When it came to having a vehicle over the December period however, I knew from experience that a month with a car spent doing holiday activities and extended trips usually yields a completely new and indeed, more rounded view. This festive period, I was privileged to have the updated Volkswagen Golf R as a companion throughout my travels.
Why is the ‘Vrrrpha’ so good?
There are many positives to Golf ownership that are transferred to the R just by virtue of it sharing a platform with the regular Golf. The first of these is the superb MQB platform, which ensures seamless powertrain integration as well as providing engineers with a great blueprint to maximise practicality.
Speaking of practicality, the Golf range always seems to come out tops in the quoted volume-to-actual-usable-space department. Volkswagen claims a boot volume of 343-litres, which is rather average, but the way the car is packaged makes for a rear luggage area that swallowed a 29-inch mountain bike and a weeks’ worth of luggage for two in a quick practicality test.
In terms of rear space, having taken several people in the car throughout December and asking them various questions, a few themes seemed to be consistent; people remarked about how practical the car was in terms of their leg and head room, and also explained that it was surprisingly complaint and comfortable in terms of ride quality.
We then get to the ergonomics, which in recent Audi and Volkswagen products have been on point. The R exhibits exceptional material quality, a functional layout and is a wonderful cockpit to spend extended periods in. The test unit had nappa-carbon leather seats, the incredible DynAudio sound system and the top-spec Discover Pro infotainment system.
As for that infotainment system, I found it less than perfect. For example, the gesture control was overly sensitive, meaning that if I moved my hand in the vicinity of the screen, it would change the audio track or radio station. The fact that the entire system looks like a large tablet is aesthetically pleasing, but the darkened glass touch pads for the volume and power button tended to become grubby after a few days.
Enough of the boring, practical stuff…
Moving on to what makes the R, well an R, we’ll start with the exterior styling. I love how the latest version manages to blend a degree of sophistication with a tinge of boy racer. My test unit was fitted with the optional 19-inch Pretoria alloy wheels and also featured carbon fibre mirror caps.
The proportions and subtle performance styling cues such as the quad- exhausts, larger air intakes on the front bumper, chunkier door sills and sportier grille make for a car that has a really broad appeal.
Then we get on to the performance, which in this updated model has been improved upon. The evergreen EA888 2.0-litre turbo petrol motor pushes out a claimed 213kW/380Nm which, in combination with the seven-speed DSG gearbox and sub-1500kg kerb weight, makes for a 0-100km/h dash of around 4.6 seconds with the launch control activated.
The ease and repeatability of these acceleration times coupled with its daily usability are likely what makes the R so popular amongst South Africans. The straight line shove is commendable, but it’s also the way in which the R can shut down and become a regular Golf that impresses most. With its driving modes ranging from Eco to Race, the driver can select how aggressive or docile they want their R to be.
For long freeway trips I used Eco mode and occasionally switched to Race mode. My December holiday period saw me go through four tanks of fuel in the R, with a combined average consumption of 8.9-litres/100km, which is more than the 7.0-litres/100km claim, but is also, I feel, impressive for a performance hatchback.
I was surprised by how good the R was in the handling department too. In previous four-wheel drive VW/Audi Group hot hatchbacks, I was greeted by excessive understeer, which despite being present, was manageable and controllable with a slight adjustment of driving style.
In hindsight, I’m so glad that I was able to drive the R for an extended period as it allowed me and indeed, many of the people that I interact with frequently, to realise why these cars are so popular.
As an all-round package that features practicality, performance, comfort, relative efficiency and ultimately, driving fun and street cred, the Golf R is difficult to beat within the local market. Just make peace with the fact that a new one will likely cost you a shade over R700 000 new with a few tasty options ticked.