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Volkswagen Golf R Review: A Very Serious Toy

Volkswagen Golf R Review: A Very Serious Toy
The Volkswagen Golf R is an incredible car, if a bit unsmiling, says Stephen Smith.

There’s a cliché about Germans and engineers (and very definitely German engineers) – that they take themselves very seriously and don’t have much of a sense of humour. We’re not saying Germans and engineers aren’t useful, because we all know that if you want something done right you could do worse than turn to one or the other. All I’m saying is that when they make a joke there’s a lot of looking around the room waiting for someone to laugh…

And after spending a week with the incredible Gold R, I feel as though there may be an engineer somewhere in Germany looking around a room waiting for someone to shout ‘woohoo!’

We’re listening

The Golf R is Volkswagen’s baddest, fastest Golf ever. It’s a brutally speedy hatchback that uses its 228kW of power and 400Nm of torque to launch from 0-100km/h in just 4.6 seconds and keeps going to 250km/h. All that power is transferred to the road via a seven-speed DSG gearbox and VW’s exemplary 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.


This all adds up to a car that is stupendously fast and, more importantly, very easy to drive fast. At the traffic lights it will dispense with almost every other car on the road with ease, and the grip is so good that you will need to do something very silly to end up off the road and in the bushes. The suspension is firm – firmer than the GTi’s – without being harsh, so long trips are still comfortable, and the dual clutch automatic gearbox is so very good that even traditionalists who prefer manuals should think seriously about it. The steering is beautifully weighted with great levels of feedback, as are the brakes. I can’t tell you what the standard Golf R sounds like because my test vehicle was fitted with the aural candy that is an Akrapovič exhaust, but I can tell you that many of my ‘manual’ gear changes were made just to hear the top hits of that glorious soundtrack.

Stephen Smith reviews the VW Golf R and finds he cannot describe the sound of the engine because of the Akrapovic exhaust

But it feels as though the vehicle is so utterly competent that unfortunately the joy has been pushed to the outskirts – you have to look for the fun, where in the GTi it’s a constant companion.

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How does it look?

The interior is a classy place to spend time, especially when compared to some of the Ford and Honda rivals, but you have to wonder if some potential buyers might find it not quite exciting enough, like the car’s exterior. That said, the seats were brilliant, supportive and comfortable, and lived up to my maxim that you should never notice a seat while you’re in it.

The exterior looks like a standard Golf, but with a few subtle changes, like the 19-inch wheels as well as the ‘R’ designed bumpers, LED headlights and LED taillights. It’s definitely less in your face than rivals, and also the GTi with its flashes of red.

Perhaps the whole point of this car is to be a GTi for people who have outgrown the GTi, or just for people who feel that there are too many of them on the roads and want to (ironically) stand out a bit. And you can’t argue with anyone who chooses to buy an R, because it’s brilliant. Like an engineer.

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And the bottom line?

Now, all of this engineering and competence comes at a cost. The basic price for a Golf 2.0 TSI R DSG is R676 00, which is a lot of money for what is unavoidably a Golf. But my test vehicle, jam packed with options like that glorious exhaust system, topped out at a smidge over R800 000 – that’s not far off Porsche Cayman money! If you can swallow the price tag, and if a gloriously competent ‘sleeper’ car is your cup of tea, the R will never let you down.

The Golf R comes standard with a 5-year/90 000km Service Plan, 3-year/120 000km warranty and a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty. The service interval is 15 000km.

The Good

  • The exhilaration of the power and the sound.
  • The surefootedness of the 4Motion system.
  • It’s the consummate allrounder.
  • It’s understated.
  • Classy interior.

The Bad

  • The GTi might just be better.
  • The price makes you a little giddy.
  • For some, understated means boring.

For more information, visit vw.co.za.

Take a look at Stephen’s review of the Suzuki Jimny.

Words Stephen Smith

Photography Supplied by VW SA

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