OK so at the end of last year Volkswagen updated the 2013 7th generation Golf. Volkswagen always needs to ensure the Golf is still tempting interested punters and that’s why the year 2017 ushers in the not so unexpected mid-life facelift, think of it as the Golf’s new ‘Spring Collection’. A series of minor exterior styling, more paint options and interior technology upgrades across the range from the three-door to five-door Hatch to Golf estate are designed to appeal to animal instincts. The Golf is offered with a seemingly vast array of engine options three petrol and three types of diesel available in a number of power derivatives ranging from the 3-cylinder, 1.0-litre 82bhp TSi petrol to the 2.0-litre, 184bhp TDi diesel. We won’t go into too much detail, for now, there are other plenty of other motoring plebs who like to recycle the details in… detail. One note worth mentioning is the 1.4-litre TSi petrol unit has been replaced with a 1.5-litre TSI, 4-cylinder petrol engine which is available in 128bhp and 148bhp power derivatives.
If you think VW is still on the emissions fiddle then think again, the Golf is also offered up as a petrol/electric hybrid (GTE) model or as a fully electric e-Golf version. Almost all of the Golf range can be had with a 7-speed DSG transmission or 6 speed manual. Prices start from £17k and can range up to £33k, more if you go wild on the optional extras. However VW say that they have knocked off £650 across the Golf range that means £650 to spend on optional extras. Oh Lord… they giveth and they taketh.
The updated Golf also receives a host of driver assist technologies Lane Departure, radar-guided cruise control, emergency braking, Predictive Pedestrian Protection and so on. The new infotainment system now features gesture control a notable first in the compact hatch market. The screen size comes with a minimum 6.5-inches and a max of 9.2-inches depending on the model variant you choose.
To be honest we’re not going to give a comprehensive review of trim levels or engine options. As we were invited down to a VW driving event at the Woburn Sculptural Gallery we only had limited time in which to test our ‘chosen one’.
I zeroed in straight for the Golf R, the brand’s flagship hellraiser, it may look respectable but this is a type of car that doesn’t give a damn, it wants to drink more until it can take no more and when it’s down and out for the count, writhing on the floor it gets right back up and demands one more glass before going on to score a perfect 180! on the darts board.
The Golf R is powered by a 2.0-litre, TSI, 4-cylinder petrol engine in standard form it delivers 226bhp, in the Golf R it’s been tuned to spit out 305bhp and 380 Nm of torque. With the 7-speed DSG the Golf-R accelerates from 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds, half a second quicker than the manual version and it can max out at 155mph.
Don’t get me wrong the 0-62mph time is quick, very quick, but it doesn’t feel devastatingly quick. Because the Golf R has so much traction and grip, when combined with a stable chassis you have a projectile that feels totally secure at delivering speed with the calmness of a Ninja assassin.
The engine delivers this speed with a smooth authority, there is a clarity between each automated gear shift each one being lighting quick to change from one gear to the next, although on downshift it feels a little thuggish. You get to choose from four mode settings Eco, Comfort, Race, Individual these modes change the amount of violence the Golf R is allowed to dish out.
Realistically you should leave it permanently in Race mode, this gives you ultimate savagery, lightning-quick gear changes, sharper steering, and instant throttle response. However, it’s a little too aggressive for motorway cruising primarily because the DSG gearbox seems to be permanently alert and will tend to downshift when you just want to cruise.
And when it does downshift you hear a blip of the throttle and when you really start to shift the cabin is filled with resonant evil. OK, so the Golf R is quick in a straight line, but to be honest, you get used to the speed, it’s the corners where everything really matters.
Thankfully the Golf R has got most of the ‘driving god’ boxes ticked. Two of the most important boxes ticked is the looks, that lowered sports suspension those 18-inch alloy wheels, those exterior cosmetic updates, the more aggressive look bumpers all combine to give the Golf R a thuggish look without the gold-chain.
The Golf R is loaded with driving tech it has an electronic diff, traction control, a differential lock for improved traction and handling and an anti- tramp function. The latter ensures full traction is available by telling the ESP system to stop interfering in the fun. Combine this with four-wheel-drive and the Golf R has an abundance of traction.
The ride feels stiff, initial turn-in feels pointy, razor sharp at low-to-mid speed but there isn’t really any ‘magical’ feel through the electronic steering wheel. This is not a fault specifically pertained to the Golf R, all electronic steering systems whether fitted on a Porsche or Jag F-Type dilute the steering feel. Most of the feel comes through the chassis which has, more or less, a neutral balance.
The overall ride and handling feel very measured, the back end has a little bit of give, conversely, with that quick steering dialed into Race mode, you can really dive into corners without too much fear of the Golf R ever breaking loose.
When you throw the Golf R into corners minimal body roll is experienced and thanks to that electronic differential, that 4-wheeldrive setup and balance the Golf R allows you to attack corners with surety and apply the throttle early as you exit a corner due to the amount of traction and grip available.
While the ride is stiff the telescopic suspension means that the ride is actually well damped providing a car that is alarmingly comfortable despite the savage abilities that lie within. The brakes have excellent purchase but heavy braking from speed can cause the Golf R to squirm slightly at the front end.
While the Golf R is a comfortable cruiser the steering did feel a bit fidgety at motorway cruising speeds. In addition, compact hot hatches generally lack aerodynamic stability at speed, while the Golf tracks well at high speed you can feel the front end go ever so slightly light.
The difference between a hot hatch and a supercar like say a McLaren 570S is that the latter has superior aerodynamics and perhaps the Golf R should be the first compact hot hatch to adopt a ‘superior’ aero package instead of a segment first gesture control for the infotainment screen.
Don’t get me wrong I like car tech with a whopping mega-death sound system but when you create a car that is based on the principles of performance then tech-toys don’t matter so much it’s about how the power is delivered and how you can take advantage of it.
That said the Golf R has a classy enough interior, the leather sports seats felt comfortable but cost nearly £2k, the interior is built to Germanic attention to detail and build quality is immense. These days you really don’t feel short-changed when you sit in a Golf.
The interior feels spacious enough up front and the Golf being a compact hatch it isn’t too surprising to discover it has limited but livable space for rear seated passengers, boot space is good but guess what it’s going to be compact but despite this perceived compromise at least the rear seats fold flat giving you decent levels of practicality for whatever purpose you require.
Fuel economy is defiantly bad when I was handed the keys the trip computer read 22mpg however I managed to return nearly 29mpg despite revving the hell out of this machine. But the Golf R isn’t defined by its fuel economy, by the boot space or passenger space, by the latest tech toys or whether the mode button should be located centrally.
These are minor quibbles and at the end of the day, the real entertainment always comes from behind the wheel and how connected you feel with the car. And I have to say you do not feel connected to the Golf R at all, part of the problem is that the electronic steering system dilutes that connection and so, in turn, the Golf R feels unresolved.
However, because of the sheer lunatic speed, at least the Golf R is still able to do the old-fashioned hell-raising, but it feels artificially induced and distinctly unrewarding. Overproduced, like a Milli Vanilli vocal.