We can thank BMW’s keenly-priced M135i for the new Golf R’s sub-£30,000 list price, which makes this one of the most competitive price points in the market for enthusiasts.
Conspicuous by its absence is Merc’s 355bhp A45 AMG hatch, which costs a whopping £38,190, sufficient to make you think twice as to whether you need another 59bhp.
The range-topping R starts at £29,900 for the three-door model with a six-speed manual gearbox, or £31,315 when fitted with a six-speed DSG gearbox. The five-door versions cost £30,555 and £31,970 respectively.
For that you get the newly developed version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder EA888 TSI petrol engine introduced in the latest Golf GTI, and also used in the Audi S3. This delivers 296bhp through Volkswagen’s fifth-generation Haldex 4MOTION four-wheel drive system, with 280 lbs ft (380 Nm) of torque available between 1,800 and 5,500 rpm.
Compared with the similar unit in the Golf GTI, the R’s engine has a modified cylinder head, exhaust valves, valve seats and springs, pistons, injection valves and a completely new turbocharger.
Performance is a little underwhelming compared to the A45 AMG, but more than respectable in every other context – Zero to 62 mph comes up in 5.3 seconds (0.4 seconds quicker than its predecessor), or 4.9 seconds with the optional DSG gearbox.
While it’s up to 18 per cent more fuel efficient than before with 39.8 mpg (or 40.9 mpg with DSG), and CO2 emissions of 165 g/km (159 g/km with DSG).
Some of this improvement is due to the latest 4MOTION four-wheel drive system, which decouples the rear axle under low loads or when coasting, and can re-engage it in fractions of a second. Up to 100 per cent of the engine’s torque can be distributed to the rear, promising a more playful nature than the outgoing model.
With the optional Adaptive Chassis Control (DCC) comes ‘Race’ mode, which increases damping, modifies its throttle response and alters the shift pattern of the DSG gearbox where fitted.
Like all Mk VII Golfs, the ‘R’ is lighter than its predecessor, with a kerb weight of 1,476 kg (1,495 kg for DSG cars) which amounts to a reduction of around 45 kg. Given the ‘R’s standard all-wheel drive transmission you’d expect it to weigh more than a front-wheel drive Golf GTI, which according to Volkswagen weighs 94kg less when fitted with the optional Performance Pack.
Standard features on the ‘R’ include a new front bumper design with large air inlets, modified radiator grille with ‘R’ logo and daytime running lights that are integrated into the standard bi-xenon headlights. There are also bespoke body-colour sills, and matt chrome-capped door mirrors.
Wheels are unique to the ‘R’, with 18-inch ‘Cadiz’ alloys as standard or 19-inch ‘Pretoria’ alloys an option. Brakes are ventilated and measure 30 mm by 340 mm at the front and 22 mm by 310 mm at the rear.
Inside you’ll find the familiar blue needles on the instrument dials with cloth-trimmed sports seats and Alcantara bolsters. Leather trim is available as an option, as are the usual upgrades available for the Golf GTI and GTD.