Here’s my updated Golf-R review (now that I own one)

I got the car two weeks ago, but waiting until I had 1,500km or so on the clock, under a variety of conditions and roads, so I could comment in some depth.

Firstly, let’s cut to the chase: This is ONE AWESOME CAR! The gear box rocks, the performance and handling is confidence inspiring, and the production quality is top class.  Car is very well appointed with extras, and things like iPod integration (for music) and iPhone integration (for phone) is very usable.

I suggest you read my 1st review of the Golf-R in New Zealand if you haven’t already done so. It has lots of commentary on it, as well as a comparison with the Scirocco-R.

Also some other useful links in case you want more info:

In this post I am going to make some specific further comments on:

  • The DSG gear box
  • The whole value proposition of this car, and how the competition lines up
  • Why I bought one (which may help to answer the question is it the car for you?)
  • The extras on the car (the ones you get, and the ones you pay for)
  • The bad – surely there must be some?

Before I start, the Golf-R has recently been named by TopGear UK as the hotest hatch for 2010. Not a bad wee award to win!  It also wins the somewhat less prestigious, but IMO far more important award of the 2011 best car in the world (according to me). I’ll explain why below.

Also, I better summarise the specific car I got, since there are many variations:

  • Golf-R, 5 door, 6 speed DSG (in NZ the 3 door doesn’t exist).
  • Colour: Blue (Rising Blue, which is a colour only available on the Golf-R)
  • 199KW peak power, 350NW torque (so unlike the Australian and Japanese versions, not de-tuned)
  • The extras I got included: 19″ mags (comes with tinted rear passenger and back window), reversing camera (also gives a upgraded screen for sound system), winter package (heated everything!), factory blue-tooth kit, iPod cable, flat type indicator)
  • I DIDN’T get ACC (adaptive chassis control), leather seats or upgrade the stereo.  If you want to see what extras others get, read this post on the Golf-R forum

The DSG gear box

To me, this one one of the BIG selling points on the car.  There are plenty of performance hatches around that are comparable in terms of outright power as the Golf-R (although not any quite as polished IMO), but most of them either come as manual only (like the Subaru WRX), or autos with what I call “pretend manual” that allows you to move up and down the gears manually.  The DSG is really the best of both worlds.  I described it to one person as “a manual that changes gear for you”.  They thought I meant automatic, and yes, I guess that’s what it DOES, but it drives and feels like a manual even when its doing it for you.  So just to be clear its NOT an automatic. It’s a manual gear box, with dual automatic clutches that will change gear for you in certain modes.  You can drive it exactly like a manual, or have it “full auto” that changes gear for you.  Even in the fully automated mode you still get much of the benefits a manual offers, like engine breaking etc.   If this doesn’t make sense all I can say is go test drive something (anything) with a DSG box and you will see what I mean (or read all the comments on DSG here).  I am a major fan of pure manual gear-boxes, but the DSG has me sold!

Anyway, the gearbox is SUPER responsive, changes lightening fast, and is super smooth.

I have read several reviews that criticised the D (for drive) and S (for Sport) saying that the former was way to keen to change to top gear, and the later way to keen to drop down a gear, and rev to high.  I couldn’t disagree more! So many cars I have driven have hardly any difference between D and S modes (or whatever they have as equivalent) and it’s so refreshing to drive a car that does it right!  For 90% of the time D does the job (OK, let’s face it – in the 1st week of owning it it’s more likely to be 50% of the time).   S mode is perfect for when you are driving round the hills and want power on tap all the time.  In fact with the combination of high torque (350NM) from relatively low rpm (2500), and a response gearbox, D works just fine on the hills too, but S is WAY WAY more fun.  I have to say I keep forgetting this car is a turbo – the lack of turbo lag, and the relatively torquey engine down low means that even with the DSG box its not changing DOWN to get power – it’s more than when you are going fast it’s changing UP fast due to rocketing acceleration!

I drive lots of rental cars, and get “upgraded” (in IMO it’s a downgrade some of the time), to a large modern car such as a Holden or Ford with a large (3 to 4L) engine, in a 6 or 8 cylinder configuration.  I have to say these cars ALL need to change down a gear or two to get any performance WAY more often that the Golf-R does.  The Golf pulls cleanly and strongly from 70km/hr in top gear, something that the bigger cars just can’t do.  And when it does change down it does it WAY quicker than anything auto I have ever driven.

