REVIEW | Gutsier 2019 Volkswagen Golf R delivers a dose of sporty civility

Denis Droppa tests the Akrapovic-voiced, full-fat version that has finally landed in SA

25 April 2019 - 08:15 By Denis Droppa
The Golf R finally gets the full 228kW power output of European vesions. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The Golf R finally gets the full 228kW power output of European vesions. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Initially Volkswagen decided SA wasn’t cool enough to get the full-fat version of the Golf R.

Our high temperatures, they reckoned, would tax the 2.0l turbo petrol engine too much if all of its horses were liberated. So SA received a detuned 213kW/380Nm version of the car when it was first launched here, until a change of heart recently saw VW replacing it with the full 228kW/400Nm model that has been available all along in Europe.

This makes it the most powerful Golf yet sold by VW SA, and as before it’s channelled through a 4Motion all-wheel drive system.

High-performance Golfs are important to VW’s bottom line, as between them the GTI, GTD and R models have made up more than 45% of all Golf sales in SA. This latest halo model brings some last-gasp excitement to the Golf range on the eve of the new eighth-generation Golf being unveiled early in 2020.

Surprisingly, VW doesn’t quote improved performance figures for this up-powered Golf R. It still nips from 0-100km/h in 4.6sec and tops out at a governed 250km/h, it says.

Those are impressive numbers nevertheless. Sub five-second 0-100 sprints used to be the preserve of exotic sports cars with horses in their badges, but this range-topping Golf reels them off as a matter of routine.

Sports seats with carbon-fibre weave and an ‘R’ logo add to the racy interior vibes. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Sports seats with carbon-fibre weave and an ‘R’ logo add to the racy interior vibes. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Awakening the straight-line speed demon in this two-pedal car takes no special skill; with the seven-speed dual-clutch DSG auto gearbox and launch control system, it’s simply a matter of left-foot braking, mashing the throttle and “heeere’s Johnny”.

The all-wheel drive hot hatch bounds off without any wheel spin, gathering pace with an enjoyably firm press into the sporty bucket seats. These front seats, along with their body-gripping nature, set a racy interior mood with their carbon-fibre pattern embossed with an “R” logo.

The sporty vibe is further enhanced by the bottom-flattened steering wheel and aluminium pedals, and further carbon-fibre and piano-black touches in the premium-feeling cabin.

A panoramic sunroof comes standard, as does a touchscreen infotainment system, and a Sport Human Machine Interface (HMI) that shows parameters such as real-time power output and G-forces.

The first consignment of newly muscled-up Golf Rs arrived in SA with the special deal of an Akrapovic exhaust (pronounced “a-krapovich” not “akra-povik”) included in the R676,000 price tag. From now on this performance exhaust will be a R39,900 extra-cost option.


Volkswagen Golf R 4Motion DSG

WE LIKE: Performance, handling, relative civility

WE DISLIKE: A tad pricey

VERDICT: Still one of the best premium hot hatches


The Akrapovic makes a rorty sound without being overwhelming — in fact, it errs on the side of subtlety. I’d have preferred a bolder sound, but that said, it did prevent the car from droning away noisily when we undertook a long trip from Johannesburg to Clarens.

That journey, with four people on board along with their luggage and two bicycles strapped to the back, demonstrated this Golf’s versatility as a family car on top of having bonkers performance.

Clarens has some gravel roads and the Golf’s sporty suspension and low-profile 19-inch tyres rode them firmly but without feeling unpleasantly spine-jarring. This was aided by the optionally fitted adaptive chassis control that allowed the suspension to be softened.

The real focus of that suspension is handling, and with Sport mode engaged to sharpen the steering and stiffen the dampers, the Golf R sliced and diced the corners with exceptional all-wheel drive grip and endearing agility.

Golf’s chassis engineers have always known their business, but the R’s hunkered-down handling really adds the flambé to the driver-satisfaction dish.

Akrapovic exhausts make a nice din without being over-the-top loud. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Akrapovic exhausts make a nice din without being over-the-top loud. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The test car was also fitted with optional R Performance brakes, which in addition to their improved stopping power added to the car’s sporty swagger with the calipers painted black and bearing the “R” Logo. Exterior visual venom is further laid on by R design bumpers, LED headlights and tail lights, and the quartet of Akrapovic pipes with their perforated inners.

The Golf R comes reasonably well-kitted out of the box but you’ll have to pay extra for items such as navigation, rear-view camera, active cruise control, an inductive phone charger, a blind-spot monitor and rear-traffic alert.

I can attest to the effectiveness of the rear-traffic alert. When reversing, it thought the bicycles strapped to the back of the car were obstacles we were about to hit, and automatically slammed on the brakes.

The test car was also fitted with optional R Performance brakes, which in addition to their improved stopping power added to the car’s sporty swagger with the calipers painted black and bearing the “R” Logo. Exterior visual venom is further laid on by R design bumpers, LED headlights and tail lights, and the quartet of Akrapovic pipes with their perforated inners.

The Golf R comes reasonably well-kitted out of the box but you’ll have to pay extra for items such as navigation, rear-view camera, active cruise control, an inductive phone charger, a blind-spot monitor and rear-traffic alert.

I can attest to the effectiveness of the rear-traffic alert. When reversing, it thought the bicycles strapped to the back of the car were obstacles we were about to hit, and automatically slammed on the brakes.

The Golf R lays on a high-adrenaline driving experience but can be surprisingly practical and civilised when asked to. For the performance on offer the 9.8l/100km fuel economy our test car achieved is impressive too.

What’s interesting is that Audi no longer seems to be positioned as a more premium brand than VW, given that the Golf R is priced R2,500 higher than its identically powered cousin, the Audi S3 Sportback quattro.

The standard level of kit is reasonable but items such as active cruise control and navigation cost extra. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The standard level of kit is reasonable but items such as active cruise control and navigation cost extra. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Tech Specs

Engine

Type: Four-cylinder petrol turbo

Capacity: 1,9840cc

Power: 228kW

Torque: 400Nm

Transmission

Type: 7-speed DSG

Drivetrain

Type: All-wheel drive

Performance

Top speed: 250km/h

0-100km/h: 4.6 seconds

Fuel Consumption: 6.9l/100km (claimed); 9.8l/100km (as tested)

Emissions: 156g/km

Standard Features

R Sports suspension, 19” alloy wheels, 235/35 R19 tyres, Driving Profile Selection (includes Normal, Comfort, Sport, Individual and ECO modes), ABS brakes, electronic stability control, six airbags, cruise control, automatic aircon, park distance control, leather seats, heated front seats, electric windows, electric mirrors, remote central locking, 8” Touchscreen Radio/CD “Composition Media”, voice control, onboard computer, rain sensor, automatic headlights, digital instrument cluster, leather multifunction sports steering wheel, height/reach adjustable steering column, four-pipe exhaust system

Warranty: 3 years/120,000km

Service plan: 5 years/90,000km

Price: R676,000

Lease*: R14,458

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit


Motor News star rating

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Performance * * * * *

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Competition

Audi S3 Sportback quattro, 228kW/400Nm — R673,452

Honda Civic Type R, 228kW/400Nm — R661,300

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