But most of all the R is fast. Shockingly, scarily and hopelessly addictively fast. The official figures for the twin-clutch DSG-equipped cars put the exact time to 62mph at 4.9 seconds. The sweetly shifting six-speed manual manages 5.1 seconds. The actual top speed remains a secret to VW, who puts an 155mph limit on it, but it’s the sensation of being so much further down the road in a such short space of time that’s the knock-out punch.
Of course most of the world’s backstreet VeeDub tuners can make a Golf crazy fast, but precious few can repeat the alchemy achieved by the mother firm here with the ride and handling. The car we borrowed rode on 19in alloys instead of the standard 18s and on a German performance car that’s usually a signal your eyeballs are going to get a workout in their sockets.
But not this time. Bumps were melted away as though the road was paved in a layer of wrist-rest gel. The sensation of excellent body control in bends and over dips was hard to compute with this very welcome velvety ride. True, long-term passengers will curse your purchase if the regular route features a plethora of potholes or speed-humps, but it really did feel like a useable everyday car.
One caveat was that our car was fitted with the Dynamic Chassis Control that hands you adjustable dampers with three different settings (Comfort, Normal and Race) for £815. We can’t say if the much more preferable Comfort setting will be recreated in the standard dampers, but it’s usually the case that a single setting is the right one (chassis engineers being quite particular about this).
It sits you too high for such a racy car, but grippy seats and the flat-bottomed steering wheel tip you back into sportiness, as does the steering. Light at low speed and heavier as the mph increased with even a modicum of feel, the only problem was a slow steering ratio that gave it a large turning circle, despite VW’s ‘variable-ratio’ system.
Focusing on the non-sports subjects, the VW even scraped a pass in economy – showing it could average over 30mpg on the motorway and deliver mid-20s for spirited driving. The CO2 emissions are rated at 165g/km which means a manageable £205 a year for tax. It probably goes without saying that the R scored an ‘A’ for interior quality – although it was shame the excellent 8in touch-screen display with sat nav is a punchy £1, 795 extra.
The looks will split opinion but VW had to tread a fine line here. The more mature character of the R versus the GTI needed to be offset by that fact you’re LORD GOLF, so you get details like quadruple exhaust pipes, smoked taillights and thin strips of blue LED that greet you on the door panels and kick-plates. It all works well, without being too shouty. As we found, you will be recognised, especially in the Lapiz Blue metallic paint that’s become the traditional R colour.
UK buyers are being seduced. According to VW, current orders for the car are running at 1106, versus 1188 for the GTI, which starts at around £4, 000 less. That’s phenomenal for a £30k Golf. Of course expensive is relative in the days of the £38, 000 hatchback with its even more powerful four-cylinder turbo. In that context the Golf R almost looks good value.
VW Golf R 3dr manual
Tested: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, six-speed manual transmission, four-wheel drive
Price/on sale: £29, 900/Now
Power/torque: 296bhp @ 5, 500-6, 200rpm/280lb ft @ 1, 800-5, 500rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 5.1sec
Fuel economy: 30.1mpg/38.9mpg (EU Urban/Combined).
CO2 emissions: 165g/km
VED band: G £180 first year, £205 thereafter)
Verdict: The Golf R is so fast, so refined and so controlled that the £30, 000 price looks perfectly fair. Oh, and it also does boring Golf stuff well too.