Published on August 5th, 2015 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
Delayed gratification is a thing of the past: Volkswagen Golf 7 R review
If you sat for your driver’s license in the past decade or so, chances are you have a pretty skewed view of what a performance car should be. The last ten years has seen a very large shift in how performance cars are designed and the targets they have in mind, as well as the kind of compromises made. Manufacturers have to develop their products to appeal to a much wider range of people, and purists have become more of a footnote in the grand scheme of product design.
So what matters to the average performance car buyer? There is a lot of importance placed in 0-to-100 times and how well a car would do in a traffic light drag race. In that regard, the Golf R delivers- our local spec model gets the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine to the tune of 280 PS, with 380 Nm of torque available from 1750 rpm. It hits 100 km/h from a standstill in just 5.0 seconds, with a top speed of 250 km/h- and if that isn’t enough, there are aftermarket parts out there that are proven to drop that sprint time down to 3.9 seconds.
Creature comforts are expected. To be honest, it doesn’t take a great deal to make the Golf R feel like a truly prestigious car, especially when the regular Golf 7 TSI has a pretty solid interior. In 5-door form, the R sits one level higher than the GTI in terms of comfort, with a larger touch screen and a piano black finish across the centre console, as well as blue accents in place of the red. The Driver Profile Selection system is also standard in the 5-door unit, allowing drivers to adjust things like throttle response and suspension stiffness. It’s a good system, easily besting those found in more prestigious German models, with more flexibility as well.
But these are things that you could have read off of a brochure. While most buyers decide on their car largely based on what they read in the brochure and hear from their friends, statistics on paper does not a performance car make. The Golf R does manage to deliver on it’s promise of performance, but it does so in a manner that feels largely disconnected from the act of driving the car. In Volkswagen’s defence, it is incredibly difficult to create a modern car that has the kind of feedback and feel that became extinct in the late 1990s.
This iteration of the 4MOTION system has been improved by an appreciable margin, now boasting the ability to deliver all of the torque to the rear wheels if need be. While the XDS+ electronic differential provides some degree of locking for better turn in, it doesn’t quite replicate that aggressive feel you find with a true limited-slip differential. Putting all 280 PS to the ground is made a lot easier by the 4MOTION but it still feels a little bit too tame to be regarded as a performance AWD system; the kind you might find in the Mitsubishi Evo or Subaru WRX STi.
When the Golf 7 debuted with the MQB platform, it was a revelation of sorts. Compared to previous generation German luxury sedans it seemed to ride almost as well, if not better, and it was noticeably smoother than it’s predecessor. In both GTI and R guise, the praise continues: despite running on 19-inch rims in 5-door form, the Golf R doesn’t feel horribly crashy while navigating the potholed roads of Kuala Lumpur. But regardless of which damper mode you set it to (Sport, Normal, or Comfort), the Golf R doesn’t quite have that on-throttle, off-throttle reaction that you find in a more focused driver’s machine. It simply sits in a neutral state of grip, favouring neither oversteer nor understeer.
Perhaps we’re just nitpicking. With all the electronic nannies turned off (something that couldn’t be done in it’s predecessor), the Golf R still feels well balanced: stable on the throttle and capable of extremely high cornering speeds without much effort. This performance is easily accessible to a new driver, thanks to that wide torque band and dual-clutch gearbox, which does away with the need to truly learn the car’s quirks and characteristics. In that sense there is no delayed gratification, no effort to put in, in order to enjoy the car in earnest- like one would have to with cars like the Toyota 86 or the Honda Civic Type-R.
So maybe the issue with the Golf R is not that it isn’t balanced, but rather that it isn’t reactive- and to be honest, most drivers today wouldn’t want something more responsive anyway. Because of that, the ragged-edge performance car may well be a thing of the past, left to companies like Lotus and Caterham to continue producing in small numbers. In the real world, the modern performance car is something that needs to be far more complex; to be quick, easy to drive, easy to handle, comfortable, convenient, and acceptable to your in laws as well. And in that context, the Golf R is a solid performer.