Volkswagen Golf R. REVIEW. GTI Plus?

We’ve got a flavour of the new Volkswagen Golf R, which boasts 296bhp. Well, for now, anyway.

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Seldom have I been so torn in my hopes for a new car. On the one hand, I want and expect the Volkswagen Golf R to be excellent, because, well, I like good cars. On the other hand, I kind of want it to be disappointing, because I own a mk7 GTI, bought with my own money, and would rather like the smug satisfaction of knowing that although it might be more expensive and more powerful, the R isn’t as much fun as my humble little runabout.

Today I should get a fair idea of where the R stands on my Golfometer, although it’ll be more of a taster than a full in-depth exploration, as we’re only driving it on track. The Dubai Autodrome, to be exact. And we’re not driving the Gulf-spec versions either – those will arrive later in the year. For now, we’ve sampling the European-spec edition, which is virtually identical except that it has more power – 296bhp from its turbocharged 2-litre engine. The Gulf-spec cars will have just 280bhp, the detune deemed necessary for reliability in the sweltery desert heat. The extra power isn’t the only major change though – the Golf R also moves from the front-wheel drive layout of the GTI to all-wheel drive.


Visually, the Golf R is little changed from the GTI, itself a relatively restrained vision of performance. Both of the faster Golfs aren’t designed to shout their intents – indeed, the beauty of the GTI is its balance between the various extremes of comfort, performance, looks and practicality. And the R follows a similar template – the bumpers have been revised to give wider openings, the side sills are more pronounced and there are some R-specific alloy wheels. In addition, the suspension is revised and lower by 20mm. There are two lots of twin tailpipes at the back and some very discreet R badges dotted around. The track has been widened, and the overall impression is a smart, mature look that whispers intent rather than shouts it. It’s handsome, but it won’t turn heads of passers by, except for those that know what they’re looking for.

The interior is virtually identical to the GTI, save for the R badge on the bottom of the steering wheel and a 4Motion moniker emblazoned across a storage compartment in front of the gear lever. The transmission, by the way, is the same six-speed DSG unit found in so many Volkswagen products. This is a good thing.

Our test consists of several laps around the Autodrome, chasing an instructor in a GTI. He’s not hanging about, but unfortunately we can only go as fast as the slowest person in our little Golf train, so it’s hard to get into any rhythm as we have to slow down again every few corners. But I can tell before I’ve even left the pit lane that the R does at least sound the part. Compared to the GTI it’s deeper, louder and more rasping, but the little burps on the gearshift remain. I don’t know if it’s possible for a car to sound solidly engineered, but if it is, the R manages it.


The car comes with a dynamic chassis control system which means you can load different set-up profiles depending on condition. As we’re on track, we stay in Race mode all the team, but if we were so minded we could change to another via the touch screen in the centre console. The DCC adjusts damping, steering and throttle response, but we’ll need to wait until we get an R on the road to explore the differences more. In race mode, the exhaust is opened up more, which explains that awesome sound on acceleration down to turn one.

On turn in there’s more body roll than I expect, but only to a certain degree – once the initial pitch happens, it settles fast, and allows me to lean on the tyres, accelerating early and hard through the long right hander. There’s a touch of understeer, which is pretty hard to avoid on a four-wheel drive car, but very quickly there’s a clever juggling of torque, and some braking of the inside wheel, and balance is restored. The throttle response is impressive, and the R’s composure is regained instantly when the brakes are slammed on into a 90 degree left-hander.

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