VW Golf R (2015) long-term test review

Month 3 running a VW Golf R: stolen!

The Golf R has been attracting the wrong kind of attention. I was still running it in when a valet parking service had custody of it during a family holiday. When we returned, fuzzy after a 10-hour flight, something was obviously wrong, as if the brakes were seized.

Two minutes later we were on the M25 and the whole car was shuddering at 50mph, cars whizzing past. My wife called the parking company to say, ‘hey, like, WTF?’ (she’s American), and later I emailed their complaints department; they asked for the engineer’s report.

VW discovered that the bolt connecting the lower gearbox support to the subframe was missing. They’d never seen anything like it, and could only surmise – but not prove – it was down to heavy abuse, which is hard to achieve below 3000rpm during your first 600 miles… We sent the info to the parking peeps, but they have yet to reply, despite nudges to offer their side of the story before publication (that offer remains open, by the way, if they fancy responding).

Worse was to come for the Golf, allowing the errant valets to get away with just 200 words of my ire in this issue. On a recent Sunday I went to retrieve my keys. Not there. Weird. Not in pockets either. Weirder. Long search ensued. And, erm, the Golf wasn’t outside. I calmly thought through every scenario bar theft – surely I’d left the car in town… – then it dawned that someone had been in our house as we slept, pinched the keys, and driven away. Awful feeling.

I called the police and the VW press office (sorry ’bout that on your Sunday, folks), then hit Twitter. The police soon arrived, followed by CID, and the house was dusted for prints. Trying to explain why this is happening to two little kids without alarming them is quite tricky.

There wasn’t a lot to go on, but it was notable that the crooks had been light-footed as well as fingered: we didn’t know we’d been done over when we first got downstairs, and only the open kitchen door – usually shut to prevent wandering cats – was odd. Interesting, though, that they’d found the keys in the cutlery drawer. Plod thought this very random, CID less so. Suffice to say, literate crims, we don’t keep keys there now.

CID said they’d drive around to see if the Golf was parked somewhere. Like me, you’re probably thinking this is madness, but no: if you nick a car, lock it away and a Tracker locates it, you’re going to jail. So the crims park up and leave. If the car’s there later, they’ll return, probably switch the plates, and do whatever they do.

I got a call later that day to say cameras had captured the Golf convoying into Peterborough with a stolen Mondeo at 5.04am. Makes sense: you’d nick a car on a summer weekend after taxis stop transporting drunks, and before sunrise, so they were probably in my kitchen 4-4.30am.

By this point we realised my wife’s handbag had been snatched, which contained her tablet (access to Amazon etc), cards, our house keys and our BMW keys, which was, thankfully, still outside. That’s when you realise you’ve got more on your plate than ‘just’ a stolen car: it was £200 to change the front-door lock, BMW quoted £800 to change locks and replace keys, and then all the calls. Oh, and the kids’ Recaros were still Isofix’d in the Golf. Ball. Ache.

By now my Twitter timeline had gone berserk, so thanks to all those who chipped in with retweets. I spent the day scrolling through my phone and clearing a room’s worth of stuff from the garage so we could hide our remaining car.

Then, amazingly – amazingly! – someone who’d been following the whole affair emailed me with the Golf’s location. They’d called the police, and soon after they were guarding my car. I didn’t have a spare key, so the Golf had to be hoisted on a truck and taken 40 minutes into deepest Lincolnshire. But I was unbelievably happy to know it was coming back.

It was set to be dusted for prints the next day before being released, so I went along and saw ‘my’ gorgeous Golf R sitting jewel-like among stolen motorbikes and a Subaru Forester that appeared to have been dragged through a field by a tractor, its interior littered with water bottles to hydrate the drugged-up occupants. The Golf was covered in that silvery dust to check for fingerprints, but other than a kerbed alloy, it was just as I’d parked it. Seat in the same position for 6ft 1in me, too. Tall chap, are you?

I just had to get my elimination fingerprints done – though not the wife or kids, not sure how that works… – and get the £150 release fee dealt with and the Golf could hit the road.

Because of my job, I’m incredibly lucky that I don’t face further hassle: VW’s press office has taken the car back and will change the locks and supply new keys, otherwise I’d have two cars at my address that bad people can just drive away.

