ArticlesFeaturesManufacturerTest DrivesVolkswagen

Driven: VW Golf R – Just a GTI on steroids?

After a pretty long wait, we were finally able to get our hands on VW’s Mk6 Golf R. We’ve driven it briefly on two separate occasions before (here and here respectively), but it was difficult to form proper impressions when hormones and excitement gets in the way. Also, official units sold by Volkswagen Group Malaysia (VGM) locally are slightly different from both cars we drove some months back; local Golf Rs have been detuned slightly to 255PS/330Nm, down from 270PS/350Nm. We’ve been told that this was done to better suit our hotter climate conditions; this was the same case in other regions such as Australia, Japan, South Africa and America.

Visually, I find the R to be the best looking car in the range (amongst TSI/GTI/R offerings). The styling here is a lot less in your face, more refined, and to me, a pinch less shouty than the GTI. The front bumper has been restyled and is now more aggressive; thankfully, it does not inherit the previous generation’s awful chromed grille. The R32 badge has also been trimmed to just ‘R’ now, clear indication that there is no longer a mean V6 under the bonnet. Its DRL LEDs have now been integrated into the front bumper and although the fog lamps have been removed, I never found the bi-xenons lacking. There is no doubt that the prettiest details are the ‘R’ LED tail lights. Other external cues include center mounted twin tailpipes as well as handsome 19-inch alloys. One easily missed detail are the tiny wheel arch winglets on each corner; I’m told that these are installed due to Euro regulations on wheel offsets for 19-inch rims and above.

Like on the outside, in-cabin ambiance is also subdued, and is ninety percent standard, high-quality veedub fare. There’s plenty of soft-touch plastics and feel-good leather which has been tastefully appointed across the cabin – very nice things to look and touch. Of course, this being the top-of-the-line model, there has to be some difference. Both the front seats have now been replaced by semi-buckets that look good, feel good, and when viewed as a passer-by from the outside, hint at the R’s true prowess. I also like the blue needles used on the dial gauges; whilst this is a very subtle change, they actually help to give a very Tron-like vibe. Perhaps the only thing I didn’t fancy was the use of black plastic fitting on the steering wheel (chrome in the Passat CC R-line) that looked and felt slightly tacky.

Press the button to start the engine and you immediately notice the lacking V6 grumble from the R32. Instead, under the bonnet lies a two-litre burbly four-pot turbo. While some might lament this engine’s downsize, the Mk6 Golf R is actually the most powerful production Golf ever. Plant your right foot in the throttle and you feel the surge of torque urging you forwards. Here in Malaysia, only the slick 6-speed DSG box is offered with zerotohundred dispatched in 5.7secs (5.5secs in the non-detuned R, 5.8secs with the 6-speed manual); a fraction slower than the Passat CC R-line, but pacey enough by hot-hatch standards. That said, turbo lag was definitely more apparent, which slightly diminishes the overall excitement. Although peak torque arrives at just 2,400rpm, the thrust only arrives from 3,000rpm onwards, pulling steadily through the range.

Essentially, what the R has under the bonnet is the same powerplant in the GTI, except with higher boost (17.1psi v/s 11.7psi). Compared with the previous R32, the immediate benefit would be a significant weight-loss. This, coupled together with VW’s awesome AWD system, contributes greatly to the R’s crisp, precise handling – push hard, into a (fast) corner and you know exactly where the nose is. Even under hard braking, the R never steps out of line to ruin your day. Although the steering is very well weighted (chunky, just the way I like it), I’ve got to say it lacked a little feel. Three dynamic driving modes are offered – Comfort, Normal, and Sport; surprisingly, I found the R perfectly capable of attacking twisty roads even in Comfort mode. With the suspension set to Sport, ride was a tad bit too harsh, especially on undulating, pimply Malaysian road surfaces.

As is the case with every other car out on the market, the Golf R has its own set of flaws. The most apparent is likely its steep asking price. For the extra RM60k over a regular Golf GTI, the outright performance gains seem to be slightly lacking. Another thorn in the R’s side would be the Renault Megane RS250 – more engaging, buckets more fun, almost as quick, but significantly cheaper. Another annoying discovery was the unenthusiastic in-cabin turbo drone, seemingly louder from the driver’s seat, really got on my nerves especially on long highway cruises. I didn’t play any music whilst driving because the volume would have to significantly loud to drown out the engine’s thrum.

Instead, the Golf R shines in other departments – cabin quality for example is unrivalled; materials both look and feel great, exuding a premium feel. There’s also plenty of standard kit: an impressive all-wheel drive 4MOTION system, comfortable semi-buckets up front, sat-nav, tilt/slide moonroof, along with subtle exterior tweaks that makes the Golf R look more handsome. Ultimately, I suppose you could say that the Golf R is more a gentleman’s hot-hatch; more refined than butch, packaging practicality with pace. Like the R32 before, the Mk6 Golf R should remain a rare sight on our roads and continue to appeal to VW fans (not to mention the probability of higher residuals).

The reality here is: if you have the extra budget, then the Golf R remains a good buy. It is comfortable, plenty quick, refined, and a family-oriented hot-hatch; yes, essentially a Golf GTI on steroids. But if your budget hovers around the RM200k mark, then the Golf GTI is a much cheaper, equally fantastic alternative. And in truth, the GTI is the car that I would pick between the two.

To view/download all images of the VW Golf R in hi-res, click here.

Volkswagen Mk6 Golf R
Zerotohundred: 5.7secs
Top Speed: 253km/h (tested)
Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo
Power: 255PS / 6,000 rpm
Torque: 330Nm / 2,400 – 5,200 rpm
Weight: 1,541kg (kerb weight)
Fuel Economy: 8.4L/100km (claimed)
Wheels: 8J x 19
Tyres: 235/35 R19
Price: RM268,888 (OTR excluding road tax and insurance)

To view comments on the previous platform, click here.

From taking pictures of supercars on the streets, Won has taken his hobby to a whole new level, by regularly contributing to '(00). Owner and purveyor...