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Volkswagen Golf R 2014 review

As a fast but comfortable and practical wolf in sheep’s clothing, Volkswagen's new Golf R is a ripper.

The new Volkswagen Golf R promises to be a significant step up from the already excellent Golf GTI hot hatch, with an extra 44kW, 50Nm and the two extra driven wheels that has always distinguished R models from lesser Golfs.

In Mk7 guise, the Golf R is the fourth generation of its type - building on the Mk4 and Mk5 R32 models and the Mk6 Golf R – and boasts performance claims to make it the quickest production Golf ever. Volkswagen describes the Golf R as having HSV Clubsport R8 0-100km/h acceleration, but with fuel consumption of a fleet-oriented hatchback.

DESIGN

The Golf R’s relatively discreet styling is distinguished from lesser Golf and GTI models by slightly more aggressive front and rear bumpers and side skirts, matte chrome and gloss black detailing, standard Bi-Xenon headlights with unique LED indicators, tinted LED taillights, 19 inch ‘Cadiz’ alloys with 235/35 tyres and AMG-esque quad oval exhaust outlets.

The matte aluminium detailing continues on the inside, with Alcantara/fabric leather trim on ‘R’ embossed sports seats, blue LED ambient lighting and specific instrumentation. Vienna leather trim is optional, but dual-zone climate control and a 5.8 inch multimedia screen with satnav and proximity keys are also standard.

The 4Motion all-wheel drive system uses a fifth-generation Haldex coupling, which sends power to the front wheels under normal conditions, and redirects to the rear when more traction is required.

In addition to the front-rear Haldex coupling, the Golf R uses a version of the standard GTI’s brake-actuated electronic diff lock system to distribute drive from side to side for the front and rear axles. The electronically controlled mechanical front differential found in the new GTI Performance is not fitted to the Golf R.

Adaptive dampers are fitted to each corner, and integrate with the throttle mapping, electric steering and DSG (where fitted) through five different driving modes; including Eco, Normal, Individual, Comfort and Race to vary the Golf R’s personality according to the driver’s mood or road conditions.

A scaled-back ESP Sport mode loosens the stability control’s electronic safety net, and for the first time the stability control can now be deactivated altogether with a button press of longer than three seconds.

Brakes are a GTI Performance-matching 340mm up front and 310mm at the rear, with black ‘R’ labelled calipers, and the R’s specific suspension setup is 20mm lower than a standard Golf and 5mm lower than GTI.

VALUE

Priced at $51,990 with a six-speed manual and $54,490 with a six-speed DSG dual-clutch auto, both versions represent a $2000 increase over the previous Mk6 Golf R.  Brand-ambivalent buyers with an eye for the Audi S3 Sportback might find the Golf R a relative bargain though, with the Volkswagen mechanical twin undercutting the Audi by as much as $7,910.

ENGINE/TRANSMISSION

Australian-spec Golf R’s use a 206kW/380Nm version of the EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, representing an 18kW/30Nm gain over the previous Australian Mk6 Golf R, but detuned from the European-spec 221kW/380Nm to suit Australia’s warmer climate.

An impressively broad maximum torque band of 1800-5100rpm is retained, and claimed 0-100km/h acceleration has dropped to 5.0 seconds with the six-speed DSG dual-clutch auto, and 5.2 seconds with the six-speed manual.

These figures may slightly trail the Euro-spec’s 4.9/5.1 second times, but are a significant improvement on the previous Australian spec’s 5.7/5.9 second figures, the current GTI Performance’s 6.4 seconds, and the garden variety GTI’s 6.5 second claim.

Top speed is limited to 250km/h, and fuel consumption has dropped significantly from 8.7-7.3L/100km for the manual, and 7.1L/100km with the DSG auto.

SAFETY

The new Golf R carries the same maximum five star rating of the rest of the Mk7 Golf lineup, with dual frontal, side and curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag, plus ABS, electronic brake distribution and stability control.

DRIVING

Our first drive of the Golf R involved unrelentingly wet Melbourne weather, and included some of the best mountain roads that famously surround the city. Unrelentingly wet mountain roads? Just the thing for an all-wheel drive hot hatch to prove its mettle.

The Golf R’s extra personality is immediately obvious on startup. The 2.0-litre ignites with a raucous rasp before settling into a muted burble, which is soon revealed to be a continuous characteristic of any light throttle Golf R driving. Under heavy acceleration, there’s a delightful induction and exhaust growl that has clearly been tuned to emulate the glorious six-cylinder notes of the earlier R32 models, making the rorty GTI note sound relatively wimpy. And yes, the dual-clutch models we drove deliver a liberating ‘DSG fart’ on heavy throttle upshifts and satisfying pops and crackles on the overrun. BIG performance Golf DSG cool factor box ticked there. 

The DSG was also the only version on hand at the R’s Australian launch, with the manual delayed until the third quarter of the year due to European demand for the self-shifter.

Off the mark, the DSG-equipped R is as ready for action as its 1800rpm max torque availability suggests. The R is equipped with launch control, but a simple punch of the throttle from the lights will rocket the R off the line, snapping through the gears as we’ve come to expect from dual-clutchers, and making VW’s 5.0 second 0-100km/h time feel entirely achievable.

Punched hard out of tight uphill corners, the Golf R picks up its skirts and gets going, with a seamless transition of power to the rear wheels and none of the scrabbling of front tyres a front wheel driver would exhibit under the same conditions.

The electric steering gave plenty of advice of the front tyre grip on the wet roads on test, and the 235/35 Bridgestone Potenzas deliver excellent wet weather grip in general, allowing enough speed to appreciate the R’s resistance to pitch and bodyroll. Like all Mk7 Golf’s there’s a general feeling of lightness, which is maintained despite the extra 111kg of all-wheel drive kit carried over a DSG-equipped GTI.

This perception of lightness is strongest when Race mode is selected from the touchscreen menu, which reduces steering assistance, activates the DSG’s Sport mode, and tightens the adaptive dampers to the stiffest of three settings.

Left in Race mode on rough roads, the R is still acceptably comfortable for a hot hatch, and we found the only real encouragement to change back to Comfort or Normal mode was the extra revs caused by the DSG holding a lower ratio than necessary.

The sports bolstering of the R’s seats are another notch above the GTI’s pews, but are still comfortable for real humans on long journeys. Some may find the omnipresent exhaust burble a bit much at a constant highway cruise, but to our ears, it’s a nice reminder of the Golf R’s sporting intent that sits beneath the intrusive threshold.

VERDICT

There’s no question the new Golf R offers a significant performance and personality boost over the already excellent Golf GTI and new GTI Performance. It may not wear its heart on its sleeve like some other hot hatches, but as a fast but comfortable and practical wolf in sheep’s clothing, the new Golf R is a ripper.

Pricing guides

$15,990
Based on 338 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$7,950
Highest Price
$34,999

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
Malcolm Flynn
CarsGuide Editor

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