Volkswagen’s Golf R hot hatch’s spec sheet reads like a wish list pried from the imagination of every teenager who’s ever lain awake at night building and re-building the ultimate version of the ten year-old Golf parked in their parents’ driveway.
228kW of power? Check
All-wheel drive? Check
Seven-speed DSG transmission? Check
Artificially-enhanced engine noise exiting the stereo speakers? Uhhhhhh….. Check
In fact, the only aspect of the Volkswagen Golf R’s formula that would give any fanboy or fangirl pause is its window sticker. But hey, only the most actuarial of fantasies make room for details like monthly payments.
If you’re willing to live the dream, the Golf R is right there waiting to blind you with the science of its next-generation platform and make you forget about what other options might be out there lurking at the same price.
Some cars get old. Others mature. The Golf R’s lineage is further proof of its evolutionary, rather than radical take on the performance hatchback concept: by using the GTI as its starting point, Volkswagen has managed to build a brand flagship that stands on the shoulders of a giant not just in terms of engineering, but also when it comes to taking advantage of a pre-existing audience eager to take things to the next level.
‘Next level’ is exactly where the Volkswagen Golf R is all too willing to help you explore. The 228kW of power and 400Nm of torque generated by its 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine are a hearty upgrade over the similar mill found under the bonnet of the GTI, and it’s matched with 4MOTION all-wheel drive and our choice of a seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual setup called ‘DSG.’
Ultimately, it comes down to what’s more important to you – hitting 100-kmh from a standing start in 4.6 seconds or feeling like you’re a more active part of the man-machine interface on a twisting two-lane road. Don’t get me wrong, the vehicle drives well, it feels amazing and sounds even better when you’re in the driver’s seat.
“I just can’t believe how good this thing is,” I thought to myself as I rushed down the N1 Highway with sports car-like urgency. For the uninitiated, the Golf R can really take you by surprise. While most performance cars in the price range do maybe two or things really well, the Golf R does basically everything well, and does so while flying below the radar of both the fashion police and those piggies you’d find after the William Nicol bend.
The other major revision on hand for 2019 is the inclusion of the 9.2-inch Discover Prosystem. VW’s infotainment game has come a long way in just a few short years, and this one addresses a number of issues found in the original iteration of the system used in the outgoing car.
Like the first and second generation MIB platform, VW now utilizes what’s called the Volkswagen Infotainment system with Discover Pro sports a rather familiar layout of a touchscreen surrounded by more touch sensitive buttons. The Discover Media system found in the Golf R sports a 9.2-inch display and a new menu design that makes hunting for specific functions a less common annoyance, while additions like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirrorlink connectivity, yields a comprehensive feature set that likely won’t leave you yearning for additional functionality from day one – at least from VW’s side of the fence.
Ease of use is further bolstered by the updated internal hardware, which serves to make the system much quicker to respond to inputs and more pleasing to use in general. While VW’s latest infotainment system still leaves a bit to be desired from an aesthetic standpoint, the feature set, coupled with the clear and balanced output of DynAudio’s set up, puts this system among the stronger offerings on the market today.
Given that it’s intended to court a more affluent – read, older – buyer, it’s really no surprise that our test 2019 Volkswagen Golf R retails for R676 000. For those hoarding their paper route rands and cents, that’s way more than what you’d spend on a base GTI, a gap that widens by a few thousands if you ante up for navigation and 19-inch wheels.
Whereas the GTI is a significant and affordable upgrade over the entry-level Golf, it’s harder to make the same argument for the Golf R’s positioning above its turbocharged sibling. Certainly quicker than the GTI in stock form, offering a stronger list of standard gear, and featuring a 4MOTION all-wheel drive advantage that simply isn’t available from the aftermarket, the R’s value proposition tails off dramatically when comparing the two models strictly on a ‘fun to drive’ basis.
Consider, too, that R600K buys a lot of car on the modern marketplace, with price point options like the Mercedes-AMG A35 and Honda Civic Type-R all hovering at around the same ask – and each capable of trouncing the VW in any number of performance-based categories.
Could you get as much joy out of a well-tuned Volkswagen GTI as you could from an out-of-the-box Golf R? Most likely yes.
Is the R the best version of the Golf that’s ever found its way to Mzansishores? Undoubtedly.
If you’re willing to pay the cost of entry to enjoy this very specific level of prestige, and like the idea of a GT car shrink-wrapped into a compact hatchback package, then the Golf R is worth a long look. If you’re a seeking a budget-friendly pocket-rocket, however, then you’re likely better off directing your gaze to the other side of Volkswagen’s showroom floor.