Value proposition of this car, and how the competition lines up (is this car really worth $NZ 73K?)

This is gonna very much depend on how much you want to (and can) spend on a car.  Just like the answer to the question Is an iPad worth $1000 will vary depending on whether or not someone will actually USE the iPad, and also things like how much they travel and need portability, a Golf-R potential purchaser will need to consider how much value they put on having a hot-hatch that handles like a sports car, has the class of a European1 German car, with sporty, but somewhat understated styling.  For me that ticks all the boxes, but for others it may not. I know for some the lack of aggressive styling may be a turn off, or the fact that it’s a hatch makes it too much of a shopping trolley.

I think many of the commentators that compare the Golf-R to other hatches with 200KW get it wrong.  I don’t think many people looking at the Golf-R are looking at Japanese cars, regardless of how many KW they put out.  Besides, if KW/$ was the issue (like it is for boy racers), then the buyer is far more likely to get a 2nd hand car and then soup it up with extras.

Anyway, I think I am gonna cop out a bit on the topic and say it depends when answering the question of is it worth it? For me the answer is YES (just).  It’s far from a cheap car, but it has the right amount of quality build, together with the right mix of performance and practicality for me.  For many I think the answer will be the Golf-GTI is better value.  And I think to a certain degree it is, but once again it all depends on priorities.  For me I like the best of anything.  So, I got the best Golf there is!

Note 1: I was reminded by a friend that not all European cars have class (think some of those cheaper French ones!).  German cars on the other hand, well, Audi, VW, BMW, Porche, Skoda (ok .. I was joking with one of them, BMW isn’t that good is it?)

Why I bought one (which may help to answer the question is it the car for you?)

I was looking for a performance car that was practical.  I ride motorbikes (fast ones), and like a car that has a good driver feel.  At the same time I want a car I can put the groceries in and a suit case in the back too.  I also am not fond of big V8s that go fast in straight lines, but don’t do corners.  In fact I ain’t that much of a fan of big cars full stop – for me they just don’t appeal, both as a driver, and for practicality.    For me a sporty hatch is a perfect TYPE of car, and the Golf-R is the best in that category for sure. I also own an aging Rav-4, which I use to throw the dog in the back, and tow trailers.  So the Golf-R doesn’t have to do EVERYTHING for me.

Other cars I considered were (in no particular order):

  • Audi TT (not as practical)
  • Audi S3 (not as good)
  • Subaru WRX (too boy racer)
  • A bunch of 2nd hand European performance cars around $NZ 60-100K
  • Ariel-Atom (not as practical)
  • I actually think the closest competition in my mind was the Golf-GTI.  It’s 85% of the Golf-R for 75% of the price.

I never really considered cars like the Mitsubishi Evo-X, even though on paper they have many similarities (ie 200KW mid sized car) since it’s WAY to boy-racer looking for me.  Also, I never really considered any car over 2.5l (except maybe a 2nd had Porsche – but that’s WAY to much like having a mid-life crisis for me).

What’s it like to drive?

In brief: Driving this car is O FOR AWESOME!

Aside: In case you missed it, the original “O for Awesome” quote (and a reminder that not only does Awesome not start with an O, but on this game, you aren’t allowed to guess vowels).

For many, this may be the most important factor in choosing a car.  I like cars that feel good to drive. For some, cars are just transport, but for many, the feel behind the wheel is what makes a car.  And this is something that the Golf-R excels at.  It has an excellent quality feel to the car, and when driving it the engine responsiveness, the handling and the DSG gear box all work together to give an extremely fast car that very confidence inspiring.  To put it into perspective, I can drive the Golf-R FAR faster than my Triumph Daytona 675 Sports bike around twisty roads, and it feel both stable and responsive and gives excellent driver feedback when you are pushing it.

This car rocks as a driver’s car!

The 4WD together with its computer controlled traction gives is SO much better drive when pushing it around corners, and it really sticks to the road.

It also is a very nice car to drive sedately. Its smooth, has a quality feel about it, and the DSG gear-box is a dream both when you are pushing it, or just driving like a nana (and anything in between).

