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14 May 2010

Reinvention Tour: Volkswagen Golf R

Is the new flagship Golf R worth the SGD$20,000 premium over the GTI? 

Make: Volkswagen

Model: Golf R

Release Date: April 2010

Price: SGD$181,300

Inventing the hot hatch category with the 1976 MK I Golf GTI will always be one of Volkswagen’s greatest achievements ever. Zippy performance and motoring thrills in a practical package that was affordable. What more could one ask for, right?

Apparently, not. In 1992, Volkswagen upped the ante with the Golf VR6 (MK III); it came with a 2.8-litre V6 engine, thus “inventing” the luxo-hatch niche. The follow-ups to the VR6 – the Mk4 and MK5 R32 boasted four-wheel drive drivetrains and 3.2 litre V6s.

Thanks to the incrementing pressure from the Greenies, Volkswagen had to redefine their GTI-topping R models by swapping the big capacity naturally aspirated V-6 engines with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that churns out 256bhp and 330Nm of torque from 2,400 to 5,200 rpm. Oddly, rather than tweaking the 1984cc EA888 unit from the current GTI, the Golf R is fitted with the EA113 unit from the previous GTI , which incidentally is the same engine used in the Audi S3.

There would be some lamenting the lost of the cultured sound and feel of the six-pot but the downsizing isn’t certainly without merits. The “new” engine is 21kg lighter, gives 6bhp more and is a claimed 20% improvement in fuel efficiency (8.4L per 100km). Perhaps for most, the greatest benefit of this change would be that the Golf R is now capable of making the century dash in 5.7 seconds, shaving 0.5 seconds off the R32’s and in the process, making this the fastest accelerating Golf to leave the factory ever.

True to Volkswagen’s claims, the Golf R is brutally quick, as our test car’s six-speed DSG automated manual gearbox zipped through the gears seamlessly into obscene speeds; wouldn’t take too much effort to lose your driving license. FYI, it is capable of downing a Porsche Boxster at a traffic light Grand Prix. Despite the slight hint of turbo lag, the Golf R’s switch to a turbocharged four-cylinder is agreeable. In fact, we find the “furious” sounding “sound-optimised exhaust system” very delicious.

The familiar Haldex four-wheel drive system has been now revised to channel up to 98 per cent of torque temporarily to the rear wheels when the need arises. (Previously, it was up to 50 per cent). Under normal driving circumstances, power is sent to the front wheels only. Overall the Golf R’s handling is best described as neutral and assuring. In the process of gaining additional mechanical grip through four-wheel drive, the R loses some agility compared to the GTI; which should be of little concern to the anticipated more matured buyers.

As with the GTI, three-stage adaptive dampers (DCC) with the choice of Comfort, Normal and Sport settings are standard on all Singapore-bound cars. DCC allows the driver to vary the suspension firmness and steering weight. Staying true to the luxo-hatch theme, even in Sport mode, we have noted that the suspension wasn’t as firm as the GTI, though the steering on the R is weightier.

From the Golf R‘s Rising Blue paint job and de-chromed bodyworks, it looks hugely desirable. The subtle differentials include; better defined, more aggressive front and rear bumpers; gloss black mirrors and grille; larger rear spoiler; centralised twin exhausts; LED running lights up front and rear; and a 20mm reduction in ride height compared to the GTI. In short, most will not mistake your Golf R as a GTI, or will they? Our advice is to part with more cash for the optional 19” high-gloss black alloys (SGD$9,000) and a pair of front bucket seats (SGD$3,600) to impart the “R(acing)” visual message with more conviction.

The interior treatment for the ultimate Golf continues Volkswagens’ liking for discretion; with only four R-badges. A pair on the head-restraints on the Vienna leathered trimmed front seats, one on the squared-bottom steering wheel and another on the aluminum inlay above the glove box. The only “surprise” would be the dancing blue needles among the white-lit instrument cluster. Slightly muted but you would be hard pressed to find a better perceived quality interior in this class of cars.

There are many ways how the new Golf R could have gone wrong; a mere Audi S3 clone or worse, a portly GTI that is marginally faster. But thankfully, the hottest Golf has turned out to be a plush, fast and comfortable in a lighter and more efficient package that is more in sync with the times. The Golf R also marks the most “dramatic” change in the entire Golf family from the MK V to the MK VI. With no direct rivals outside the Volkswagen group, the Golf R seems to the only luxo-hatch you should consider, if you are in the market for one.

Engine 1,984cc 4-cylinder, in-line Turbocharged
Transmission 6-speed DSG (Automated Manual)
Wheels Driven 4MOTION all-wheel drive
Max. Power 256bhp @ 6,000rpm
Max. Torque 330Nm @ 2,400 to 5,200rpm
0-100 km/h 5.7 sec
Top speed 250 km/h (limited)
Fuel Economy 8.4 litres per 100km
CO2 Emissions 195 g/km
Dimensions (L x W x H)  4,212mm X 1,779mm X 1,461mm 
Price with COE* SGD$181,300


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