Volkswagen Golf R, Tiguan R first NZ drives: what will Wookies think?
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What will Wookies think of Volkswagen New Zealand’s extensively expanded R-model range? In addition to the new $77,990 high-performance Golf 8, there’s now an $80,990 Tiguan (the first-ever genuine R iteration of the popular SUV), with a facelift T-Roc R to follow mid-year.
Then there’s a Touareg R plug-in hybrid due in 2023, which will be the most powerful production VW in history. So there are SUVs everywhere.
But wait, Wookies? In case you didn’t know, VW R enthusiasts calls themselves Wookies (you know, Chewbacca from Star Wars), after the sound that an R engine makes in anger. Well, certain R engines, at least.
The original American Wookies in the Woods club was a purist thing, open only to owners of the Golf R32 (the V6-powered Mk4 and 5 models), although it’s since softened and included the post-Mk6 turbo-four versions. There’s a Kiwi chapter, too: Wookies in the Wild.
Will Wookies welcome all these SUVs? To be honest, they shouldn’t be too surprised. VW R has dabbled with broader models in the past, including the Passat R36 and Touareg R50, both unveiled late-2007. And Europe already has T-Roc R and Arteon R models.
Not to be confused with the “R-Line” trim used on mainstream VWs, the R division produces serious stuff for serious people. The Golf 8 R packs 235kW/400Nm from a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four, all-wheel drive with R Torque Vectoring at the rear and in 1st Edition form (which has accounted for over 80 per cent of early orders), a bespoke rear aero spoiler, 270km/h top speed and two additional drive modes: the standard model offers Comfort, Sport, Race and Individual, but the $82,990 1st Edition also brings Special and Drift modes.
The Special setting optimises steering and transmission for the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit (seriously); rather conveniently, VW R claims it’s also ideal for the kind of winding, undulating country roads we have in NZ, especially the way the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox holds ratios until the last gasp and downshifts early under braking. Thus equipped, the Golf 8 R is a staggering 19 seconds quicker around the Nordschliefe than the generation-7 model; that's a lifetime in motorsport terms.
Drift does what it says, by locking up the rear for skids. Track use only of course (sic). In both Special and Drift the stability control is locked into a sportier setting, but you can also switch it off completely.
On paper, the Tiguan is only slightly less serious. Same powertrain, same R Torque Vectoring rear axle, although you can’t have the extra drive modes; nor can you have them as options on non-1st-Edition Golfs by the way, although they are part of a Performance Pack in Europe that’ll surely be added to the NZ options list in future. For now the 1st Edition is "limited" for NZ but there's no set time frame or number; just join the queue.
Both are rapid vehicles. The Golf R rockets to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds, the 188kg-heavier Tiguan 5.1sec. Tiguan is still much more assertive than the forthcoming T-Roc, which might be faster to 100km/h (same time as the Golf R) but has 14kW less power and misses out on the trick torque vectoring at the back.
The big question is whether the Tiguan is truly a Wookie-pleaser, especially when you consider that the SUV has been the early favourite among Kiwi buyers: 164 orders versus 107 for the Golf R. Can a family SUV still please furry R people?
We’ve now sampled both on both road and track. We’ve also chatted with VW R bigwigs Jan Schiedek-Jacht (head of technical development) and Peter Jost (head of sales and marketing), who joined us via video link from Germany for the local R launch.
Make no mistake, the Golf is still the hero model and focus for VW R. “The Golf R is basically the core - it’s 100 per cent our DNA,” says Jost. “With all the new cars [Tiguan and Touareg], we have adapted as much as we can, knowing that this is a different segment and that customers buying these cars have a slightly different mindset.
“But we tried, successfully, to put as much as we can from the Golf into the other models. The principle is exactly the same.”
That’s borne out on road and track. It’s a given that the lower, lighter Golf will be the more rewarding driver’s car. But the greater attention to detail in Golf is also obvious, from the nuances of the chassis to the more sophisticated gearbox calibration, remembering that Golf 8 is still a newer model than the facelifted Tiguan. Golf R transitioned seamlessly from South Auckland country roads to Pukekohe Park racetrack during our drive day: surprisingly supple and docile on the former, raucous as you like for the latter.
The Tiguan is still an incredible engineering achievement when you consider it’s based on a popular medium-sized family SUV. There’s very little like it on the market in terms of size and performance; the closest relation is the $69,500 Cupra Ateca VZ: quicker to 100km/h but less aggression in the powertrain and less sophistication in the chassis. That R Torque Vectoring setup does amazing things in Tiguan under duress.
It’s natural to compare Golf and Tiguan, but in reality they’re for different people. Together they mark the start of a new era for R that will develop in every direction.
“The DNA of an R model is always the same,” says Jan Schiedek-Jacht. “Take a very good vehicle and add performance tune. The differences between normal models and R models are very similar across the range.”
For the future, R is committed to following VW’s lead, including EV technology. Next year’s Touareg R will be its first electric car, but battery electric vehicles will also follow in the years to come. However, don’t expect standalone R models; this company isn’t planning to emulate Mercedes-AMG in making its own clean-sheet performance cars.
“We are concentrated on ICE cars for the next two to three years,” says Jost. “Of course we are working on electric cars; but in my opinion we will see in this decade three kinds of cars on the road all over the world: combustion engines, plug-in hybrid and electric vars. VW will offer everything; right now we have to focus on ICE, but of course we are working at high speed on the future and we will go in the same direction as VW.
“We are part of VW,” says Schiedek-Jacht. “That’s why an R model always has been and probably always will be a VW product. The recipe is to take a VW product and add the icing on the cake – add the performance bit to it. We’ve been very successful with that, so we are well advised to follow that success story.”
For what it's worth, we reckon the Tiguan R delivers the R goods if you're a Wookie with young ones in tow. And of course the idea of the new SUV range is to take the brand to a whole new non-furry audience; the Tiguan's talents are broad enough to achieve that too.