The extras on the car (the ones you get, and the ones you pay for)

I had a wee go at VW for what was extra on the car (ipod connector, bluetooth for phone etc).  Well the good news is I have now noticed that the iPod cable is now included with the car (according to the new Golf-R spec sheet).

Anyway, there are still a few extras that I think are worth getting (like blue-tooth), but the car is actually VERY well speced (as standard) on wee extras like:

  • Auto wipers (they sense rain)
  • Auto headlights (no more flat batteries!)
  • Parking sensors, auto assist parking mirrors (it adjusts so you can see the curb/wheel when reversing – no more damaged mags from bad parking!)
  • Dynamic cornering headlights
  • All the tricky stuff for traction control, 4WD (4motion) etc
  • Cruise control
  • Auto dimming rear vision mirror
  • The drink holders in the door actually fit a decent sized water bottle – I know this is hardly a major extra, but so few cars have this, and it’s so lacking!

The iPod/iPhone integration into the stereo head unit is the best I have seen (and I have used lots of these units).   Thankfully VW haven’t tried to reinvent the wheel here, and instead just allow the standard iPod menus to be accessed from the stereo.   It even has blue-tooth audio as an option, so if you prefer you can just play with your iPod/Phone normally and have it stream music to the stereo via blue-tooth.    The same applies to the Blue-tooth unit for the iPhone – it’s VERY good and reads all the info like contacts, dialed numbers etc all from the iPhone.  Thank god VW didn’t try to make their own system here – once again it just lets the iPhone do it stuff.  There is even a setting for speed-dial common numbers from the main phone page on the stereo unit.

Extras some MIGHT want to consider

  • Leather seats (although I have been told by one dealer that in NZ an aftermarket leather places does better seats for $1,000 less – RRP is $4,000 on the VW ones).
  • Reversing camera (well worth the $750)
  • Flat tyre warning system (well worth the $125 – since one tyre driven flat will cost you $4-500 fro the tyre, plus up to $1,000 or so for if you also damage the mag/rim).
  • ACC – although reviews are mixed as to whether or not you need it on the Golf-R.   Your call.

As I mentioned in my 1st Golf-R review, what is extra varies between countries – so check the spec sheet out before you buy the Golf-R (same applied to the Scirocco-R).  In NZ for example Tyre Flat indicators are an extra (at $125), they are standard in the UK.

The bad – surely there must be some?

Reasons why some people won’t like the Golf-R (but in my view, not valid):

  • Not enuf cylinders (or not enuf CCs)
  • Not sporty/aggressive looking enuf (no one knows you are diving a performance/ car)
  • Some people seam to balk at the idea of paying $70,000+ for a “Golf”.

Somewhat more valid issues:

  • I am gonna say I still think blue-tooth should be standard on a $70,000+ car.
  • I also think the space saver spare wheel is not a SPACE saver, but a COST saver from VW.  I hate them!
  • It can’t have a tow bar (due to the twin rear exists in the centre of the car) – a pity as the motor would suit it
  • Oh, and there is one other bad thing – while only a handful have been sold in NZ so far, and even less in Christchurch (a good thing IMO), BUT a guy on my hill, some 200m from where I lives has a Golf-R, in the same colour as me!   Luckily his mags are different, or else I would have had to have had words with him about that :-)
  • It also took almost six months from when I ordered it until it arrived.  My understanding that around 3-4 months is standard, but there was a further delay due to one particular part (the stereo) being in short supply, and NZ gets put to the bottom of the priority list rather quickly I think.  Anyway, if you want your car NOW, then you will have to settle for the rather limited range of options in NZ – so you might end up with a white Golf-R with ACC but 18″ mags, coz that’s all they have.  For me it wasn’t a deal killer, but I can see for some it might be.

But if they are my only gripes, I have to say that makes for one hell of a car!  For ME it’s the right balance of practical car, with performance (5 seconds or so to 100), fun (it makes me smile when I drive it), looks (it’s sexy but not showy), and class (it’s like most German cars, and very polished).

Black and White Version:
After driving the Golf-R for two weeks I love it.  It’s AWESOME.  But with that said, it’s not for everyone (what car is?).  If you like performance cars that are practical and polished, this could just be the best car in the world!

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