It’s no exaggeration to say that the 296bhp engine gives the Golf R giant-slaying performance. In a straight line it could hassle some exotica costing twice as much, and it’s very easy to drive quickly, thanks to a linear power delivery and well-judged pedal feel.
There’s very little of the uneven response you might expect from such a highly tuned, turbocharged engine, either – you can leave the Golf R in a high gear at low speeds and still enjoy smooth, rapid acceleration.
You won’t be disappointed with the noise, either. The four tailpipes emit a rasping howl, with a thrapping sound being piped into the cabin to accompany it when the exhaust is set to its most anti-social (Race) mode. Normally, however, the R’s engine is a little boomy, but hushed enough for relaxed everyday use.
The gearshift is delightfully precise, and the 4Motion four-wheel-drive system gives the Golf R predictable responses and handling. In less extreme conditions the R is driven by its front wheels, but start driving with some intent or hit a tricky surface, and the system can send almost all of the engine's power to the rear wheels, or shuffle it back and forth to maximise the available traction.
It's complemented by a stability control system that can brake both inside wheels to help deliver a neutral handling balance through fast corners. It works very well indeed. With the optional adaptive dampers (DCC) in Race mode, body movements are kept to a minimum and grip is very impressive.
The ride is surprisingly compliant in all DCC modes, despite the R having stiffer suspension, sitting another 5mm lower than the firm but slick-riding Golf GTI. The high-speed ride is a little pattery and road noise evident over rougher motorway surfaces, but these are forgiveable.
As with all but the very base Golf models, the steering and throttle responses are variable. The Golf R also gets the same steering set-up as the GTI, which delivers a faster steering rate the more lock you apply, effectively making it easier to steer around tight corners. It works very well, although more feedback would be welcome.