VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R REVIEW
Displacement may be down, but the blistering new 2010 Golf R is - in every way - a much improved car over the Golf R32 it replaces.
Power is up, torque is up and the R’s AWD system is more capable than the R32’s front-biased driveline. Not only that, but it’s cheaper than the outgoing model.
MkV Golf R32 (review here), but pretty much everything is different. The engine has been downsized from a 3.2 litre V6 to a 2.0 litre turbo four.
The 4Motion AWD system has been tweaked to give better dynamic performance and the R’s weight distribution is less nose-heavy.
Styling is completely different too, both inside and out. The Golf R’s exterior gets unique front and rear light units (the rears with a distinctive double-L LED arrangement), and LED daytime running lights sit in the wide-mouthed front bumper.
A pair of sideskirts are also unique to the Golf R, while the R’s standard 18-inch ‘Talladega’ alloys are also available in 19-inch sizing.
What’s the appeal?
The Golf R offers a blend of turbocharged hot-hatch performance and European refinement. It’s a very capable performance car, but its interior is far from stripper-spec and is loaded with mod-cons.
It’s very much a car that you can drive to work during the week and take to the track on the weekend, and it’s equally at home on a B-road as it is clipping apexes at your local circuit.
What features does it have?
As the pinnacle of the Golf line-up, the R enjoys a number of things that are costly options on lower models.
Things like bi-xenon headlamps, front and rear parking sensors, privacy glass, an anti-theft alarm and touchscreen audio system with in-dash CD stacker.
Cruise control, a trip computer, rain-sensing wipers and dusk-sensing headlamps are also standard.
There are still a number of cost options though, like sat-nav (fitted to our car), leather upholstery (fitted to our car), and an electric driver’s seat (fitted to our car). A rear view camera can be opted for at extra cost.
What’s under the bonnet?
Volkswagen’s 2.0 litre EA113-CDL four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine powers the Golf R, and is a wholly different engine to the EA888 2.0 litre turbo used by the MKVI Golf GTI.
Instead, the Golf R’s engine is virtually identical to that used by the Audi S3, and produces a total of 188kW of power and 330Nm of torque.
European-market versions of both the Golf R and S3 get a full-blooded 195kW/350Nm output, but Australia’s hot climate prompted VW to dial back power to help preserve the engine.
That engine is mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed twin-clutch DSG automatic, and drive is taken to all four wheels via a new version of VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system.
Compared to the R32’s 4Motion system, the Golf R’s AWD drivetrain now has a constantly variable torque split, and is no longer as front-biased as the old system.
Up to 100 percent of torque can be taken to the rear wheels, and the system is much quicker to react to changes in grip levels.
Suspension hardware consists of Macpherson struts at the front and a multi-link setup at the rear.
Ride height is 25mm lower than a regular Golf, and the optional Adaptive Chassis Control (ACC) system allows damper hardness and steering assistance to be cycled between Comfort, Normal and Sport settings.
A pair of 345mm discs are gripped by big sliding calipers at the front, with 310mm discs at the rear.
How does it drive?
Docile when off-boost and extremely punchy when the turbo starts blowing strong, the inline four effectively has a split personality.
It can be as driven as gently as any Golf; the reward is sensible fuel consumption. But peak performance, and the devil within, is just a stab of the right foot away.
The bulk of its grunt comes online from 2500rpm upwards, and turbo lag is appreciably brief. Power delivery is linear, and the engine pulls cleanly all the way to its 6500rpm redline.
Its brilliance is in its flexibility. All 330Nm of torque is available between 2400rpm and 5200rpm, giving the Golf R excellent tractability across much of the rev range.
The naturally-aspirated Golf R32, on the other hand, had to be revved harder to extract maximum performance.
Volkswagen does twin-clutch gearboxes extremely well, and the Golf R’s optional DSG auto is yet another pearler.
It swaps gears in the blink of an eye, and its sport mode is intelligent enough to pre-emptively change down a gear (or two) on deceleration to keep the engine in the meat of its powerband.
Upchanges are accompanied by a satisfying ‘whump’ from the dual tailpipes, and downchanges are made with a rev-perfect throttle blip.
The standard steering wheel paddle shifters are easy to use, however the tiptronic gate is still the wrong way around – upshifts are done by pushing the stick forward, downshifts by pulling it back.
The DSG is extremely smooth when either pottering about the suburbs or attacking a mountain road and is hard to catch out.
It refuses, however, to hold gears to the redline in any of its modes - not a big deal when the DSG’s gearshifts barely interrupt the flow of power, but some drivers may find it an annoyance on a racetrack.
The steering wheel is the right size for spirited tiller-twirling, and steering weight is good. The ACC system changes the level of electric power steering assistance depending on mode, and with Sport mode selected there’s a satisfying heaviness to the wheel.
