Pedro Arrais review: Golf R a track wolf in sheep's clothing

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Some muscle cars loudly and boldly proclaim their prowess. The 2018 Volkswagen Golf R is the exact opposite — an ordinary-looking five-door hatchback with a giant-killing powertrain underneath its skin.

The sight of an ordinary Golf isn’t one that usually strikes fear in the hearts of your typical performance-car driver. Indeed, they might scoff at the sight of a utilitarian-looking hatchback that can seat five adults.

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The ability to carry up to 1,233 litres of cargo usually isn’t top of mind for an individual with a lead foot, either.

But if any of those drivers came away from a race with a Golf R, their view of the automotive world will certainly be one of respect — even fear.

Last week, I got the chance to drive the Golf R on both the open road and a closed track. The R has a list price of $42,065 for the six-speed manual transmission and $43,465 with a seven-speed DSG automatic. I drove the latter.

A turbocharged twin-cam 16-valve 2.0-litre four-cylinder produces 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque from as low as 1,900 r.p.m.

Mash the pedal to the metal and you will see 100 kilometres per hour in approximately 4.6 seconds. If you were able to find a stretch of track long enough, you can push the R to a top speed of 250 km/h.

As the younger generation will say — OMG.

The surprising thing about the R is that it is actually quite quiet — apart from some road noise — at lofty speeds. The loudest thing I heard in the cabin during a spirited run was the sound of my heart beating quite rapidly.

I typically prefer a manual transmission in a performance car, but the R supplied for my test came with a DSG transmission.

DSG is a German acronym that stands for Direkt-Schalt-Getriebe, or direct-shift gearbox. It is a transmission that uses two wet multiplate clutches with even and odd gear sets. Some describe it as two manual gearboxes packed inside one housing.

The advantage is that you get faster shifting. In a regular gearbox, one has to work the clutch to change gears. Here, the shifts are almost instant.

It is most appreciated on the track, where all I had to worry about was keeping the car on the paved surface. The car’s electronic control unit does all the shifting based on throttle, engine load and speed.

Why don’t you see the DSG more? Because it is more expensive to produce.

The money is well spent when you consider you want to eke out the most out of a performance car such as the Golf R.

My time on the track also made me appreciate the R’s other standard feature - Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. The system transfers torque between the front and rear wheels as driving conditions dictate. Under normal conditions, the Golf operates primarily as a front-wheel-drive vehicle.

My only suggestion to improve the system would be a manual control for the driver to appropriate the percentage of power between front and rear — a feature found on the Subaru WRX STi.

Despite all this power, the R is an easy car to live with in city traffic, with engine deactivation at stop lights and fuel consumption that is lower than its nearest competitors, such as the WRX, Audi S3 or Honda Civic Type R.

Handling is sublime, with Volkswagen gracing the R with adaptive damper valves for the suspension. With a 122-millimetre ground clearance and 235/35 R19 summer performance tires, canyon carving would be something you will want to do every day.

The cabin of the R is as easy on the eyes, with a clean, uncluttered layout with all controls falling easy to hand.

A thick-rimmed leather steering wheel is just the right size to grip. The instrument panel is now a 12.3-inch liquid-crystal digital cluster with multiple menus to choose from.

The infotainment system is controlled by a 8-inch touchscreen, with a proximity sensor, located in the centre console.

With a tall body, the Golf carries four adults with ease. As a lark, I drove a hot lap with three driving instructors in the car with me. At the end of the ride, nobody was any worse for wear.

The front driver’s seat is powered and boasts beefy thigh and side bolsters to keep you snug on and off the track.

If you wish to set your R apart from other Golfs, Volkswagen gives you 30 colour choices — from Techno Blue Pearl, Viper Green, Hot Chili Pearl or Ginster Yellow — all for $2,995. Yes, some of those shades come with the recommendation of wearing a pair of sunglasses to look at it on a sunny day.

Almost a week after I drove the Volkswagen Golf R, I still have a silly grin every time I think of it.

It might not be the right car for the majority of drivers, but if you secretly enjoy the idea of playing the role of a giant-slayer and revel in wrapping yourself in a colour that truly defines your real personality, there is a Golf R with your name on it.

The spec sheet

Type: Five-door hatchback sports car, front engine, all-wheel drive

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, 292 hp at 5,400 r.p.m., 280 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,900 to 5,300 r.p.m.

Transmission: Seven-speed DSG

Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,276; width, 1,790; height, 1,436; wheelbase, 2,630

Curb weight (kg): 1,525

Price (base/as tested): $43,895/ $48790 (includes $1,685 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Options: Alloy wheels $250, driver assistance package $1,550, Custom paint $2,995

Tires: 235/ 35 R19 summer performance tires on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Premium

Fuel economy (L/100km): 10.4 city/ 7.9 highway

Warranty: Four years/80,000 km new car, five years/100,000 km powertrain

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