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VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN R & GOLF R

Volkswagen never does anything in half measures, and the recently launched Tiguan R and Golf R are a testament to that ethos. We recently drove both new cars back-to-back in a mad dash of high-powered fun around the Cape Peninsula.

There is a reason why Volkswagen is known for making ‘People’s Cars’ – having cracked the code of giving people what they want early on, and sometimes what they didn’t think they needed.

When the first Beetle rolled off the assembly line, thousands clamoured for the bug, making it the most successful car in motoring history. The hatchback Golf, nearly five decades ago, has had a similar effect on the buying masses, spawning numerous iterations over the years. The VW Bus, Jetta, the list goes on.

But the company is also exceedingly good at crafting niche cars for connoisseurs of speed, blending the principles of luxury and power while blurring the lines between family cars and sports cars.

At the pinnacle of the group’s technical prowess is a single letter that focuses the mind of the ‘vrrrpaaa’-generation like few others. ‘R’, the Volkswagen equivalent of BMW’s ‘M’ or Mercedes-AMG performance divisions, have been revered for their work since the 3.2-litre  Mk 4 Golf R32 replaced the Golf GTI as Wolfsburg’s most powerful production car.

Armed with the world’s first dual-clutch automatic transmission, a Haldex Traction-based 4motion on-demand four-wheel drive system, and every safety and luxury feature Volkswagen had on offer, the first ‘R’ was an instant hit that spurred the company on to eventually producing hotter versions of various model ranges.

South Africa has seen every iteration of the Golf R since the Mk R32 in 2006. Although Volkswagen has produced ‘R’ versions of the Passat (2007), Touareg (2007), T-Roc (2019), and Tiguan, the latter is the first other ‘R’ released here other than the Golf R.

TIGUAN R

Volkswagen’s philosophy behind creating the Tiguan R is simple. As previous Golf R buyers grow out of their youth and into family cars, they have few performance options to choose from. Hoping to keep it a family affair, the Tiguan R offers equally mind-bending performance as its hatchback sibling, but in a spacious and supremely luxurious package.

Built to the group’s exacting standards at the Volkswagen plant in Puebla, Mexico, the Tiguan R is not only powerful, but is also the most premium derivative in the C-segment SUV range. Nappa leather seats with an ‘R’ logo, a customised digital cockpit with an integrated lap timer, and Carbon Grey decorative trim set it apart. Standard features include the Discover Pro system with satellite navigation, wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, voice control, keyless entry with safelock, a panoramic sunroof, and electric tailgate. The ample luggage compartment will swallow up to 520 l, extending to 1,655 li with the rear seats collapsed.

For further interior customisation, you can add a head-up display, wireless charging, a Harman Kardon sound system, 360-degree camera system with semi-autonomous parking capability, and IQ.Drive. This brings active driver aids such as adaptive cruise control,  lane-change assist with side assist, and autonomous emergency braking to the party. A Trailer Manoeuvring System with park assist can also be optioned.

The Tiguan R looks the part as well, with bumpers in ‘R’ design, exterior mirror covers in matt chrome, a high-gloss black rear diffuser, black wheel housing extensions, 20” Misano alloy wheels, and comes available with a choice of six exterior colours. If you’re In the mood to spend more than the R999,900 ticket price, consider upgrading your style with the Black Style Package, 21” Estoril alloys, the Volkswagen IQ.Light LED Matrix headlight system, and a loudmouthed Akrapovič custom exhaust.

The Tiguan R delivers blistering performance with its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged mill generating 235 kW and 400 Nm, achieving an almost unnatural (for an SUV) 5.1-second sprint time. Keeping the horses in check is a new 4MOTION all-wheel drive system with R-Performance Torque Vectoring, also available in the new Golf 8 R. An 18” brake system painted in brilliant blue keeps the power in check, ensuring maximum stopping power.

Although ground clearance is 10 mm lower than the standard Tiguan, it is still ample at 205 mm. The lowered chassis system (with adaptively controlled shock absorbers) also has an even lower R profile for sporty highway cruising. This mode is activated by a blue R button on the new multi-function sports steering wheel. This is also equipped with separate large paddles for manual control of the seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox.

GOLF R

Volkswagen made samples of the Golf R available at our driving event, although the official introduction will only be in early 2023 once the supply of Golf Rs can be secured.

As Wolfsburg’s performance hero, the Golf R is stacked to the hilt with all the technical wizardry that Volkswagen offers. It stands head and shoulders above any of its ‘R’-denominated peers in performance and is by far the most composed. 

For the new Golf R (based on the Golf Mk 8), Volkswagen has upped the ante from the previous generation car by 15 kW, with an increase of 40 Nm of torque from the same 2.0-litre turbocharged mill and seven-speed DSG gearbox carried over from the Tiguan R.

The R is 20 mm lower than the standard Golf, and has a stiffer suspension incorporating an aluminium front subframe. The all-wheel-drive system has been updated and benefits from a torque-vectoring rear differential. Dynamic Chassis Control has also been updated to work with the Vehicle Dynamics Manager, allowing for an optional Drift Mode function. The exterior features quad exhaust tips and 18” wheels as standard, although 19” Estoril alloys and an R-Performance titanium Akrapovič exhaust system are available as options. The exterior differentiates from the GTI with an ‘R’-specific rear diffuser in gloss black, extended door sills in body colour, and unique ‘R’-design bumpers.

Inside, the Golf R is similar to the GTI, with Nappa leather bucket seats, several R badges, and an R-specific driver’s display. Interestingly, Volkswagen announced after the launch that they would be doing away with touch-sensitive buttons on the multifunctional steering wheel of the Golf R and other models, opting to return to standard controls to avoid accidental activation while driving.

Further optional enhancements echo what is available to Tiguan R buyers and include IQ. Light LED Matrix headlights, a Harman Kardon sound system, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitoring with rear traffic alert.

LAST WORD

Representing the best of Volkswagen performance, ‘R’ models speak to a particular market niche. While there certainly still is room for unabashedly potent cars such as the Tiguan R and Golf R (South African buying tastes have proved that), Volkswagen is not secretive about its plans to transform its ‘R’ brand into an electric-only range by 2030. We guess the ICE-powered Tiguan R and Golf R seen on these pages will likely be the last of their kind sold here. Grab one, if you dare, and become part of a performance legacy that will live forever.

Report by BERNIE HELLBERG JR | Images © VOLKSWAGEN SOUTH AFRICA

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