Is Volkswagen's Golf R Performance the perfect hot hatch all-rounder?
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VW Golf R Performance
- Lively engine
- Akrapovic exhaust
- Luxurious and practical
- Might be too reserved for some
- Pricey for a Golf
- Mk7 at the end of the line
The term “pocket rocket” is thrown around a lot in the hot hatch segment, and when DRIVEN had the Mercedes-AMG A45 S and Honda Civic Type R out with the Volkswagen Golf R recently, it was clear that it described the AMG perfectly.
But the best car? I would argue that this title belongs to the other German in the pack.
While it may be the Performance version of the current Golf R, when sitting alongside these other two hatches it looks pretty reserved without obnoxious colours or massive wings.
I’d argue that this is exactly where the Golf R’s beauty is, both in aesthetics and driveability.
As a last hoorah for the Mk7 Golf, Volkswagen has released a limited run of 25 Performance models on the NZ market. So while this car features the underpinnings of a standard Golf R, a few goodies are thrown in to make an extra $3000 over sticker price well worth it.
To the untrained eye, it’d be hard to differentiate the Mk7 Golf R from the GTI variant, and this is exactly what VW wants. Like the standard Golf R, this Performance model features the R-exclusive front and rear bumpers and matte chrome-coloured wing mirrors.
An R Performance rear spoiler, 19-inch alloy wheels and an Akrapovic titanium exhaust system are the main changes to the exterior - but we’ll get to that last thing a little later.
As a whole, these understated aesthetics may not appeal to the racers among us, but I’d go as far to call this car a “sleeper” - a term that’s usually reserved for the 700bhp minivans of YouTube. Here’s why.
With 228kW/400Nm on tap, the peppy 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder packs more than enough punch. Volkswagen claims that it can hit 100km/h in just 4.8 seconds and that feels right on the money. While maximum power is achieved between 5500-6500rpm, the relatively small turbo allows 400Nm to be hit at just 2000rpm.
Arguably the best part of this Performance edition is that Akrapovic exhaust. On top of looking like the most “race car” part of the Golf, this system provides an incredible soundtrack once the car is shifted into race mode. An aggressive rumble opens up, and a plethora of pops and bangs are unlocked, with the loudest DSG “farts” possible happening on aggressive upshifts.
As with most VW products, the seven-speed DSG transmission does an excellent job when it comes to seamless shifts, and the 4Motion all-wheel drive system has no trouble staying connected to the road, even under the load of launch control.
In terms of driveability as a whole, this Golf R does an excellent job of bridging the gap between adrenaline-inducing moments and giving the feeling of control.
It had no issue keeping up with the Civic Type R and AMG A 45 through tight turns, but understandably fell short of the latter on the straights.
Braking was one aspect of the Golf that was extremely impressive. A high-performance braking system replaces the standard setup, combining a set of drilled brake discs with special pads.
When it comes to less enthusiastic driving, the suite of driver-assists make commuting a breeze. These include adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and comfort driving mode.
On the inside, the Golf R is just as professional as the exterior. This cabin feels more executive-suite than it does hot hatch, thanks to the large digital displays and leather upholstery. An eight-inch touchscreen display serves as the infotainment system, which supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
For added entertainment, this can be switched to a performance display, which shows you live kW/boost/temperature/g-force readings — because race car, right?
Considering that this is meant to be the most sensible choice in the segment, it has enough room for the family, plus the dog. While there may be bolstered sport seats up front, the rear is a lot more reserved, and behind those back seats is a heap of space. With the rear seats up, there is 343l of space available, and with them down you’ll get 1233l.
As a whole, the Golf R Performance is a cost-effective package for those looking to delve into the premium hot hatch segment without looking like an extra from Pixar’s Cars. The reserved aesthetic may not snap any necks on the street, but that glorious Akrapovic exhaust and bold performance certainly will.
At $76,990, it does fall at the more expensive end of the scale, but provides incredible performance in a premium package while being significantly cheaper than that other German.
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