IF EVER you needed an object lesson in the law of diminishing returns, the Volkswagen Golf R was your case material. More expensive than the iconic GTI, more powerful and, with the addition of all-wheel drive, successfully proving less was indeed more. Not any longer. Version 7.5 now has the talent to assert its rightful position in the Golf hierarchy.
So what’s changed? Power has stepped up from 206kW to 213kW, the price of this no-nonsense Grid Edition has dipped below $50K and the DSG wet-clutch transmission gains an additional, seventh gear. We chose the six-speed manual version which is a tad slower across the acceleration benchmarks but which introduces an additional measure of tactility to the Golf R’s broad skill set.
While it’s not as overt as the cars occupying the podium positions, the Golf R is still huge fun to pedal along a challenging road. A sound symposer gives its engine more attitude than the GTI’s, as does an ESC system that’s fully disengagable. Volkswagen claims that this generation of 4Motion can send 100 percent of torque to either the front or rear axle, but only under severe provocation can you introduce an element of steer from the rear.
With the electronics off, it’s easier to move the R gently under its own momentum on the way into a corner and morph that into a buttery-smooth neutrality on the way out. Accurate steering and a good manual ’box help here, although some felt the gearing was a tad low for a car that develops 380Nm from just 1850rpm.
Gearbox aside, you’ll appreciate the measured nature of the Golf R Grid’s controls because the exterior inputs are happening so fast. It’s a fearsome ground-coverer, with just enough pliability in its damping to generate the confidence to wring out a big percentage of the EA888 powerplant’s potential on typical Aussie country roads. Rather than the fire-and-forget weapon that the Golf R has occasionally been portrayed as, there’s a real subtlety to the handling repertoire of this car.
Overdrive it and it feels clumsy, lapsing into dogged understeer if you get too greedy with the throttle in tight corners. Work with the small weight transfers of the car, however, and it feels neat and even delicate, not a word you’d traditionally use to describe the Golf R.
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Try to drive it with the sort of aggression that the Civic or i30 N respond to and it can appear wooden, but a more sympathetic driver can extract the best from the Golf R without losing much in outright pace. A fierce mechanical front diff would help lift the Golf R into the upper echelon here and a little more outright stroke in the dampers would also be a plus on variable surfaces.
But the R is undeniably quick. Any car that can nudge 5.0sec to 100km/h is quite serious. That’s as rapid as a Porsche Cayman for less than half the price, and your $47K outlay also buys what might be the best interior of any of the cars assembled here.
For a good proportion of buyers, it’s this sheer presentability that makes the Golf R the default choice. It’s hard to think of an occasion where it would look gauche or out of place. Couple that with sharper dynamics, a more aggressive soundtrack and the Grid Edition’s value, and it’s a package that presents a formidable all-round challenge.
Volkswagen Golf R Grid
LAP TIME: 1:05.5sec
Engine: 1984cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Power: 213kW @ 5400-6000rpm
Torque: 380Nm @ 1850-5300rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Tyres: Continental ContiSport Contact 5P 235/35R19 91Y
Fuel consumption: 14.1L/100km (tested)
Power to weight: 149kW per tonne
0-100km/h: 5.1sec (claimed)
Hot Hatch Megatest Contenders
12th, Score 6/10: Mini Cooper S JCW
11th, Score 6.5/10: BMW 125i
10th, Score 6.5/10: Subaru WRX Premium
9th, Score 7/10: Subaru WRX STI
8th, Score 7/10: Skoda Octavia RS245
7th, Score: 7.5/10: Ford Focus ST
6th, Score: 7.5/10: Renault Clio RS220 Trophy
5th, Score: 8/10: Volkswagen Golf GTI Original
4th, Score: 8.5/10: Volkswagen Golf R Grid
3rd, Score: 8.5/10: Peugeot 308 GTi 270
2nd, Score: 9/10: Honda Civic Type R
Winner, Score: 9/10: Hyundai i30 N