Nine months and over 10,000 miles - surely enough time to decide whether or not the Golf R actually is the answer to everything or, perhaps, a victim of its own hype. The departure of our PH Fleet Golf is the end of one era for the R; the looming arrival of the
surely has to signal another. Yes, The Internet is soon to have a new benchmark car by which all others must be judged.
I'll admit to being one of the seemingly few unbelievers in the whole Golf R thing. First impressions back
in May 2014
had me saying it was fast but lacked a bit of soul. "Right now a GTI Performance makes more inspiring use of a Haldex-derived drivetrain, feels more lively given its 94kg weight saving and costs nearly £3K less like for like. Numbers still matter then, you just need to make sure you're looking at the right ones," I said. Since then we've had a facelift of the forum hero it deposed - the
- and confirmation of what to expect from the Focus. We've also had rivalry from within in the shape of the
and the arrival of bombastic alternatives like the
Civic Type R
. Tough competition, even for a car as broadly talented as the R.
Price figures nearly as highly as on-road performance in any discussion of cars at this level. £30K is technically the price we're looking at or around for the R, the M135i, RS and a host of other talented rivals. We've never had it so good either - for this relatively realistic benchmark you can now expect 300hp or more, a choice of manual, auto or dual-clutch gearboxes, three- or five-door bodies according to need, clever diffs, adaptive dampers, front-, rear- or four-wheel drive and looks ranging from the heart on sleeve track refugee to understated Q-car. Credit where due to the R - it boasts nearly all these choices in one very polished package and even offers an estate option too! I can't help but think we'll be looking back on this era in a few years time as a bit of a golden one in terms of the all-round, relatively affordable and internal combustion powered performance car.
... to M135i. It was kept busy!
For now bottom line OTR price might have symbolic significance. But given the way many of us now buy our cars it is less and less relevant, the myriad lease deals creating moving targets for what's hot and what's not. And the potential for bragging rights on both performance AND monthly payments has certainly inspired many a 'spirited' forum discussion.
I'd like to concentrate on what the R is like as a car though. But will defer to James's impressions, given he spent more time at the wheel than I did. "Looking back it seems unfair that more or less my only gripe with the Golf R was a slight lack of flair in how it went about its business," he says. "The simple fact is the Golf R is an incredibly effective way of getting from A to B at pace, and for a lot of people that alone makes a car fun, even when lacking a bit of drama."
People have different priorities in their cars and the incredible choice means pretty much all tastes are accommodated. Personally I can't let go of the BMW M135i's grip on the heartstrings though. The fact £30K can buy you a rear-wheel drive car with a 326hp turbocharged six-cylinder engine, which offers a choice of bodystyles and can be bought with a manual gearbox, still seems astonishing to me. We of course ran an M135i for a few months and I can still remember leaving the door open to enjoy the Skyline-esque cold start, appreciating the exotic feeling low-slung stance and, of course, the rear-driven balance. The looks remain an obstacle for many and there are some dynamic rough edges to polish off. But the appeal of a big six - especially compared with the Golf's awful synthetic soundtrack and soulless power delivery - remains strong.
Well it was subtle right up until the sticker...
The Golf R owner's riposte would be boasting of enjoying all the car has on the same wet, wintry B-road that would expose the BMW's traction limitations. A valid point. To which I'd say speed for speed's sake isn't always everything. And, sometimes, the speeds the R is easily capable of should perhaps raise your pulse a tad.
Much of the time the Golf R was on the fleet I spent in another rival - the Subaru WRX STI. Many of the arguments comparing the two can be lifted straight from our much-discussed 'Battle for the B-road' story where we pitched the Subaru against the Audi S3, the Audi to all intents and purposes mechanically interchangeable with the R.
When we put the Golf against the Subaru at our PHTV test track the R, predictably, annihilated the STI off the line and in a straight sprint. Launch control and DSG can claim much of the credit, the Subaru losing a car length to the relentless Golf with every gear change. Which was better round the twisting, greasy infield section of the test track? There were no stopwatches there but I'd wager, again, the Golf was in all likelihood the faster car.
There's a fast Focus waiting for you next year!
But, for those interested in the process of driving as much as the outcome, cars like the Subaru still deliver more. And, like the BMW's more impressive engine, the focus on 'real' engineering rather than electronically enhanced impressions thereof makes the Subaru a more appealing driver's car. If not as fast. Or fashionable. Or possessing as nice an interior.
I have huge respect for the Golf R. And it's not like there's anything 'wrong' with it, just aspects of its character that aren't to my particular taste. Quite a few of these were addressed/trampled on by the bonkers 450hp Revo Technik version we had in not so long ago. When I first drove it I said I suspected it was startlingly capable but just a little overly synthetic and the front-driven Golf GTI Performance was the better car. 18 months, several thousand miles and time behind the wheel of a ton of very diverse and accomplished rivals - including the GTI Clubsport - I can't say I think any different.
Car: 2015 Volkswagen Golf R
Run by: Everyone!
On fleet since: March 2015
List price new: £32,220 (£36,055 as tested including £895 for 19-inch 'Pretoria' wheels, £1,765 for Discover Pro Nav, £815 for Dynamic Chassis Control dampers and £360 for Winter Pack).
Last month at a glance: Can the Golf R out-run its own shadow?