R-eady for the ultimate hot hatch?

Performance-driven Volkswagen Golf variant among most well-rounded cars in market...

By Azlan Ramli

IF you feel that saloons and their chunky tail and spacious rear seating carry too much unnecessary weight, or that SUVs are not fun on twisty roads and sports cars are generally impractical, but you still want a thrilling drive and some practicality, sporty hatchbacks are usually the best option. But if you want awesome power and handling to go with the ability to accommodate a few excited passengers, some luggage and running errands in relative comfort and civility, I highly recommend the Volkswagen Golf R.

Introduced to the market in March this year, the Golf family consists of the Golf TSI in Sportline and R-Line, the iconic Golf GTI and this Golf R. Retaining the charisma of past models with the unmistakable design, the new Golf family has been updated with details such as redesigned bumpers, new conceptualised headlights and LED tail lights.

I spent about eight days with Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia’s Lapiz Blue Golf R recently and took it to quite a lot of places – my maternal grandmother’s village in Seri Menanti (Negri Sembilan), my hometown in Ipoh, up Gohtong Jaya in Genting Highlands and on some of the Klang Valley’s ridiculously-many highways.

Setting and breaking numerous track records around the world since its launch, the Golf R is a thrilling car to drive enthusiastically. It does a grin-inducing, quick 0-100km/h dash (my way of saying it’s really quick although I did not time it – just take my word for it!), reaches 180km/h almost effortlessly and confidently, greatly helps you maintain confidence at speeds above 200km/h and turns almost like a go-kart – all these complemented with super-efficient braking and steering systems. Even better, I couldn’t feel the traction control system – called Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR) – interrupting my naughty driving at all. Either my driving is that good or I did not take the Golf R close to its limits. I think it’s the latter, since I did not see the traction control light flickering on to indicate that it’s trying to prevent the car and I from making a mess on the road. There was hardly a moment where I had to do major corrections to keep it on my intended lines. Usually, I would expect a hatchback to be a bit wild, being short-wheelbased and all, but the Golf R is one sure-footed machine.

Its superbly-engineered chassis, with Adaptive Chassis Control (ACC – more on this in a while) capability – works intimately well with its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine which puts out 286hp (from 5,500rpm to 6,500rpm) and 380Nm of torque (2,000rpm and 5,400rpm), transferring amazing drive onto the tarmac via a seven-speed wet clutch direct shift gearbox and Volkswagen’s “4Motion” amazingly-vigilant all-wheel-drive system.

The ACC’s electrically-controlled dampers constantly adjust to the road conditions, the driving situation and driver’s requirements. Selected via and integrated within the functionality of the Driving Profile Selection, the driver can choose between three damper settings – Normal, Comfort and Race. Other than those three, there are Eco and Individual Driving Profile Selections that don’t involve the ACC. Starting from the Normal setting, the driver can change the basic character of the car towards sporty/race-like or more comfort-oriented driving. In each setting, the ACC adjusts the damping to the particular driving situation (up to 1,000 times per second) which means it offers an optimum level of driving comfort and enjoyment at all times. Particularly on windy roads and poor surfaces, the ACC offers sporty and yet comfortable driving. Individual allows you to tailor the steering and throttling to your specific needs.

Driving the Volkswagen “as if all roads would disappear tomorrow” (a friend once said that) could get quite addictive if not for the fact that it’s a practical hatchback. When you need to transport other people in the car in civilised manner (meaning going as fast as other motorists on the road), the Golf R behaves very well and sweetly. It doesn’t feel like it’s on the edge or too eager to break out into a road terror. On the busy city, trunk and kampung roads, I enjoyed driving at 50-80km/h and was only too happy to stay in my slot despite the many opportunities to overtake the generally less-powerful vehicles in front of me, especially when I was on the pocket and environment-friendly “Eco” Driving Profile option. The best I could achieve in this mode was averaging 6.4 litres per 100km, where the engine purred at a nice 1,750rpm while going at 100km/h, all the way from Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur.

Had I been driving a bewinged and/or fiery red European supercar, many motorists would even make way for me to overtake, just to enjoy the spectacle of it, listening to the howl of eight or 10 cylinders. With this Golf R, nobody cares. After all, it’s just a small five-door hatchback, albeit with stylish looks. Only serious petrolheads would know that this “normal-looking” five-door, small (and practical) hatchback has similar output and torque as the base model Porsche 718 Cayman that comes with a RM510,000 price tag, compared to the Golf R’s RM280,060 (on-the-road-price, excluding insurance).

With all that power and performance, the Golf R is also a very useful and practical car. It has four doors, the fifth door opens up to reveal commendable 343 litres of boot space (1,233 litres with folded rear seats), two adults in the backseat loved the comfort and ergonomics, there’s relative ease of operations, stylish understated looks, contemporary connectivity and impressive safety features.

I only have one complaint about it – it hates potholes and bad roads. Its 19-inch alloy rims-low profile 235/35 tyre combination is never good (on any car) with the mini craters, dried lumps of concrete and those horrible extra-thick red speed breakers on the roads. You must have eagle eyes and forward thinking to prevent damaging your spine and those wheels, by slowing down a lot and taking evasive manoeuvres. Otherwise, it’s “bammm!”, spoiling your adrenaline rush.

But once it is on nice roads with a good mix of straight stretches and bendy parts, the Volkswagen Golf R shows that it can easily be a thrilling machine with amazing power and superb handling. The three-door variant, of which only 10 are available in Malaysia, should be even more exciting!