Matt Hubbard reviews the VW Golf R DSG, the most powerful Golf ever
Competence is under-rated. Competence means everything is done properly with no (or at least few) issues. Many cars are not competent.
The Golf Mk7 is the most competent car I've driven, the Golf R is the fastest production Golf there has ever been. You could always just stop here because the words below just reiterate the words above. Don't forget to check out the photos though.
The latest Golf looks sharp. The R, especially in 3-door form, looks that little bit more sporty than the rest of the range. Quad exhaust pipes, R bumpers, skirts and diffuser, chrome mirrors and R badging distinguish it from the rest of the range. It hardly stands out to the uninitiated though.
Despite the fact it's a hotter hatch than most hot hatches it looks sensible. The interior follows a similar theme. Take one standard Golf interior and make it that bit better. Sports seats, carbon look inserts (not sure about this myself although you may like it), lovely, small steering wheel.
Aside from R branding that's it. The R looks just that bit better, sharper and, yes, faster.
It's packed with kit. Bluetooth, digital radio, touchscreen, USB points, bi-xenon headlights with LED DRLs, adaptive cruise control, programmable chassis, stop/start, multifunctional trip computer. Basically it comes with pretty much everything you'll need in a car.
The cabin is light and airy and visibility is good. The seats are supportive and comfortable, and manually adjustable. The driving position is fine and the small, flat-bottomed steering wheel is perfectly placed.
A word here on competence. I've driven some cars for an entire week and not got comfortable with the seat, pedal position and distance and position of steering wheel and gearstick from the driver. I adjusted the Golf's seat once and that was it. Two hours later it was still fine. Some cars don't have space to put your left foot. The Golf does.
The engine is a 2-litre inline-4 and is used in many other VW group cars. In the R it's got 296bhp and 280lb ft of torque. The test car had a 6-speed DSG (automatic, double clutch) gearbox.
Power is transmitted to the road via 4 wheel drive - the fifth generation Haldex 4Motion system. In normal driving it's a front wheel drive car but when wheel slip is detected the rear wheels automatically engage. This happens so quickly you'd never know.
In a straight line the Golf R is very quick. 0-60 in 5 seconds is proper sports car territory. The brilliant thing about the car is that the ride and handling are also on a par with a sports car. In enthusiastic driving the Golf belies its basic shape (front engine, high roof).
The steering feel is better than in the Golf R's cousin, the Audi S3. VW seems to have tuned their system better than Audi have theirs.
Given that the R is also available with a manual gearbox I'd rather take the manual over the DSG. It is fine in day to day driving but, as is often the case with autos, is a bit lax in normal mode and a bit enthusiastic in sports mode.
In reality this means it trundles along in the highest gear possible until you floor the throttle when it wakes up and changes down a few. In sports mode it keeps that high gear and only changes down almost at the red line, even if you're at half throttle. Using the paddles overcomes this.
The paddles, by the way, are perfectly placed so the driver can hold the wheel at a quarter to three and still use them. Even some high-end cars have the paddles in the way of where you'd normally hold the wheel. More competence.
The ride is superb, the suspension is finely tuned to soak up poor road surfaces but also fling the R round corners with hardly any roll. This is not a balancing act every car company is able to achieve. Yet more competence.
The rear seats are spacious and provide leg room for adults, even with the front seats far back. The boot has a flat floor and is spacious for a hatchback.
Does the Golf R have any faults? Well, the DSG gearbox could be better and the suspension, pliable though it is, feels like the springs are a little short and hit the bump stops over speed bumps. And satnav is an expensive option when it should be standard. That's it though.
The Golf R is the most sensible, competent, grown up, fast, hot hatch that anyone would want. You could buy one and keep it forever, never wanting another car again. It's that good.