For four generations now Volkswagen has offered a high-performance Golf that is over and above the legendary GTI and so it is with this, the Golf R. Based on the current seventh-generation Golf, the R sticks to a now-established recipe to distance it from its sibling: four-wheel-drive, turbocharged power and a subtle, powerful look.
This latest Golf R has big alloy wheels, a discreet bodykit and “R” badges on the outside, while inside there are special sports seats, a fat three-spoke steering wheel and some extra equipment. As before there is four-wheel-drive and the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine dishes 296bhp, making this comfortably the most powerful production Golf to date.
The standard Golf is sensitive to colour and can look weedy on small wheels, but the R has those problems licked. Finished in the popular deep blue and on the optional 19-inch wheels (18-inchers are standard) it looks smart and sporty but without being garish.
The R’s image is strong also, the extra performance over the GTI model and the reputation of previous hot Golfs all adding up to make it a very desirable car.
Despite the added performance the Golf R manages to be virtually as practical as the standard car. In the cabin the space is excellent, with enough head and legroom to suit even the tallest drivers, while you can fit tall adults in the rear seats too. You can have three or five-door versions for family access also. Because of the four-wheel-drive boot room is reduced, but only by 37 litres so there is still a useful 343 litres on offer.
Like many modern performance cars the Golf R offers a number of modes to tailor the car to your current driving style. In Comfort mode the sensitivity of the accelerator and steering is backed off and the exhaust is quiet, so other than a slightly firmer ride than the standard it drivers much like a regular Golf, albeit with much more power.
However, switch into the most aggressive Race mode and the Golf R is a beast transformed. Fully extended it will rocket to 62mph in under five seconds when fitted with the direct shift gearbox (DSG), accompanied by a purposeful roar from the engine – even though this is enhanced artificially. The steering is super-sharp, the suspension firm but well-judged and the grip deeply impressive. Few cars can cover ground with such ease and pace.
Apply the reasoning that this is “just another Golf” and the list price of a fraction under £30,000 (over it if you have DSG or five doors) and it might seem like an expensive piece of kit. But this isn’t just a Golf, it’s a five-seater family-sized car that can crack 150mph and out-accelerate far more expensive cars.
If you have children and want something that can still do the dull stuff but be fun when the conditions are right, then the Golf R fits the bill perfectly. It is fast, fun, capable but also civilised, and doesn’t demand too much of you when you just want to get where you’re going. It isn’t cheap, of course, but then it is an impressively complete car.
ENGINE 2l petrol 296bhp and 280lb/ft of torque
PERFORMANCE Top speed 155mph, 0-62mph in 4.9s
ECONOMY 40.9mpg combined
CO2 EMISSIONS 159g/km