Today I took the Golf-R for a wee spin.  A test drive even.  A decent one hour test drive, which thanks to Easter Monday being a public holiday, meant that the dealership was short staffed and couldn’t spare anyone to go with me – darn, so just me, a 2010 Golf-R (std spec) and an hour of time.

First of all I am not going to talk about the specs.  You can do this here. I am also not going to go into a history lesson of the Golf (but you can here if you want), nor it’s GTI line (until the R series this was the “top” Golf).  What I AM going to do is give a quick rundown on the car, and what I like (and don’t like) about it.

The Golf-R is the latest Golf from Volkswagen. It is a 2 litre, turbo-charged engine putting out 199KW of power, and 350NM of torque (in case you didn’t know that’s A LOT!).  It actually uses the same engine as the Audi S3. (and remember VW owen Audi now).  It’s powerful, and you feel it in this car.

My comments: It drives VERY well, and the gearbox/clutch auto (VW call it the DSG dual clutch) is IMHO the BEST gearbox in the WORLD!  It’s truly awesome.  Feels like a manual, with all the “good” manual stuff like engine breaking, instant reaction when you put the pedal down etc, but also changes SUPER quick, and amazingly smoothly, even when nailing it.  I never thought I would say this – but it’s BETTER than a manual.

Car sticks to the road rather well, if not a TAD sports-like suspension (which IMO isn’t a bad thing).   Build quality is A1, and the look inside is professional (even if the one I drove was still in German on the main nav screen, which I fixed with a few button presses).  Overall the specs aren’t super advanced inside the car – so no heated seats, or seats that move up and down to a pre-set position with the press of a button (like Merc, or even Subaru), but it does have a USB connection to the stereo, which is a MUST these days (that or just have an iPod/iPhone connection).    But this isn’t  a luxury car – it’s a well built performance hatchback.

The “D” for drive and “S” for sport on the gearbox are clearly different and both very usable.  It appears to just alter when the car changes gears – and it alters it enough to change the whole feel of the car, not just a subtle few more revs before changing gear.  I had a whole lot of fun in “S”, but could see D would be the normal way to go around town.  There are also paddle shifts on the steering wheel, so you can still play like a manual if you are into that.

Breaks are as good as the engine/gearbox – REAL good, even on uneven surfaces.   Gives a real feeling of confidence.  Engine noise is understated, but still has a bit of a growl when it’s being pushed.  At 100km/hr in top gear it is quiet though (both engine and road noise), so very usable.

The car is VERY understated.  It doesn’t scream performance like the Mitsubishi Evo-X, but it does perform!  It has JUST enough things to say “special”, without yelling it.  This is of course all personal taste.  I quite like where this car sits on this scale though.

Fuel economy isn’t too bad for a car of this type – around 8.5 litres per 100km.  Mind you, when you drive it hard you can at least triple that, but no car driven hard is economical.  At least with this car it CAN be economical if you want it to be.

So, whats BAD with it? The only thing I don’t like about it (other than not being able to put a tow-bar on it, thanks to the dual exhausts being dead centre) is the price.  At a tad over $72,000 in NZ that’s A LOT of cash, and opens up this car to a whole lot of other options (and to be honest, a whole lot a lot cheaper too!).  Once again NZ is getting ripped off over this – in the UK the Golf-R is only a little over 32,000 pounds, so that’ around $NZ 64,000.  More than a 10% difference.  But even that aside, once you go over $60,000 there are a WHOLE lot of other options, and 70K is an awful lot for a 2 litre hatchback – even one this good.  Oh, and I don’t like that it has a space saver tyre – and worse, one that only can be driven at 50km/hr.  Come on VW (and everyone else that does this), stop being so CHEAP.

Will I get one? Undecided.  The price is putting me off right now, but I do like it.  Oh, and the competition of VW’s own Scirocco-R, which has the same engine (albeit 4KW down in power), a sportier look, but 2 less doors, and 2 less wheels being powered (i.e. only 2WD), and $4,000 less.

Other reviews of the Golf-R:

New Zealand Automobile Association (AA) Review

TV3 Review (Sunrise Show)

UK Car Magazine (makes reference to differences to GTI also)

UPDATE (April 14 2010): I have been TRYING to test drive a Golf-R and Scirocco-R back to back. No one in NZ has one at the moment (they keep selling them!).  I will let you know once I have.   My guy feel is I think the Scirocco LOOKS better from most angles, and may even be more of a drivers car, but time will tell.

And if you like videos/ads for cars, check this out:

Black and White Version: Great wee car, awesome gearbox, very quick and feels safe.  Pricey.

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