Strengths and weaknesses:
- unique look
- perfect behaviour
- exciting performances
- limited availability
- interior space
A ball of fire on Sweden’s ice land
ARJEPLOG, Sweden - Volkswagen had to choose the location to introduce its new Golf R carefully. It had to be as exceptional as the car. It is therefore in the middle of nowhere - a nowhere located 56 km north of the Polar Circle that is home to Volkswagen’s winter driving site in Sweden – where I get to spend many hours enjoying the brand new Golf. The whole intention being to demonstrate the extent of the little fireball’s potential.
At first glance, you can easily tell that this is no ordinary Golf. The wide open front grille shows the extent of the engine aggressiveness. The side skirts, along with the lowered suspension, add to the car’s lowered profile.
At the back, the twin exhausts allow us to hear all the musicality and vibrations from the engine.
As for the cabin, one must already be familiar with the GTI to be able to tell the difference. On the European version I’m testing, the sports seats are moulded into one piece, offering a lot more support than any tight clothing. The sad part is that these optional seats will not be made available in America. Only the high-end seats already offered on the GTI will be available.
An entire day spent on an iced lake, pushing the car to its limits provides a great opportunity to test my racing capacities as well as the full potential of the R. The tool: the Driving Experience which is Volkswagen winter driving school. Surrounded by instructors of the Driving Experience - Volkswagen’s winter driving school - that are as entertaining as they are competent (all of them have a background in high-level competition), I go back to my attentive student mode to limit my encounters with snow banks.
I go through the more traditional tests such as the slalom, the braking manoeuvre with and without the traction control, and obstacle avoidance. Each test is followed by a series of activities such as drifting on quads for an hour or simply discussion sessions that allow the instructors to learn more about our individual driving techniques. The main focus remains on the testing of the car’s abilities, as well as our own, on the ice track. The goal is to drive as fast as possible, drifting and enjoying the AWD, but also mostly to push the 270 hp, four-cylinder engine to its max. (Note that the Canadian version of the R limits horsepower to 256, due to a modification made to the torque converter to adapt to a more urban style of driving). Let me tell you that the R doesn’t lack power in any way. I am continuously tempted with higher rpm – which is not exactly the best of thing, considering I am driving on ice.
Driving the R is a wonderful experience. The steering wheel offers a good grip; the six-gear standard transmission is bewilderingly cooperative. As this product is destined to a sporty calling, the transmission has to be (and is!) very precise. Though I must admit the R does not always follow the path I choose, which could also bring into question my abilities as a polar driver.
As for the suspension, it maintains the car vehicle very steady without too much effort. It isn’t as comfortable as it could be, but considering the conditions of the test, it does an amazing job. It is impressive how fast you can enter a corner and how the weight is transferred, which allows the car to come out of the curve just as fast without showing any sign of effort.
Volkswagen does not complicate things for the introduction of this new R: only one five-door trim; fully equipped. The standard equipment includes the all-wheel drive, a sunroof, leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, a GPS and high quality assembly done in Wolfsburg, Germany. In Canada, 500 vehicles have been ordered already in a variety of colors (five to be exact), which by the way, is the only option for the buyer to select. One price: $39,640. Though 500 units may seem like a lot, now that the pre-orders have been placed, only 20% of the original number remains. So I would recommend you hurry to the closest Volkswagen dealer if you wish to get a chance at one.
It’s hard not to be in a complete state of marvel after a perfect day spent on an ice lake in Sweden under a gorgeous sun and a temperature just under the freezing point, behind the wheel of a Golf R. The car is very capable and steady. Its price is rather impressive at first sight, but when considering the facts, it is barely higher than the price of a GTI with similar equipment. Provided I could afford it, would I buy a Golf R? I will answer a definite and very smiling yes.