Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
To help it achieve that incredible time, a launch control system is standard. This is essentially a computer that makes it super easy to get the perfect getaway every time, no matter what your skill level. And because the Golf R has four-wheel drive, there’s plenty of traction in the sort of slippery conditions that the cheaper front-wheel-drive Golf GTI and Honda Civic Type R would struggle in.
It’s a shame the engine doesn’t sound a bit more tuneful; the noise it makes isn’t unpleasant but is very obviously synthesized. The optional Akrapovic titanium sports exhaust might remedy this (we haven’t tried it yet), but it doesn’t come cheap.
Some four-wheel-drive hot hatches feel rather sterile through corners, gripping the road well but without any sort of playfulness to their handling. The Golf R is different because, particularly when you select Race mode, you can feel power being sent to the rear wheels to help the car rotate on the way out of corners – in much the same way as happens in the brilliant Toyota GR Yaris.
If that sounds scary or intimidating, it really isn’t; it just adds another layer to the driving experience. Mind you, the GR Yaris and Civic Type R offer a rawer and altogether more thrilling drive, and have steering that gives you a more natural sense of connection with the road.
The Golf R can carry a similar amount of speed through corners as the mechanically similar S3, and noticeably more than the M135i. That’s partly down to the latter being shod with less sticky tyres, but also because the Golf R’s body control is better when making really quick changes of direction.
So far, we’ve only sampled a Golf R equipped with optional adaptive suspension (DCC in Volkswagen speak). With this switched to its most comfortable setting, the ride is surprisingly agreeable – certainly compared to that of an S3. This really is a car you can use every day without fear of ending your journey feeling bruised and battered, and it’s even a reasonably hushed cruiser on the motorway.
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