Sunday 22 April 2018

Street legal: how to get your kicks from 300bhp Golf R

The Golf R
The Golf R
Volkswagen Golf R: 300 bhp on tap.

I often wonder, and I'm sure you do too, why people buy fast cars. I mean, what good are they to you unless you want to just show off?

There is nothing surer than you will be caught speeding; the penalty points will add up and you'll find yourself miserably and timidly toe-poking the potential of your expensive buy.

Fair enough if that satisfies you, but I wouldn't spend money on that basis.

Not that I could ever dream of owning one anyway, but if I did, I'd want real return for my money every day.

I know one thing I'd do for sure. I'd pay for driving on a track like Mondello every so often and get my thrills that way.

Of late, I've driven a few high-steppers on tracks abroad and there is no better way to acquaint oneself with the capabilities of car and driver.

It has unfailingly been the case with me that the former emerges enhanced, the latter humbled.

It takes the experience of such events to underline - and respect - the vast potential under a bonnet. And to drive on public roads accordingly.

Which brings me to this week's car. To look at it, you would never think the 'R' is the fastest production Volkswagen Golf of all time.

I mean, this has a two-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 300bhp on tap, all-wheel-drive to give it deadlock traction and it whips from a standing start to 100kmh in 5.3 seconds (manual; 4.9 with 6spd DSG).

They have heavily re-worked the engine (we know it from the GTI) to get all those extra horses. And my goodness, do those equines gallop when you crack the whip.

Normally, 300bhp in a car of this size - let's not forget it starts life as a family hatchback - would set alarm bells ringing about wheels spinning and tyres smoking under the strain of the power.

They have tuned the springs and dampers and it sits 20mm lower than your family Golf (5mm under Gti) so its centre of gravity helps stability and balance. And all that helps a lot. But it is still a big ask.

However, the fact that it had all-wheel-drive (they call it 4Motion) eased my concerns.

I drove it over, and under, all sorts of road and weather conditions at a fair, but safe, clip and it only 'asked' one thing of me: to keep on driving.

I'm not a speed merchant - which is different from liking to drive something at speed in a safe environment.

But there is something about real acceleration that gives driving a unique sensation. That is different from speeding. It is the swiftness of response that can thrill. And that's a big reason why people love this sort of car (or rivals such as the Mercedes A45 AMG or Audi RS Q3 for example).

Believe me - I got lots of kicks from driving this without risking penalty points. I kept it in the lower gears, pushed it into corners and then put down the foot as I came out. The secret is to keep it 'on the boil'.

Yes, there are many ways you can sample its prowess - but there is no way you can truly feel the scintillating take-off or damping punch of the brakes without breaking limits. That's the reality. Get yourself to a track for that.

My biggest complaint was how the petrol gauge kept up with the drive. It dipped seriously fast. But what do you expect? And yet, irony of ironies, to look at this you would never assume, without close inspection, that you had such a powerful beast on your hands.

In Lapiz metallic blue, it was quite ordinary looking. By no means does it flag its credentials.

Now to get myself into real trouble. When you consider everything, the kind of money they are asking isn't as outrageous as might first appear (it is a lot, of course). But when you consider the company in which this operates and what you get from it, then there is a case to be made for those who have the wherewithal and inclination to own a car of this stature.

I liked the car a lot but deep, deep in this battered old heart of mine, I felt I'd never enjoy it properly. That's because I'd know what I'd be missing. And I'm not sure at all I could live with that or resist the temptation all the time. I'm just being honest.

Funnily enough, I think I'd cope better with the lower-powered GTi, even though it is one serious hot hatch too. It works at a different power, drive and economy level. More practical and less expensive. Ah!

Wouldn't it be lovely to have such dilemmas to solve in real life?

Meantime, we can all dream.

Volkswagen Golf R 5dr TFSI: facts and figures

1,984cc petrol (4cyl, 300bhp, 159g/km, road tax €570).

Prices start at €43,465. Delivery charge €750.

The 2.0 TFSI (300bhp) 5dr on test: €46,030 on the road. With optional extras: €46,707.

Standard equipment includes: Climatronic 2-zone climate control, 4motion four-wheel-drive, sports suspension, body 20mm lower, 19ins alloys, 5.8ins touchscreen radio 'composition media', Bluetooth, adaptive cruise control, R bumpers, radiator grille, rear spoiler, darkened LED tail-lights, park distance control, twin double exhaust tailpipes, electronic differential lock XDS, height adjustable sports seats with lumbar support, special scuff plates, automatic bi-xenon headlights etc.

Optional extras on my test car include metallic paint, free technology pack (navigation system, Light Assist, rear view camera).


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