In my profession, there are cars that we look forward to driving and those we dread. When Volkswagen decided to release the updated Golf R in South Africa and offer me one as a tester not long after, I found myself quite excited, but at the same time, quite concerned.
The concern didn’t stem from negativity, but rather from a bemusing daydream in which I considered exactly how to approach a car so clinical in its execution and indeed, so wildly popular amongst South Africans. I have it on good authority that roughly 80 Golf R’s are sold in South Africa each month.
This means that a now R647 300 car, without options, sells more than the entire Peugeot range does on average, per month. It’s safe to say that between the R and its sublime GTI sibling, that the Golf range satiates the local consumer’s performance-oriented car requirements.
An R, finished in Lapiz Blue with 19-inch Pretoria alloy wheels, was dropped off at the Autodealer office on a Friday just before I was scheduled to leave for Nelspruit for a weekend getaway. I hopped aboard to see what the mild updates have done in the way of making the R worth its rather hefty price tag.
The exterior changes to the R are not extensive, with new LED head and taillights, reshaped bumpers as well a new Spielberg 19-inch alloy wheels although as mentioned, our tester had the optional Pretoria items, which I feel look far better. The car also gets new exterior mirror caps finished in matte silver or carbon fibre as in the case of our tester.
The exterior changes are also minor, and the R remains as unassuming as ever, but there’s sophistication in its appearance, a maturity that matches the overall vehicle package very well indeed.
The interior of any Golf is quite a clinical space with very little risk taken in the design process, which is probably why it is so widely accepted and indeed, why the range continues to sell so well. The R test unit was also specified with the latest 9.2-inch Discover Pro infotainment system, which some have criticised and I’m not sure why.
I feel that it elevates the perceived quality of the cabin while also offering an improved user experience with better resolution and more smartphone-like in its operation.
Due to the proliferation of certain options with the pre-facelift R models, items such as the panoramic sunroof, new seven-speed DSG gearbox and Active Info Display are all standard, which probably explains why the list price has increased so dramatically.
The Mk VII R has made a name for itself in the local tuner scene and is already a cult car. The popular ‘Vrrpha’ name is often used to describe both the R and GTI because of the burp than emanates from each model’s exhaust when shifting gears. I’m happy to report that you now get more Vrrpha per Rand in the Mk 7.5, with 213kW/380Nm from the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder motor.
With the Launch Control system activated, the car will reach 100km/h from zero in less than five seconds and top-out at 250km/h. The performance is deeply impressive, as is the stability and in-corner grip.
I took the car through a wonderful mountain pass in the Lowveld and while it’s not the sharpest driving tool, even with the Adaptive Chassis Control, it provides such sure-footed handling and predictability that make it an excellent all-rounder, despite some turn-in understeer, a symptom of the Haldex four-wheel drive system I suspect.
It’s not just the performance that makes the R such a good package though, it’s the way it simmers down and can be used like a regular hatchback that impresses most. It still offers seating for five and a handy 343-litre boot. When used in Eco mode, it can also return some impressive fuel consumption figures, with the trip to Nelspruit returning a figure of 7.7-litres/100km, which increased with inner-city and mountain pass driving to a total of 8.9-litres/100km during my seven day tenure.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, the R was a car I had mixed emotions about, it’s a car that’s good at everything, which, when you think about it, could make it boring. But somehow, Volkswagen have made clinical so undeniably good that you can’t help but smile when driving it, despite its rather hefty price tag.
Article written by Sean Nurse