Price: from £29,900
Engine: 1,984cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbo-charged, 300bhp
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, four-wheel drive
Performance: 155mph, 0-62 in 5.1 sec, 39.8 mpg, CO2 165g/km
Some new cars bring on in me a trace of ennui, a response to the bland, soulless, domestic-appliance competence beneath their superficial, app-laden, overstyled glitz. Then a car comes along to remind us that car-makers can still come up with something of complete brilliance if they really want to.
So I'll say it now. Were I in the market for a new car, there is none I would rather have than this Volkswagen Golf R. Automotive magic remains in the world after all.
The idea of a Golf GTI has always been a good one. Volkswagen's approach to this venerable line of hot hatchbacks is one of cleverly understated visual identification and the cars' ability to match your mood: feisty firebrand if you want it to be, calm and comfortable cruiser when you don't. No rival has performed the whole repertoire better.
This Golf R is a GTI with all the attributes turned up. While the GTI makes do with 220bhp, the R squeezes 300bhp from the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, and channels this abundant energy through all four wheels instead of just the front ones. This is an engine well able to generate extra power, and there is even a limited-run Golf R400 planned.
That may be a power explosion too far, but 300bhp – nearly three times the output of the first Golf GTIs – is eminently containable. Enlarged air intakes below the front bumper and two pairs of exhaust pipes below the rear hint at the extra power as well as the extra air required to generate it and the extra gases spent afterwards, but this is a discreet machine.
It looks especially crisp and neat in its three-door guise, but you can also have it as a family-friendly five-door. The interior is understated in shades of grey and black, with blue instrument needles and a tiny R badge on the steering wheel the only obvious identifiers.
Two things strike you as you drive off. First, the smooth, deep, subdued burble of the engine. Second, that despite big wheels and wide, very low-profile tyres, it rides gently over lumps and bumps. You feel the impact but it is absorbed and dealt with instantly, with no shudder or afterbounce.
Then you squeeze the accelerator harder, hear the engine's note crispen, and feel the Golf rocket forward as though practically weightless. The way it shoots up hills as if they were level is extraordinary. Much of the time you hardly even need to shift down a gear, although the exhausts' gentle crackles and fluffs amplify the R's ample character when you do. Yet it is also docile to drive if you're not in a rush, with smooth responses and a satisfying gear change. You can have a double-clutch auto with paddleshifts if you must, but driving the manual Golf R is such a joy of control and co-ordination that you really wouldn't want to forgo it.
It sticks hard to the road, that four-wheel drive system ensuring the power never overwhelms grip. Applying lots of power in a corner causes much of it to be sent to the rear wheels, making the Golf very satisfying to balance in a bend. In short, it does just what you want it to do, draws you into the process and ensures you enjoy it as much as possible.
Imagine a Golf GTI developed to be as good as it can be, with no downside apart from a higher price. The Golf R is that car. The best hot hatch ever? I can't think of a better one.
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