRIVING

This is a car in which it’s very easy to find a perfect driving position, and find the sort of 'seat of the pants' sense of adhesion that you need for this kind of driving. While we can't say that we got a feel for how much the Golf R amps up the experience versus the GTI, we can anticipate that it will be a great hatchback-only counterpoint (and possibly a stronger performer) than the sedan-only 2015 WRX STI.

We're eager to test those capabilities on bitumen, so look for full driving impressions later in the year. In the meantime, we can gush about how much fun this hot hatch is on ice, and point to how the 'R' really must stand for rally.

That's allowed through Haldex 5 hardware that includes a multi-plate viscous clutch, actuated by oil pressure. The system runs with an electrohydraulic pump that primes the system at 30 bar (435 psi), so that it essentially decouples the rear wheels when cruising, yet the valve controlling distribution can respond almost instantaneously, sending more power to the rear.

Due to new controls that now incorporate more parameters such as wheel speed, steering angle, and of course throttle input, as well as sensors for the stability control, the all-wheel drive system can respond more proactively than ever before. Meanwhile, sophisticated electronic systems (under several sets of acronyms that you really don't need to know) pulse the brakes to moderate power left to right.

What we were particularly impressed with is how the all-wheel drive system appears to reward finesse, while also delivering the sort of abrupt changes in power distribution and loading that someone might want and need on ice or other slippery conditions. By the end of our day out on the frozen lake we were quite confidently throwing the Golf R sideways and relying on our sense of balance, and the steering and throttle, not the stability system (when the worst that can happen is to stuff it into a snowbank, which we didn't, you can get a little more adventurous).

VERDICT

Left us wanting more.

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$15,990
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$7,950
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Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
118 TSI 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $14,901 – 19,990 2014 Volkswagen Golf 2014 118 TSI Pricing and Specs
103 TSI Highline 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $12,990 – 21,990 2014 Volkswagen Golf 2014 103 TSI Highline Pricing and Specs
110 TDI Highline 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP $10,884 – 19,990 2014 Volkswagen Golf 2014 110 TDI Highline Pricing and Specs
90 TSI 1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $8,999 – 15,000 2014 Volkswagen Golf 2014 90 TSI Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
9