The big R returns with a grunt.
If you think that apart from the tailpipes and bigger rims, the rest of the car looks the same as the GTI, I wouldn’t really blame you. It’s when you press the Start button and the engine comes to life when you’ll realize this is a totally different beast.
Idling at 800rpm, the engine is burbling and you can literally feel the car vibrating ever so slightly in anticipation. The exhaust sounds like this deep hum in the chest of a wild animal that’s ready to pounce on its prey. If at that moment you put the DSG gearbox in “S” mode and floor it, you won’t feel the slight hesitation that the GTI portrays in its initial moments. What happens instead is the all-wheel drive 4MOTION system kicking in with all the electronics and computers working in tandem to propel the car from 0 to 100kmph in a mere 5.3 seconds (as clocked by me). I wonder how much faster it could have been without the 4MOTION all-wheel drive system; of course, that would have also taken out a lot of personality from the R.
Gone is the sensible demeanor of the GTI, replaced with this primal urge to push things forward. And it wasn’t until I took the car for a late night trip up Jebel Hafeet that I truly unleashed the monster within the Golf R. Setting it up in Sports Mode on the DSG gearbox and the DCC suspension, I can easily say that this was one of the most thrilling rides going up the legendary road to the summit of Jebel Hafeet.
With the windows rolled down and RPMs going well over 5k almost always, it was a pleasure hearing the 2.0 liter turbocharger howling up the long and twisty roads. The loud burpy sound the exhausts make upon gearshift was especially fun to hear. (PSA: Please note that there are a lot of sensible precautions needed to be taken while driving up and down a road as dangerous as Jebel Hafeet, so don’t drive recklessly!)
The light weight of the car combined with the 330Nm of torque launched the car up the steep slopes like I was going on straight roads. On hairpin curves the torque is so much that the tail literally starts sliding out a bit as the rear tires are spinning out. Within a few milliseconds, though, the electronic stability control kicks in and the full brunt of the spinout is taken over by the 4MOTION all-wheel drive system and the car. On these tight curves, the Sports mode on the adaptive chassis also helped in keeping the Golf R stay sharp, without any hint of understeer or body roll.
During the return journey I was impressed that the engine kept the speed under 60kmph (I didn’t have my foot on the accelerator). This resulted in me using the brakes sparingly, unlike other cars that have to keep on applying the brakes continuously as their speeds increase on the downward slopes. My only regret is that I didn’t take the GTI on Jebel Hafeet so I could have made direct comparisons with the R.