At the time of writing, I’m still without the Golf R, but excited about getting it back. Arrests? Not yet…

By Ben Barry

Month 2 running a Volkswagen Golf R: run-in over, we can test it fully

With the 1000-mile marker broken, I’ve allowed myself to stretch the Golf R’s legs for the first time. And, honestly, I love it. Key is the all-wheel-drive system, a massive leap over the old Haldex set-ups that added weight and brought very little to the driving experience. This system responds much faster, adding much-needed interactivity – accelerate through a corner and you can really feel the back getting out of bed and lending a hand. But, crucially, there’s also some clever stability-control-based tuning going on, too; chuck the R into a bend and you can sense the front inside brakes being subtly applied, tucking the car into the corner. It’s not only sharper than the old R32s, but sharper than the previous-generation Mk6 Golf R too – drive that car hard and you could feel the front tyres heating up and starting to spin.

The 2.0-litre engine also helps the handling magic. Not long ago, Golf R32s had a heavyweight six-cylinder over the nose. Now the R gets a four. Okay, so you don’t get that creamy soundtrack, but the lower weight helps agility, and synthetic sound effects give the 2.0-litre turbo an almost flat-four-like thrum, which differentiates it from the same – less powerful – unit in the GTI. I like it.

For the first time, I’m convinced that this R is better than the GTI. Before, it was a choice between a GT lux feel (R32) or hot-hatch playfulness. Now, the R’s just better.

By Ben Barry

Month 1 running a VW Golf R: the introduction

Volkswagen tried to improve on its iconic Golf GTI for well over two decades, but every time it made a faster, more more luxurious hot hatch, press reception was always lukewarm. Mk2 Rallye, Mk3 VR6, all-wheel-drive R32s… all were good, none could eclipse the GTI.

Then, last year, Wolfsburg finally cracked it when CAR anointed the new Golf R our surprise hot-hatch king. Now I’ve got one to run long-term, to see if that glow endures as much on the daily grind as it does on a magazine track test.

You’ve probably seen a few Rs about, which might be surprising given the minimum £30,850 list, some £3350 more than the GTI. But it’s the Personal Contract Hire deals that were grabbing the headlines: not long ago you could pay around £6500 in total over two years and 20k miles.

A quick re-cap of the basic spec: the R sticks with the GTI’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, but ups the ante from a maximum of 227bhp/258lb ft on the GTI’s optional Performance Pack, to 296bhp/280lb ft. It’ll get to 62mph in 5.1sec, hit a limited 155mph yet still offers 39.8mpg/165g/km (GTI PP: 6.5sec, 153mph, 47.1mpg/139g/km). Brakes are the same 340mm front discs and sliding calipers you’ll find on a Golf GTI PP.

The key difference is the Haldex-based all-wheel-drive system. Previous Golf Rs never felt rear-biased, but here it’s obvious the system is sharper-witted. The propshaft, rear diff and driveshafts are also the reason why the Golf R weighs 125kg more than the fwd GTI, and sacrifices 37 litres of luggage space.

I didn’t spec this car, but I’d have gone for something similar if I did. ‘My’ car is a gorgeous Lapiz Blue (a £540 option) five-door (a £655 premium over the three-door), and sticks with the manual transmission (almost 60% of owners spec the dual-clutch DSG, which drops the 62mph dash below 5sec). I’ve also got the 19-inch alloys (a £896 upgrade over the 18s) combined with the adaptive chassis (£815) – I haven’t tried an R on passive dampers, but having slimmer-sidewalled 19s probably means the smoother-riding suspension is a good idea. Counterpoints from owners are always fascinating, so get in touch.

Inside, I’ve got the stock fabric trim, which I think looks great – seat centres with the kind of honeycomb technical feel you’d get on expensive trainers, and alcantara bolsters for a motorsport feel. It’s only the seatbacks that look a bit cheap.

Then we get into the nitty gritty. The Golf is an easy car to park and see out of, so I’d have skipped the –admittedly excellent, and high definition – rear camera (£165) that pops out from beneath the rear VW badge. I’ve also got top-spec navigation system at £1765, which I’d have struggled to justify but is very welcome. Finally there’s heated seats and washer jets (£360), and a climate windscreen (£295 for easy defrosting and reduced heat transfer in summer).

All in, that tickles the price to £35,640. Spending my own money, I might have ended up around £34k.

I’m going gently until I crack 1000 miles, mostly keeping it to 3000rpm, with only occasional forays into 4000 and 5000rpm territory. It’s part of the bonding process with a new car, but it isn’t half frustrating.

By Ben Barry