► Volkswagen Golf R Estate review
► The fastest Golf, now with the biggest boot
► Driven on track and on the road
Most car enthusiasts/bores have probably at some point debated the classic ‘If you could only have one car…’ pub question. With this car, Volkswagen aims to sew up the answer once and for all.
The VW Golf R Estate is an easy car to understand: the range-topping, giant-killing 296bhp four-wheel-drive Golf R drivetrain and chassis, transplanted wholesale into the big-booted Golf Estate bodyshell. You’ll pay roughly £1200 more for the wagon than the equivalent five-door DSG auto hatch.
Big boot aside, what’s different from Golf R hatchback to Golf R Estate?
Not a great deal, actually. The rear spring rates and dampers have been tweaked ever so slightly to account for the shift in weight distribution (VW says there’s around 70kg extra over the rear axle) and better cope with heavy loads in the boot, but otherwise very little has changed.
The same brilliant EA888 1984cc turbocharged four-pot lives under the bonnet, with a bigger turbo than the GTI boosting power and torque to 296bhp and 280lb ft. The latter’s spread broadly over 1800-5500rpm, making this quickest of Golfs not only fast but flexible too.
No change for the four-wheel-drive system either, which splits the torque front to rear via a fifth-generation Haldex coupling, geared in this case for agility rather than off-road scrambing. The majority of the time, the lion’s share of torque heads to the front wheels, but as much as 100% can be momentarily directed to the rears when it’s needed. Torque can be pooled from side to side to an extent too, using a system VW calls XDS+, an extension of the electronic diff lock which brakes individual inside wheels when it senses a loss of traction.
Although the car’s longer overall, the wheelbase is unchanged from hatch to wagon as the extra length all comes from the bodywork behind the rear axle. Meanwhile, the rest of the exterior gets the same treatment as the hatch, with its own LED light signatures, shiny 18-inch wheels (19s are an option), enormous brakes and quartet of equally shiny exhaust tips.
Bad news for manual gearbox fans: while you get a choice of six-speed DSG dual-clutch auto or DIY gearboxes in the hatch, the estate is DSG-only.
The important question: is it as much fun as the hatch?
Yes, it really is. It feels every bit as quick (VW claims 0-62mph in a seriously rapid 5.1 seconds if you use the launch control function, three tenths slower than the DSG hatch) and sounds good too, with a fast Audi-style bark from the quad exhausts with each upshift when you lean on the throttle. Put the drive select menu in ‘Race’ mode and you get a bit of extra induction rortiness piped into the cabin via the speakers – largely artificial, but fun nonetheless.
In long corners you can feel the 4wd system and brake vectoring at work, gently and unobtrusively shifting the car’s balance and helping it turn ever tighter. Despite a welcome lack of body roll the electronically controlled dampers still manage to keep the ride supple on gnarlier surfaces, even in their firmest ‘Race’ setting. The R Estate is just as much a giant-killer on slippery, bumpy B-roads as the hatch – few cars are as easy to drive quickly.
We drove the R wagon on track too, and the breadth of its abilities really are impressive. It’s incredibly grippy and stable, at least until the tyres get hot, with a handling balance that’s safe but still enormous fun. Traction out of slow corners is remarkable, and in faster curves the car’s angle can be adjusted, at least a little bit, by adding or subtracting throttle. Only downside is its appetite for tyres; after a day of short but continuous sessions on track, they were beginning to feel a long way past their best.
Although it’s a shame the light, slick-feeling manual gearbox isn’t an option for the estate, the DSG ’box is hard to fault in this particular car, smooth and unobtrusive on the road and giving you crisp downshifts just when you need them on the track.
According to VW personnel who’ve spent hard-driving time with both, if anything the estate feels even better balanced than the hatch on track thanks to the extra weight over the rear axle.
It’s annoyingly good, this car. £33k is a lot of money for a Golf, but this one gives you quite a lot of car in return. As much fun to drive as the Golf R hatch and just as practical as an ordinary Golf Estate (tyre costs aside), this is a have-cake, eat and not even put on any calories kind of car.
There are a few other great hot estates out there at the moment to ensure it doesn’t have an empty playing field: the platform-sharing, front-drive Seat Leon ST Cupra feels nearly as quick and is more affordable; the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate (on a longer version of the same platform) is roomier, if less exciting; and the Ford Focus ST estate is considerably more affordable and great fun, though lacking a few layers of the Golf’s polish, from a dynamic, refinement and interior quality standpoint.
If you could only have one car? It’s perhaps too obvious, and not quite characterful enough, a choice for many people’s one-car garage. But you could do worse.