Driven: Volkswagen Golf R (Mk7.5) – still the addictive, hoonigan’s choice

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In what feels like a blink of an eye, the seventh generation Volkswagen Golf is now in its fifth year of production and close to the end of the product lifecycle. Earlier this year, the Malaysian market saw the face-lifted Golf, better known as the Mk7.5, and when we tested the updated Golf GTI, we discovered it still remained a potent hot-hatch in the Malaysian market. This time around, we get behind the wheels of the biggest kahuna in the family – the Golf R 2.0TSI.

As with the Golf GTI, we actually like the nip and tuck treatment on the Golf’s aesthetics. Our test car’s shade of Lapiz Blue seems to accentuate these updates and I have to admit that despite its age, the refresh looks fantastic. We love the 19-inch ‘Pretoria Black’ alloys over the previous ‘Cadiz’ design from before, the new LED head lamps and tail lamps look incredibly modern and, while we still think center mounted tail pipes should be the norm for all Golf R’s, the updated rear diffuser brings an overall cleaner profile.

Pop the hood and you’ll be looking at the familiar EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged lump. Power gets a slight bump with the Golf R now packing 290 PS (+10 PS) although max torque is maintained at 380 Nm. Curiously, the previous six-speed DSG has been replaced by a new seven-speed DSG (no doubt rated for higher torque outputs) although the century sprint (5.1 seconds) and top speed (electronically limited to 250 km/h) have been maintained. Some of our readers will already know that the Golf R’s delivered to Malaysia have been de-tuned (down from 310 PS in EU and UK) to suit local climate.

Perhaps the most significant differentiation is with the updated interior. I have spent quite a bit of time inside the refreshed cabin and while design, layout and quality remains fairly standard, the updated 9.2″ ‘Discover Pro’ infotainment and massive 12.3″ Active Info Displays helps to make it feel very premium inside. I’d go as far to say that the cabin quality and feel sits above the current generation BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class (pre-facelift) sold in Malaysia, and that is quite some compliment.

Of course we would have liked the carbon-backed sport seats from the previous generation Golf R (Mk6), but the standard seats do offer sufficient support during hoon-sessions and are comfortable for long road trips.

A suitable yard stick we use to determine just how much we enjoy driving a particular vehicle, is by the number of times we drive up Ulu Yam. And we’re happy to report that in the five days that we had the Golf R, we found excuses to head up towards Gohtong for coffee (and breakfast, and supper) a grand total of four times.

Here’s a useful nugget of information: you have to spank the Golf R, hard, to truly enjoy its prowess. If you’re thinking about buying a Golf R to drive in Eco or Normal mode 98% of the time, then take it from us that you’re better off in a Golf R-line. Not that the Golf R cannot handle simple, normal commute – because it can. But it is when you select Race mode via DCC (or my personal preference is for Individual – everything in Race except for chassis in Comfort or Normal) and are headed for your choice of twisting tarmac where the Golf R starts to reveal the breadth of its talents.

In-cabin sound damping is pretty good in the Golf R, so you may not realize the slightly rorty exhaust note with the engine in ‘Race’ mode from the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, what occupants have to deal with instead are the artificial engine sounds that are mapped to throttle inputs (ala Soundaktor). The sounds were unrealistic and we grew tired of it rather quickly. The good news is that the driver has the option to toggle the Engine Sound to ‘Normal’, but the result from that is an aurally lukewarm hot-hatch.

Naturally, we got a colleague to help blip the throttle and drive away, just to get an impression of how it all goes down as a spectator – yes, much better on the outside.

All the good qualities we loved from the Golf GTI (great power delivery, responsive steering, progressive chassis), you get in the Golf R except there’s more of everything.This realization only hits home as you’re mashing the throttle right after slicing an apex; that fine balance of chassis fluidity, handling, impressive AWD capabilities and power, are good enough to stamp a silly grin across your face. Yes, there are other hot-hatches that can do the same – with more drama, more power, more pizzaz than the Golf R. But the strange beauty here is how the Golf R sums it’s abilities up into what feels like ‘just normal’.

Park the Golf R next to its GTI sibling and you’ll note that the R is clearly the more subtle of the two. Those who know, will also note that it is the one that packs the meaner punch.

Which brings us squarely to what is perhaps the only issue we have: the Golf R’s sticker price. A quick check on Volkswagen’s website shows the Golf R (in today’s SST era) priced at RM304,390 and RM294,390 for the 5-door and 3-door variant respectively. We compared this pricing against its closest hot-hatch rivals (Honda Civic Type-R at RM330,000 / Mercedes GLA 45 AMG at RM413,888 / MINI John Cooper Works with panaromic sunroof at RM318,842.50) and it does seem as though you’re getting pretty good bang for buck. However, this price is difficult for me to stomach as I remember the Golf R’s initial launch price of RM245,888 back in June 2014.

Sure, four long years have passed since the seventh generation Golf R was introduced to the Malaysian market, but how can anyone justify the almost RM60k increase? In fact, the sting could have been dampened if there was more effort to differentiate the Golf R apart from its brethren; more premium interior trim, carbonfibre trim inside out (remember the carbon aglets on the wheel arches of the Golf R Mk6?), along with a panoramic sunroof (which seemed to be the norm in the sixth generation Golf R and Golf GTI SE) would be a good start.

Based on our unique Ringgit per Newton meter calculation, this works out to be roughly at RM801/Nm for the 5-door and RM775/Nm for the 3-door. In comparison, the Golf GTI works out to be RM645/Nm and is surprisingly (more) value for your Ringgit.

So how can we conclude this? Do we want one? Put it this way; if I had a RM300k budget for a reasonably practical daily driver, then yes, the Golf R is perfect and ticks all boxes. As a package, it is an improvement over the pre-facelift model and a significant step up from a Golf GTI. Realistically however, I’d go with the Golf GTI – perhaps delivering only 75% of the Golf R experience, but with substantially more Ringgit saved and plenty leftover for ‘personalization’ upgrades (ahem, mods) and long term maintenance.

And if money was no object, well I’d have gone out to buy that Prancing Horse.

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mm

From supercar spotting on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, Won has moved onto the realms of motoring journalism since 2011. He has a keen eye for automotive photography, a penchant for fast cars, and the occasional hunger for munching corners.

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