This is a brand new car, with barely 40km on the clock, so I’m a little surprised that we’re being encouraged to thrash them around so early in their lives, but it takes it all in stride. The brakes are progressive and not overly firm, but they are effective and make trail braking into the corners very easy. The damping is excellent, even on this firmest setting – the GTI ahead of me is bouncing over the kerbs and I follow without wishing I’d put my chiropractor on speed dial.
The steering too is impressive – Race mode puts in on its heftiest setting, and while its levels of engagement aren’t incredible, there’s more than enough feedback to know what’s going on, to be able to make tiny corrections to the car’s attitude. Honestly, I didn’t think about it much while driving, which tells you everything you need to know. Instead, I’m focused on hustling, which the R does very well. Pitch it in, wait a fraction of a second for the nose to nudge towards the apex, then get on the throttle and feel that all-wheel-drive traction haul through and out of the corner. We’re not allowed to turn off the stability control entirely, but we can relax it to Sport mode, which allows plenty of freedom for wiggling as the limits of adhesion are reached. It’s tremendous fun, but doesn’t feel like it’s about to kill you.
Prices for the R in the Middle East start at $40,703 rising to $45,195 for the fully loaded version with a sunroof, powered leather seats and satellite navigation. That’s not as much as many people were expecting – unless you really want the extra toys, the basic package is an attractive option with Bluetooth, parking camera and the like all present and correct.
The most obvious rivals for the Golf R, bearing in mind its performance and size, would be the Subaru WRX STi and the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG. The former we’ve not yet tried, but compared to the latter the Volkswagen is something of a bargain. It may be down on power, but it’s more fun and engaging than the Merc, and it’s considerably cheaper, with the AMG starting at a shade under $60,000. Another potential rival, the Audi S3 hatch, which shares underpinnings with the Golf, isn’t available in the region.
As a GTI owner, I really like the R. Unlike some of the previous incarnations bearing the same letter, it doesn’t sacrifice the fun factor in favour of more power and stability – it feels more like a GTI in character than I expected and expands on its smaller sibling’s philosophy when it comes to the importance of driver engagement. It’s faster, both in a straight line and when it comes to stringing corners together, and for that reason it’s probably worth the extra money if you want that extra level of sensation.
On today’s evidence I don’t think GTI owners will wish they splashed out an extra $10,000 for the R, but those that do opt for the ultimate Golf won’t regret it. For a more definitive view though, we’ll need to get the R out on the road. Stay tuned for that when the GCC-spec cars arrive here later in the year.
|Golf (Euro edition)|
|Engine:||Inline 4-cyl, 1984cc, turbo|
|Power:||296bhp @ 6000rpm|
|Torque:||380lb ft @ 1800-5500rpm|
|Transmission:||Six-speed DSG, all-wheel drive|