After reinventing the hot hatch as a V6 nearly 20 years ago, Volkswagen has ditched the concept and returned to its four pot roots. But is the new 2010 VW Golf R different enough from a GTi to justify a £30k price?
So what was wrong with the old VW Golf R32?
Not much, at least in terms of the way it drove. The 247bhp V6 made the right noises and felt suitably swifter than the contemporary GTI. It’s all to do with CO2.
The old R32 coughed out 257g/km of CO2 and couldn’t manage more than 33mpg. Now with a blown 2.0 four-pot under the nose, its successor, the new 2010 spec VW Golf R, is a 199g/km, 33mpg car yet gives nothing away in terms of performance.
So what is the difference the new VW Golf R and the Golf GTI?
Essentially it comes down to this: 59bhp, drive to the rear wheels as well as the fronts, a set of 18-inch rims and a £6k premium. Think of the Golf R as Volkswagen’s answer to the Audi S3.
While the front-wheel drive GTI makes do with 207bhp and 206lb ft of torque, the R achieves 266bhp and 258lb ft from the same 1984cc of capacity. The extra power and the traction of four-wheel drive is enough to overcome the alarming 182kg weight penalty, allowing the R to hit 62mph in 5.7sec (GTI, 6.9sec) while at the top end, the GTi is all out at 147mph leaving the R to forge on ahead to 155mph.
The Golf R certainly feels quicker than the GTI, not outrageously fast but definitely more urgent both in acceleration and in the sound it emits. And despite sounding less cultured than the old V6, this 266bhp four is keener to rev and mates with the standard six-speed manual far better than before when it could feel rather clunky. Then, you’d opt for the dual clutch DSG ‘box; now, you still can, but might think twice.
But 182kg heavier than a GTI! That’s two flat blokes. Surely the handling is ruined?
On the contrary, the R grips harder, turns in with more conviction and quells body movements more effectively than the Golf GTI can. The fact that most of the extra mass is located towards the rear of the car probably helps, but don’t confuse the Golf R for a proper four-wheel drive car.
Like all Haldex-equipped VW group cars, this one is essentially front-wheel drive, the rear end only chiming in when conditions insist. That’s not to say the four-wheel drive system is pointless – it means no wheelspin or torque steer. But it handles like a front driver, not like an Audi R8. Doesn’t ride like one either, at least not on the standard suspension. While the ACC adaptive dampers are standard on the Scirocco R (which is actually front-wheel drive), they’re a pricey £765 option on the Golf.
>> Click next to read more on the Volkswagen Golf R
So what are the other downsides of the new Golf R?
Well there’s the price for a start. A basic three-door R costs £30,090 and although you can’t fault the build quality, you don’t get a lot in the way of creature comforts. Start adding the sort of equipment you might expect an R32 to have (metallic paint, £430; parking sensors, £420; leather sports seats, £3230; cruise control, £225; DSG ‘box, £1305; rear doors, £585; adaptive dampers, £765; sat nav, £2055; 19in rims, £540) and you’re looking at a bill of close to £40,000…
That list might sound excessive but some of the pricier kit including the adaptive dampers which you really need to sort out the nuggety ride, are must-haves. And while we’re on the subject of money, the extra kerbweight might not massively undermine the way the R drives, but it does no doubt contribute to it losing out to the GTi to the tune of 29g/km and 6mpg.
So you’d rather have a GTI, but I want something a bit more special. Would I be better off with a Focus RS then?
Whoa there, we’re talking apples and pears, and not just because the Ford is packing an extra 30bhp. The Focus is a crude-looking, noisy, cheap-feeling hatch with a terrible driving position that is saved by being absolutely brilliant to drive.
The Golf R is a much more polished performer. No, it doesn’t set your heart racing in the same way over a fast B-road but it still excites and is infinitely preferable for the other 90% of the time. Maybe you like being gawped at by 16-year-olds and having to summon every ounce of arm strength to keep your car in a straight line when overtaking. We’d prefer the Golf.
If you like your hatches hot, but not at the expense of usability, you’ll love the Golf R. It’s just as you’d imagine it would be, a Golf GTi with the wick turned up, and retains the more basic car’s all-round appeal and manages to be even more desirable.
Our biggest problem with the Golf R is the price. It’s simply too expensive and not sufficiently better than the GTI to justify a £30k-plus pricetag. And that reflects just how great the standard GTi is as much as anything else.