Our Road Test of the Year feature continues this week, and flying the flag for everyman motoring is the Volkswagen Golf R. It may look like a shopping car, but with nearly 300bhp and four-wheel-drive, it has the hardware to rival its more exotic competition. But can it compete on the desirability scale? James Batchelor is your guide.
I wasn't looking forward to driving the Volkswagen Golf R. I'd read great things about in magazine road tests – from journalists were more ready to let the racy German five-door impress them.
But as we were heading up on the M42 in our long and rather strange-looking convoy, I, in the Jag, wasn't ready to hop into the Golf. It sat at the back with editor Baggott at the wheel – a safe pair of hands for a supposedly safe car. It looked like a bored rep had joined our fleet. It was just a Golf in a sea of exotica.
But come day two, I accepted the reality that I would have to taste this car's offering. And I'm glad that I did.
We'd spent the day doing all of the action shots for the cars. It had been a whirlwind – hopping in and out of different cars in order for our photographer to take these arty shots. But we'd taken too long, and if we were to have any chance of bagging a half-decent group shot while the sun was still setting, we would have to hot-foot it the 30-or-so miles to the planned lakeside location. This was the Golf's one and only opportunity to impress me – and it didn't let itself down.
Pootling through small Welsh villages and sticking to the speed limits despite our rendezvous with the setting sun, the Golf was awfully anodyne. It did exactly what a Golf does brilliantly – and that's just being a very good car. But once we turned off the main road and hurtled past the stone walls that run on either side of the first part of the Evo Triangle I opened up the Golf and it shone.
The Macan Turbo was ahead and the R's sheer breathtaking grip allowed me to casually stick to the Porsche's rear apron. If I were to use a cliché here I'd would offer up: "Like glue".
With 296bhp and a four-wheel-drive system that is constantly moving all those brake horse powers to the tyres that need it the most, the grip is astonishing. Fantastically astonishing. While I could see the Seat Leon Cupra in my rear-view mirror having to back off through several undulating curves, the driver warned off by the Seat's angrily-flashing traction control light, I was pressing my right toe harder against the aluminium throttle pedal and revelling in the next bend.
Once parked up and letting our snapper do his special thing with a Nikon, thoughts again turned to the Golf. While the base price is under £30,000, our car was nudging £40k. And while the 19-inch wheels, the darkened rear lights and mean four exhaust pipes are all deliciously desirable, £40k for a Golf is a lot. But then I remembered that Mercedes charges nearly £50k for an A45 AMG. And then I remembered the fun in chasing down the Porsche.
I was looking forward to driving the Golf R home.
Model: Volkswagen Golf R
Price: £39,235 (as tested)
Engine: 2.0-litre, turbocharged petrol
Power: 296bhp, 380Nm
Max speed: 155mph (limited)
MPG (combined): 40.9
Read the sixth installment on the Audi S1 here.