You could argue that 0-60mph times aren’t particularly relevant as a performance benchmark. After all, how often do you find yourself at the front of a queue at traffic lights with a derestricted stretch of the grey stuff ahead? Still, let’s be honest, it’s nice to know you could embarrass your mates if you wanted to – and the Golf R will do that with incredulous ease.
The standard DSG auto gearbox has a clever launch control system that allows even the most ham-fisted driver to make the perfect getaway. Just tap a couple of buttons, press the brake pedal, floor the accelerator, release the brakes and all four tyres claw at the road to slingshot you to 60mph in well under five seconds. The Golf R will out-accelerate a Honda Civic Type R, let alone a Renault Mégane RS, although the Audi RS3 is faster still.
The Golf R's standard automatic gearbox is the twin-clutch variety, so shifts are blink-of-an-eye quick, although they don’t always happen quite when you want them to during hard driving. Fortunately, you can take control yourself by using paddles behind the steering wheel. Still, if you'd rather the interaction of a manual gearbox, you'll need to look at rivals such as the Civic Type R and Mégane RS.
You can option a nosier (but pricey) Akrapovič sports exhaust system, but we wouldn't bother; even without this, you get a rasping howl on the outside, with an accompanying bassy roar piped into the interior when the drive mode selector is switched to Race. And yet, while it's certainly sporty sounding, it's not an evocative noise compared with, say, the BMW M140i's sonorous straight six or the RS3's warbling five-cylinder roar.
Drag race hero though it may be, the Golf R simply can't keep up with the stiffer, more focused Civic Type R and Mégane RS along twisting county roads. It sways about more and feels less stable under hard braking. Its steering is pleasingly natural in weight but a bit vague compared with when you’re pushing hard.
There's an R Performance Pack available that's worth considering only if you're likely to go on track. Its 19in wheels and rear spoiler enhance the looks and has derestricted top speed bragging rights but, importantly, the bigger brakes will cope better with arduous track use.
And what about when you’re not in the mood for all that lark and just want to get to where you’re going in comfort? Well, the Golf R is certainly one of the more comfortable hot hatches; it smooths over lumps and bumps more adroitly than a Mégane RS, although a Civic Type R, with its standard adaptive dampers, is more comfortable still. The Golf R is a quieter cruiser than most rivals, with comparitively little wind and road noise disturbing the peace.