Volkswagen is, in no uncertain terms, considered the masters of hot-hatchery. The brand first launched its everyday sports car – the original GTI – in 1976, powered by a 1.6-litre engine that produced just over 80 kW of power. Now, 43 years later, VW has introduced the most powerful yet descendent of the specimen to the South African market.
The Golf R, which can almost be considered a brand in itself, is no stranger to the South African market. It elevated the VW performance-hatch division to new performance levels, with an even more focussed-on-potion approach than its GTI sibling. All this while still boasting the all-around user-friendly characteristics that made the fast Golfs such a hit with South Africans buyers. Well, most of it anyway. In fact, combined, the GTI, GTD and R nameplates account for a 45% share of all VW Golfs sold since the 7’s local introduction in 2013.
If, like many, you’re trying to spot the Waldo of differences between the outgoing and ‘new’ R, let me save you the trouble and cut to the point: it’s under the bonnet. And no, it’s not a new engine. Not exactly.
See, after initial “engineering concerns” that a high-output-mapped 2.0-litre turbocharged engine might be handicapped in the longevity department with SA’s humid and varied conditions, the locally available R boasted a tuned-down power output figure of 213 kW.
But, this seemingly isn’t a cause of distress anymore since VW has now re-mapped the engine to produce 228 kW – 15 more than the ‘old’ model – or identical, if you will, to the 228 produced by its closest competitor, the Honda Civic Type-R.
In addition to more grunt, and of course, the inherent bragging rights that come with the boost in power, Golf R buyers can now also specify their blitz Golf with both an R Performance Titanium exhaust, or an Akrapovič sports exhaust if you wish, and striking R-branded brake callipers finished in black. Furthermore, if the 19” ‘Spielberg’ wheels are a tad or two “everybody has those,” the optional, erm, ’Pretoria’ wheels can be fitted.
Despite the age of the current Golf, the ‘newish’ R still looks and feels fresh. More importantly, however, it still has that all-rounder persona that, in my opinion, hasn’t been matched by any of its top-tier performance hatchback rivals.
Sure, it’s not perfect; for one it’s not as comfortable in the ride department as the GTI, the lettering indicating the gearbox mode next to the auto-selector hasn’t been modified for right-hand-drive markets and visually it lacks some drama – when you consider its status. It does, though, what it’s supposed to do, and that’s to plaster a hooligan-smile on your face, all the while carrying your groceries.
And in **that** department, it’s damn-near perfect.
Report by DEON VAN DER WALT | Images © VW SOUTH AFRICA