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Billed the 'Ultimate Golf' and given more power, but can this facelifted Volkswagen Golf R knock the imperious Ford Focus RS from its perch?
Volkswagen Golf R Performance Pack 2018 UK review
Track-friendly extras for VW's superheated hatchback, but it's the uprated exhaust that gives the Golf R the soundtrack to complement its pace
Volkswagen Golf R 2017 review
A facelift for the fantastically capable all-rounder delivers more power and new tech to the cabin, improving on an already exceptional formula
The Volkswagen Golf R is already one of our favourite superheated hatchbacks here at Autocar towers. Not only is it an immensely talented and supremely entertaining steer, it"s also properly usable on an everyday basis in a way that the likes of the Ford Focus RS and FK2 Honda Civic Type R can’t quite manage.
Now, though, Wolfsburg has made its fastest hot hatchback even zestier with the introduction of the Performance Pack. While the Golf R’s already potent turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine doesn’t gain any additional power — remaining at 306bhp at 5500-6500rpm and 280lb ft at 2000-5400rpm — it has been derestricted so that it can now hit a top speed of 166mph.
Uprated R-Performance brakes are also included — these save two kilograms compared with the regular brakes — while a set of larger 19in ‘Spielberg’ alloy wheels replace the standard car’s 18in ones. A new rear spoiler makes an appearance, too.
And the price attached to this new Performance Pack? That’ll be £2,300, thank you very much. It’s worth noting, too, that it can only be specified on DSG-equipped Golf Rs, which cost from £34,255 in three-door guise. So you’re looking at an asking price of at least £36,555.
But wait, there’s more. Launched alongside the Performance Pack is a new titanium sports exhaust made especially for the Golf R by Akrapovic. It was fitted to our test car at an additional cost of £2,975. So, if you fancy a Golf R with the Performance Pack and Akrapovic exhaust, you’ll need to part with at least £39,530. After options, our five-door test car came in at an eye-watering £44,460. Yikes.
Just as impressive as ever, really. There’s still a degree of lag when you put your foot down, but as soon as the turbo has spooled up the Golf R accelerates at a fairly alarming rate. With the DSG transmission equipped, Volkswagen claims it’ll hit 62mph from a standstill in 4.6sec — and it feels every bit as fast as those figures suggest.
Fitted with the Akrapovic exhaust, the Golf R now has the soundtrack to complement the pace, too. Select Race mode and the DSG will hold onto a gear right the way through the rev range accompanied by a deep, throaty warble. Pull the right-hand paddle shifter at the limiter and a rorty snort erupts from the exhaust as the next cog is selected. Tug the one on the left and not only will the lower gear be swapped in in impressively speedy fashion, you’ll also be treated to some rather lovely snaps, crackles and pops from the exhaust. It’s all a bit immature, but you can’t help but become at least a little enamoured of the Golf R.
Handling wise, the Golf R is much the same as before, albeit with a shade more stopping power, courtesy of those uprated brakes. MacPherson struts still comprise the front suspension, while a multi-link arrangement is employed at the rear axle. The front end reacts with a pleasing immediacy to your inputs through the sensibly weighted steering and there’s an agreeable amount of feel on offer, too, despite the rack’s electromechanical set-up.
At road-going speeds, the 4Motion four-wheel drive system provides more than enough grip — so much, in fact, that you get the sense that you’d really have to push the Golf R on a track to make it exceed its limitations. Body roll is kept in check nicely, although the lowered suspension can lead to a slightly brittle ride quality at lower speeds. Not that this put a damper on our time with the car in any way.
So, the Golf R with Performance Pack and Akrapovic exhaust is all very exciting to drive. It might come as a slight disappointment to some, then, to read that its interior does err on the dull side. There’s a lot of dark plastic to be found and, if it weren’t for the supportive R-embroidered front sports seats, you might mistake the cabin as being the same as it is in any other Golf.
Still, VW’s excellent 8.0in Discover Navigation infotainment system is included as standard, as is the 12.3in Active Info Display, which replaces traditional analogue dials in the instrument binnacle. Both systems feature crisp, easy-to-read graphics and are highly intuitive to use. Cabin space is good, too, with the rear bench of our five-door model offering plenty of room for adult occupants.
If you’re no fan of the current Civic Type R’s outlandish styling, and don’t think you could live with the Focus RS’s harsh ride on an everyday basis, the Golf R — with its more subdued styling and comparatively forgiving chassis — is a very compelling thing indeed.
But we already knew that. What we’re here to establish is whether or not the Performance Pack is worth the extra money. And unless you’re planning on taking the Golf R out on track on a frequent basis, we’d be inclined to suggest you don’t tick that box. The standard brakes are more than capable enough to withstand regular blasts down your favourite country B-road, making it hard to justify that extra £2,300.
Go for the Akrapovic exhaust, though. It’s just fantastic. And £810 for the Spielberg wheels doesn’t seem too unreasonable, either.
Volkswagen Golf R Performance Pack specification
Where Hampshire, UK Price £38,910 On sale now Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 306bhp at 5500-6500rpm Torque 280lb ft at 2000-5400rpm Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight 1535kg Top speed 166mph 0-62mph 4.6sec Fuel economy 39.8mpg (combined) CO2 163g/km Rivals Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus RS
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