First Drive

Volkswagen Golf R 2021 review

The new seats, with heavily sculptured squabs, are especially snug and quite supportive. They offer a good range of adjustment, allowing you to sit low, and there is also plenty of adjustability in the steering column.

The dashboard is well built, though the shiny hard plastics on some sections does give it a slightly cheap look, despite the inclusion of more agreeable materials elsewhere. The two digital displays then deliver sharp graphics at high resolution, though the central infotainment display in our test car was particularly slow to respond at times.

Which isn’t something you can say for the Golf R’s accelerative ability. With a 0-62mph time of 4.7sec, the new model doesn’t match the claimed 4.6sec of its predecessor but it equals the official times quoted for the BMW M135i and Mercedes-AMG A35, and comfortably beats the 6.2sec of the Golf GTI Clubsport.

And the Golf R also feels quicker than the figures. The manner in which it launches from a standing start is nothing short of spectacular. Load it up with revs with the launch-control and it explodes away in Race mode with great determination. There’s momentary slip at the front wheels before the drive is properly apportioned, but from then on the driveline is tremendously effective at placing the Golf R’s reserves to the road.

Low-end response from this EA888 unit also seems to have improved. There is now a more natural, gradual build-up of turbocharger boost pressure below 2000rpm, after which the broad spread of torque makes this engine hugely tractive – just as before. Equally, this engine now revs more freely as it approaches the 6700rpm cut-out. And you get this breadth whatever the driving mode. 

Neither does the process of selecting the most responsive driving mode feel so laborious, either. One press of the new R button on the left-hand spoke of the steering wheel instantly sets all the various functions – engine, steering, gearbox, four-wheel-drive system and dampers – into their most aggressively tuned state, at which the new Golf R feels deliciously responsive and eager.

The added urgency brought by the reworked engine is supplemented by an improved action to the new Golf R’s DSG gearbox, which delivers smoother and faster shifts than the older unit used by its predecessor, most notably on downshifts.

Indeed, the new Golf R delivers a good deal of feel and involvement – more so than in any previous incarnation. It is always more intense and engaging than the Golf GTI over any given road. However, while the variable-ratio steering system is very accurate, eager to self-centre and quite communicative, the lightness evident at lower speeds lingers, even when you’re pushing hard out on the open road. As confidence-inspiring as the new car is, it would be even more memorable with some meaningful weight to the helm.   

That said, the result of the new chassis tweaks is an almost total absence of understeer, even on these winter tyres, for which the torque-vectoring system has to take some credit. There’s a very brief moment of push at the front end under power into tighter corners, but the Golf R is truly throttle adjustable and with it hugely enjoyable to hustle along.

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