Published on February 18th, 2015 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
Clinical Speed: the Volkswagen Golf R
We could talk about the fact that the Golf R seats 5, comes in 3 or 5-door flavours, has a decent boot, a full leather interior, and a great entertainment system. We could discuss the compromises to ride quality with a suspension setup that errs on the side of sportiness. We could comment on how the styling is slightly more conservative than the previous generation, with the exception of the quad tail-pipes that feel a tad unnecessary. But when it comes to assessing a performance car, there are very few things that truly matter besides the way it drives and the way it handles.
The Golf R is a great car to drive, and why wouldn’t it be? It comes with a turbocharged 2.0-litre direct injection engine, pushing out a healthy 280 PS and a good 380 Nm of torque from 1,750 rpm. It has an advanced 4MOTION all-wheel drive system that can transmit 100% of the power to the rear in certain situations, coupled with a Haldex differential that responds more quickly and more precisely than ever before. It’s comes with 235 mm wide Bridgestones (for the 5-door model equipped with 19-inch rims), which are plenty sticky for the majority of situations. A 6-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox also makes an appearance: Volkswagen engineers say the current power and torque output is as high as the gearbox can take without compromising longevity.
Our first experiences with the Golf R were on track during a limited preview of the car on Sepang International Circuit’s North Track. Suffice to say despite the impressionable power and torque, the experience on the whole was underwhelming. Anyone who’s a track junkie will know that cool down times are important for the tyres and brakes, and without this the cars were leaving the pits with very little grip or stopping power. After struggling to turn and stop the Golf R for the better part of 15 minutes, I returned to the pits disappointed- but understanding.
This time around, there was plenty of time to explore the limits of this mid-sized German hatchback. A short jaunt down the highway to Senawang and back via LEKAS revealed what we already knew- the Golf R has fantastic road manners on the highway, and can easily soak up the miles without breaking a sweat. Given enough room it will hit it’s 250 km/h top speed and hold it without much drama. The exhaust, however, is one area that requires a bit of work as the drone at lower engine speeds can be quite invasive. It permeates the cabin with an unforgiving bass tone, making it difficult for conversations between occupants.
This higher specification Golf R comes with the option to select various driving modes as well. With a choice of Comfort, Normal, Race, Eco, and Individual, it can be a little overwhelming trying to select the best option for the drive. Over time it became evident that Race should be reserved for driving on a smooth track, Normal seems to be a largely redundant mode, and Comfort is the mode of choice for pedalling around town. Eco can be useful for a long distance trip when fuel is a factor as it can disengage the clutch and coast at higher speeds. But the ideal mode for open-road antics remains ‘Individual’, with every setting set to Sport save for the suspension damping. It gives the sharpness and response necessary for quick maneuvers, but also allows the suspension to absorb shocks without unsettling the car.
But perhaps one of the more interesting features with this generation of Golf R is the ability to turn the stability control systems off entirely. No false deactivation messages here: off, truly means, off. This issue was one of the larger criticisms of the previous generation Golf R, in that testers and drivers alike could not put the hot-hatchback into a controlled slide with these systems active. Now that Volkswagen has given what the people have asked for, it is slowly becoming clear that the German manufacturing giant may have had its reasons.
Within it’s limits the Golf R is a superb car with an impressive amount of grip. The MQB chassis, as we have praised so many times before, once again shows off how effective it is at dealing with bumps and undulations while maintaining composure. The engine delivers smooth, linear performance with ample torque, allowing for some truly frightening speeds. But as you approach the limit of grip, it feels more as if you’re fighting the car than working with it. The Golf R doesn’t feel fluid and smooth, instead being more abrupt and jumpy; perhaps it’s the weight, or the numb steering, or the over-assisted brakes, but it simply doesn’t have the poise and grace that one would expect it to have on the limit.
Of course it’s all relative. The Golf R may not be as sharp edged as a Renault Megane RS265, but it has sheer grip on its side. Volkswagen has tweaked the all-wheel drive system to cut out the prevailing understeer from the previous Golf R, providing a more neutral feel when rolling onto the throttle through a corner. While you won’t be flicking it through bends like a rally driver, the Golf R manages to stay planted with smooth inputs. The incredible stability becomes more obvious in wet conditions, where it manages to keep all four wheels firmly planted even as you accelerate through. And even though it starts to be more of a handful at the limits, those limits are immensely high.
It’s a clinical kind of speed. For the majority of drivers and the majority of owners, this will be more than enough to have fun. It’s safe for the most part with stability control active, and it affords a certain degree of slip without- enough to carry speed through corners and hammer down straights without missing a beat. It provides you with an immense sense of control- so long as you don’t push it to it’s absolute limits. The Golf R may not be the ideal track car, but for all on road purposes, it more than satisfies.