It was exceptional before. How do you improve on perfection?
Volkswagen Golf R
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 37.7mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 180g/km, 33%
The Volkswagen Golf R was already the most powerful version you could buy, but 296bhp wasn’t quite enough for Volkswagen. For 2017, as part of the model’s far-reaching mid-life facelift, it’s been bumped up to 306bhp. There’s even more pulling power too: this officially is now the fastest Golf ever made – quicker even than the Clubsport S that slayed the Nürburgring lap time a while back.
Not bad for just over £32,500 in as-tested guise. That sounds a lot for a Golf. But for a Golf this potent and capable, it might just be a bargain.
Just because it’s the quickest Golf ever doesn’t mean Volkswagen’s decided to make it the most outlandish-looking. Styling is as discreet as always, with 2017’s facelift making just subtle tweaks to the bumpers and LED lighting. Only committed spotters will pick out the silver door mirrors and R badges.
More has changed inside. Volkswagen has introduced the Audi-style Virtual Cockpit configurable digital dial pack, along with a glossy, widescreen new central infotainment screen. The latter is excellent, with crisp graphics and conventional menus, although the lack of ‘hard’ buttons does make it a bit trickier to operate.
Even at start-up, the engine signals its intent. It sounds borderline yobbish and can be enhanced further with an optional Akrapovic exhaust. It doesn’t disappoint in action: it responds eagerly and is beautifully free-revving. Performance is excellent, and effortless, and even fuel economy isn’t bad.
You can even still get it with a manual gearbox – the six-speed unit is a joy, making the drive even more engaging and compensating for the fact it’s slower against the clock than the quick-shifting DSG automatic. It’s £1000 cheaper too.
The Golf R’s all-wheel drive chassis copes marvellously with the extra power. It is poised and has loads of grip, but proves adjustable and confidence-inspiring. It’s very satisfying, feeling the drive shifted rearwards in corners as the front wheels approach understeer. Even a firm ride is the right side of comfortable.
Is it a winner? You bet. It’s an astonishing all-rounder, incredibly sophisticated and a super performer. It’s easily worth the £3000 premium over a normal Golf GTI. Back in 2014, we named the Golf R the best car on sale in the UK. Don’t bet against it once again being in the running for this crown in 2017…