The recently updated VW Golf R spent a few days in our care. We share our thoughts on the upgraded model in this review.

The VW Golf R is like that guy we all know, maybe you work with him or he’s a family member. He is always well dressed, but never overtly stylish, he runs a decent time for a half marathon and occasionally volunteers at the pet shelter. In other words, he’s an all-rounder, who doesn’t really excel in any particular area. Well, Mr All Rounder has been spending more time in the gym… and it shows.

More muscle

The VW Golf R is not a newcomer to our market; in fact, it has been here for several years. The range-leading Golf was initially introduced to SA buyers with 206 kW, which was a bit less than most other markets. VW treated South Africa as a ‘hot climate’ and tuned the high-performance model accordingly, hence the lower power rating.

Double Apex T-shirts

A few years later, VW felt the engine could handle the SA climate a bit better and bumped up the power to 213 kW. Most recently the local subsidiary introduced the most powerful R into our market, which boasts a healthy 228 kW, along with 400 N.m of torque. That output makes it the most powerful Golf ever sold by VW SA, by just 4 kW over the limited-edition Clubsport S.

Updated appearance

The apex Golf is set apart by various design cues. Among these are model-specific ‘R’ designed bumpers, LED head- and LED taillights along with 19-inch alloys. ‘Spielberg’ wheels are fitted as standard, while a metallic grey ‘Pretoria’ design is an option. The exterior mirror caps are matte chrome or optionally finished in carbon-fibre.

Optional extras, as fitted to the test unit we had on review are an R Performance Titanium exhaust, as well as optional R Performance brakes with brake calipers that are painted black. Those in the know will be able to tell this apart from lesser-powered Golf variants, but on the whole, its appearance is understated, not overt or eye-catching.

On the road

As mentioned above, there are three power levels of Golf R that were sold in SA. Timing worked against me so that I was not in a position to drive the ‘intermediate’ derivative. The result is that this model feels like a proper step up from the 206 kW version I drove a few years ago. I always felt that the R’s platform, with its all-wheel-drive system, could handle a lot more power, and it can easily. 228 kW feels like the power rating this car should have been available with from the very start.

The test car on loan to us is fitted with the optional Akrapovic exhaust system. With ‘race’ mode switched on through the configurable drive system, the engine heralds each upshift with vocal eructation. When you shut the throttle there is a volley of smile-inducing pops from the quad exhaust outlets.

VW’s 2,0-litre turbocharged, in this car, doles out a decent level of punch. It has a strong mid-range, as do most turbocharged cars, but it also enjoys being revved out and there is a final kick through the last 1 000 r/min to relish before the transmission calls for the next ratio. As with many performance VW models the R is fitted with a slick-shifting dual-clutch transmission with seven forward ratios. I would prefer a six-speed manual, but sales would indicate that I am in the minority. With its standard launch control engaged the R is said to sprint from rest to 100 km/h in a scant 4,6 seconds.

Unflappable

In the midst of a wet Cape winter, the Golf R’s all-wheel-drive adds a level of safety and peace of mind to proceedings. Fortunately, I also got the opportunity to fling the car through some of my favourite twisty roads in the dry. In those circumstances, the Golf R has unflappable handling characteristics. There is an abundance of grip as all four 235 mm-wide tyres claw into the surface and a surefootedness that will make all drivers feel like heroes. The driving sensation, such as the four-square grip and inert steering action, reminded me of the Audi RS4 that that was recently reviewed by us.

The R isn’t quite as playful as a Renault Megane RS Cup or anywhere near as lively as the Clubsport S, but that is probably what makes it as popular as it is. Most people seem to prefer cars that are effortlessly fast without asking too much of the driver, and the Golf R excels in that regard.

Summary

I am glad that VW SA finally turned up the engine-power of the Golf R to the levels most other markets have been privy to. It gives us a better idea of why the car was as highly rated as it has been. In 206 kW guise it felt a bit flat, now it feels far more alive. I would go as far as to say that 240-odd kW would make the R a handy foil against the likes of some of the other top-end hot hatches on sale today, such as the Civic Type-R. As a final hurrah before the Golf 8 arrives later this year, Mr All Rounder’s time in the gym has really made him a far more engaging and interesting character.

Model: VW Golf R

Price: R681 000

Engine: 2,o-litre, inline-four, turbocharged

Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch, AWD

Max power: 228 kW

Max torque: 400 N.m

Top speed: 250 km/h

0-100 km/h: 4,6 sec

Fuel consumption:  7,2 L/100 km

The price includes a five-year/90 000 km service plan and three-year/120 000 km warranty.