This is the VW Golf R: the hottest of all the Golf hatchbacks. Our first taste of this 296bhp uber-Golf is on the giant playground of a frozen lake in Northern Sweden. How will this turbocharged all-wheel drive hatch fare in the frozen wastes?
What’s the spec of the new VW Golf R?
Like its predecessor, the new VW Golf R shuns the V6 powerplants of R-models gone by. In fact, the 2.0-litre, 296bhp turbo engine and the Golf R’s all-wheel drive system are pretty much the same as you’ll find in the latest Audi S3.
>> Click here for CAR’s Audi S3 Sportback review
Sounds like an identikit hot hatch…
Sure, the £29,900 it costs to bag a three-door, manual Golf R is a scant £740 less Audi charges for the equally subtle-looking S3. And with BMW and Mercedes offering their own hot hatches with 316bhp and 355bhp respectively, it’s clear that while the R is the king among Golfs, it’s far from having the pocket rocket market all its own way.
Then again, here we have a family hatchback which will keep up with a Porsche 911 Carrera to 62mph, while carrying twice as many people and costing half as much. And with a deeper front bumper, wider air intakes, 18in or 19in wheels and quad exhausts being the only exterior tell-tales, it’s something of a Q-car to the uninitiated as well.
Hit me with some numbers
The new VW Golf R passes 62mph in a claimed 4.9sec (with the DSG twin-clutch ’box on board). Flat out, you’ll kiss 155mph. Economy is respectable too, matching the Mercedes A45 AMG’s claim of 40.8mpg. In fact, the new car is up to 30% more efficient, even though it’s also more powerful and will lap a certain German toll-road 15sec faster than its Mk6 predecessor.
So, what’s the new near-300bhp Golf R like on, ahem, a frozen lake?
While we have to wait a little longer before we get behind the flat-bottomed steering wheel and polished pedals of a Golf R on the road, the ice-test does show off the playful side to the Golf R – and its new-found ability to turn off all of the driver assistance systems.
Deactivating ESP for good means you can really feel the adaptive Haldex all-wheel drive system at work. By default, the Golf R’s power will be fed to the front wheels, like an A45 AMG. If traction issues are sensed, up to 100% of drive can be marshalled to the rear axle in a fraction of a second, and, via cheeky grabs of the brake, split between either side of the car too.
Learn all that and ice-driving the Golf R isn’t nearly as scary as you might imagine. In fact, it’s hilarious. You turn in, lift off, wait a moment until the tail starts coming round, then step back on the gas and whizz through. It’s just a case of choosing your corner arc across the white stuff. Hugging the apex is unspectacular but quick, covering the middle ground leaves you skating on raw ice, while letting the car run wide through freshly fallen powder is downright delightful.
Golf GTI devotees will already know that the new Golf R borrows their beloved GTI’s steering system. It’s an electrically assisted progressive rack, which is light and twiddly when parking, but weights up as you pile on speed. Or, say, charge across a frozen lake at 60mph looking out of the side windows. The Golf R feels sharp and connected around the straight-ahead position, it’s very responsive just off-centre, while the on-lock feedback is well weighted and nicely tactile. Crucially, the car doesn’t feel less nimble for lugging along rear-drive gubbins.
Is the Golf R really worth a 14% price premium over the GTI? VW is bullishly saying so – it claims the new R will could constitute up to 5% of Golf sales – twice its previous ratio.
However, with the equally competent and sexier-badged Audi S3 available for almost the same money, and a crazy 400bhp Golf RS in the pipeline for late 2015, we’d leave the Golf R out in the cold.