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The Mercedes-AMG A45 gives lesser hot hatches a blood nose, but it's fair to argue it probably should, too, given its premium price tag. Mercedes handed us the keys and set us loose.
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If there ever was a Golf that could double as a secret agent, the Golf R surely is the lead candidate.
From a distance it looks for all the world like a mild-mannered, handsome but largely innocuous five-door hatch with a subtle bodykit and nice rims… but get a little closer and you'll see the reality is anything but.
|Volkswagen Golf 2017: GTI|
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It's a light go-over for the exterior of the Golf R this time around, with revised front and rear bumper fascias, the aforementioned updated LED headlights and taillights, as well as new-design 19-inch rims (known as the Spielberg).
The interior scores the large multimedia screen in a new centre console design, along with the Active Info Display dash.
While there are no real physical changes, the small tweaks have given the R a cohesive feel. The simple alloys are a good match for the car's character, for example, while the LED lights also add to the R’s sense of sophistication.
It's a five-door hatchback, so naturally practicality figures pretty highly. The R can absorb five people with relative ease, even across the rear bench, but four is obviously a nicer number.
Rear seaters get vents, two cupholders, two bottle holders and sufficient knee and head room but no charging points, while ISOFIX baby seat mounts are located on the outside pews.
Luggage space is reduced to the tune of 37 litres, thanks to the bigger exhaust and rear diff gubbins under the rear floor, for a total of 343 litres with the seats up and 1233 with them flipped down.
The arrangement of the rear exhausts also means you're not getting any sort of tow bar on the R.
Up front, the heated leather seats are supportive and surprisingly wide for a small hatch, and they can be dropped down to give taller drivers a bit of space behind the wheel.
A pair of cupholders nestle up front, complemented by decent door pockets with 1.25L bottle capacity.
We tried the vaunted gesture control on the 9.2-inch multimedia unit briefly, but other than being able to change a track on the stereo, we couldn’t do much else.
Besides, if you have a button on the steering wheel to change tracks (for example), why do you need to take your hand off the wheel to do the same job? Odd… while I’m whining, the glass frontage on the touchscreen smears up in double quick time, which is a pity.
The Golf R kicks off at $52,990 before on roads for a six-speed manual version. Given that it gains a couple of key upgrades, the fact that it hasn't jumped a cent in price is pretty key.
It’s thoroughly well equipped for the loot, too, with the all-wheel-drive five-door hatch offering up a 213kW four-cylinder turbocharged engine, big brakes, adaptive suspension and a tricky front diff out of the box.
If you don't want a clutch pedal, you can pony up another $2500 to get an R with VW’s latest seven-speed wet-clutch DSG auto transmission.
Stock kit includes VW's new Discover Pro 9.2-inch navigation system with app-connect, rear view camera, gesture control and voice control, the new Active Info Display digital instrument cluster, Vienna leather interior, heated front seats with an electrically adjustable driver's memory seat, powered door mirrors with memory, keyless access with push-button start, automatic headlights and wipers and dual zone climate control air conditioning.
Premium LED taillights with dynamic indicators and LED headlights with dynamic cornering lights and dual-LED DRLs form part of the Mk 7.5 upgrade, along with revised front and rear bumpers.
Safety gear includes seven airbags, a driver fatigue detection system, low and high speed AEB and front and rear parking sensors.
A $1300 Driver's Assistance package (which includes adaptive cruise control, lane assist and blind spot detection) and a $1900 sunroof are the only options.
The third-generation EA888 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine under the bonnet of the R gets an extra handful of horsepowers thanks to a retune of the main engine computer.
It now makes 213kW – still down on the European 221kW spec, but hey, let's not argue too much.
This version of the engine is different to the one in the cooking model GTIs, and includes a stronger cylinder head, hollow exhaust valves and a bigger radiator to better handle the demands from its single, larger turbocharger.
It's now tuned to churn out 213kW between 5400 and 6500rpm, and 380Nm of torque between 1850-5300rpm.
The R can be had with a six-speed manual, or a new-for-Golf seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that’s known as a 'wet clutch' type. It's designed to deal with more power and torque than a dry-style six-speeder.
It'll do the 0-100km/h dash in two-tenths less than five seconds in DSG guise, too.
Against a claimed combined fuel economy rating of 7.2 litres per 100km, we recorded a dash-indicated figure of 8.3L/100km after 340km behind the wheel over mixed terrain.
A 50-litre fuel tank needs 98RON to make sure the R runs at its best; it will cop 95RON but it will reduce power and torque to protect itself.
There's certainly not much like 213kW and 380Nm in a small hatchback to get your attention, and the Golf R absolutely makes the most of the plentiful outputs at its disposal.
Turbo lag is impressively minimal as you push through the long travel throttle and the big single turbo pushes loads of torques into the mix, before throwing the R at the horizon impressively quickly.
The R's chassis and suspension is up to the challenge, offering up a relatively benign balance that doesn’t collapse into understeer at the slightest provocation – unless you’re a bit ham-fisted with it all. The R rewards flow, not agro, and it makes for a faithful, involving companion when you’re in tune with it.
It's not as frenetic and involving as, say, a Ford Focus RS, but it's better for it in my opinion. Part of the reason for its more relaxed gait is the relatively long-legged seven-speed gearbox; seventh is really a highway overdrive, while the taller third gear does work well with the wide torque band of the engine.
Engine noise is piped back through the firewall, but it still sounds ace, and it can be muted via the drive mode select button. The same button can also be used to build your own car – mine has every setting turned up to Race save for the dampers, which are left in Comfort. Perfect.
The R really does offer two cars in one – a friendly, softly sprung city hatch on one side, and a ferociously quick cross country assassin on the other.
3 years / unlimited km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
Seven airbags, standard high and low speed AEB and high-strength steel in key areas of the bodyshell combine to give the Golf R a maximum five-star ANCAP rating.
A three-year unlimited kilometre warranty is standard on the German-made Golf R, while service intervals of 15,000km or 12 months are suggested.
Capped price servicing is available for six years, peaking at $1082 for a 60,000km/four-year service and totalling $3162. Pollen filters and brake fluid costs aren't included in the service cost.
If you're looking for something with genuine pace in a low-key package that exudes a rare blend of convenience and sophistication, the Golf R should be at the top of your list.
If you're not looking at it because it's the wrong type of European badge, then I counsel you to have a second go-around. There are simply no other cars for the money that offer the same affordable blend of pace, space and grace.
|110 TDI Highline||2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP||$21,900 – 29,700||2017 Volkswagen Golf 2017 110 TDI Highline Pricing and Specs|
|110 TSI||1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$12,900 – 18,700||2017 Volkswagen Golf 2017 110 TSI Pricing and Specs|
|110 TSI Comfortline||1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$15,800 – 22,000||2017 Volkswagen Golf 2017 110 TSI Comfortline Pricing and Specs|
|110 TSI Highline||1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$20,300 – 27,610||2017 Volkswagen Golf 2017 110 TSI Highline Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||9|
|Engine & trans||9|