There’s little in the way of torque steer, and the front wheels don’t tend to get tugged around by road imperfections. Like most electro-mechanical power steering systems though, it doesn’t transmit a huge amount of information to the driver’s fingertips.
Chassis balance is better than the R32 and the Golf R has a higher grip threshold. It will still understeer when pushed, but thanks to its more neutral front-rear weight distribution its limits are higher.
Applying throttle helps to bring the rear around and tuck the nose in, something the R32 was reluctant to do.
Clearly, the rejigging of the 4Motion has paid dividends for the flagship Golf’s handling, as the constantly-variable torque split delivers better balance when under power.
The large brakes are very strong indeed, if a little grabby at urban speeds. The pedal is firm and responsive, and the stoppers instill a lot of confidence.
Ride quality is perhaps a bit too firm for around-town driving and while the Comfort mode on the optional ACC suspension is definitely softer, there’s still a hard edge to the damping when crossing expansion gaps, level crossings and the like.
It certainly feels sporting, mind you, and in Sport mode it corners very flatly and responds crisply to steering inputs.
The ACC suspension is definitely worth the extra expense, in our book, as its flexibility makes the Golf R’s ride a little easier to live with during the daily commute and far more enjoyable away from it.
What did our passengers think?
Passenger comfort is generally good, with very supportive front seats and decent leg and headroom in the back.
However, the firm ride may not encourage your passengers to ride along with you frequently, as the Golf R is a bit too jiggly even with the optional ACC suspension system in Comfort mode.
Interior quality and feel?
The cabin ambience of the Golf R is virtually identical to any other MkVI Golf.
It’s quiet thanks to extra sound insulation, and the build quality is better than the last-gen MkV Golf.
In fact, the stiff ride didn’t induce any wayward creaking or rattling in any of the cabin plastics, and everything feels very solid.
The optional leather upholstery fitted to our test car is made of good-quality hide, and is a great alternative to the somewhat drab-looking grey-on-black fabric trim that comes as standard.
The boot is slightly smaller than other Golf models, measuring in at 275 litres with the rear seats up and 1230 litres with the seatbacks folded.
That’s 75 litres less than every other Golf in the range, and is attributable to the R’s rear suspension and drivetrain setup.
How safe is it?
The R gets seven airbags as standard, including driver and passenger front and side airbags, driver’s knee airbag and curtain airbags front and rear.
Active safety equipment includes ABS, Anti-Slip Regulation, ESP stability control, switchable traction control, brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution.
Fuel consumption and green rating
Volkswagen claims the Golf R will consume an average of 8.7 litres per 100km, whether fitted with the manual or automatic gearbox.
At the end of our week in the car we averaged 12.2 l/100km, however a great deal of enthusiastic driving was the likely culprit behind that elevated figure.
How does it compare?
With all-wheel drive, a turbocharged inline four under the bonnet and a price tag that stretches from $50-60k, it’s all to easy to compare the Golf R to cars like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution currently at $68,206 driveaway (for the twin-clutch) and Subaru WRX STI at $59,990 plus on-roads.
In truth, it’s a very different car to either.
Its overall level of performance is a few rungs below that of the Mitsu and Subaru, but its comfort levels are significantly higher.
Unsurprisingly, given its origins, it’s far closer to the $67,914 (plus on-roads) Audi S3 in terms of packaging, power and performance, and it’s in this respect that the Golf R is a relative bargain.
Is it expensive to maintain?
Service intervals for the Golf R are set at every 15,000km/12 months, with a standard service costing between $350 and $440. The first major service is due at 60,000km and costs roughly $1060.
The Golf R is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, which includes a three-year paintwork warranty and 12-year anti-corrosion warranty.
Metallic paint is a no-cost extra on the Golf R, and colours include Candy White, Rising Blue, Reflex Silver, United Grey and Deep Black.
A five-door Golf R with DSG gearbox retails for $54,490 before on-road costs and is the most expensive configuration in the range. Our tester was fitted with a number of optional extras, which added to the sticker price.
Leather upholstery costs $3300, an electric driver’s seat comes in at $600 and the RCD510 sat-nav system will set you back $2500 (add another $1000 if you want the 8-speaker Dynaudio stereo).
That brought the total retail cost of our test car to $60,890.
You may be able to get more performance from the Lancer Evo and WRX STI for similar money, but the Golf R delivers nearly as many thrills inside a far more refined package.
Its hatchback body makes it a more practical everyday car than the Evo, and interior quality, fit and finish are leagues ahead of the Japanese AWD rockets.
Not only is it a nicer car to live with, but the Golf R is a big improvement over the R32 that preceded it. Nearly every aspect of performance is better - including fuel economy - and it’s certainly worthy of its position at the top of the Golf family tree.
We would probably save some dollars and select the standard manual transmission, but no matter what configuration it comes in it’s hard not to love the Volkswagen Golf R.