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Road test: Volkswagen Golf R - is it still up there with the best?

By Jack Evans

The Volkswagen Golf R has always been the go-to hot hatch, but the competition has improved. Jack Evans assesses whether the new version is still up there with the best of them

What's new?

Volkswagen's giant-killing Golf R has been updated for 2017, breathing new life into one compelling package. It's now packing 306bhp - the previous car had 297bhp - and an updated interior with a new infotainment screen and all-digital dials.

It's been refreshed on the outside, too, though you'd do well to notice. There are restyled bumpers and new LED lights, but for the most part it's a subtle change and the Golf R retains the understated looks that won favour with those who loved travelling quickly under the radar.

Looks and image

As mentioned, the Golf R doesn't shout about its performance. You won't find any over-styled wings here, nor will you see hugely flared wheel arches - just subtle R badges and four menacing exhaust pipes at the rear.

In truth, it looks pretty much like any Golf on sale today, which is definitely part of its appeal. Only those in the know will tell it apart from other cars in the range.

The previous-generation Golf R interior was well made. This updated version is just as solid, with generous use of high-quality materials and soft-touch plastics.

The driving position remains spot on, while all elements of the cabin have a robustness that indicates they'll stand the test of time.

Space and practicality

Thanks to its use of four-wheel-drive, the Golf R isn't able to offer quite as much luggage space as the standard car upon which it is based. Load capacity shrinks from 380 litres to a still-respectable 343 litres - more than enough for a good weekly shop.

If you want more space, you can lower the Golf R's rear seats and expand the load area to 1,233 litres. In contrast, the Ford Focus RS has just 316 litres of seat-up boot space to offer.

If you want the most amount of practicality, then your best bet is the five-door Golf R. This gives better access to the rear of the car, and suits the look of the Golf R even more.

Once there, passengers will find plenty of leg and headroom, while those up front are spoilt for space, too. There's a good amount of shoulder room as well.

Behind the wheel

Here's where the Golf R's prowess shines through. Thanks to that four-wheel-drive system, it is formidable in almost all conditions, with even torrential rain failing to cause it to slide. An electronic system transitions power to the wheels it senses have the most grip, meaning it almost defies the laws of adhesion.

The Golf R won't think about spinning its wheels even when under full acceleration on a damp surface.

The Golf R is fitted with lowered sports suspension, which does mean the car's ride edges on the firm side of things. You can have adaptive chassis control fitted as an optional extra, though, and this will allow you to change the car's ride while on the move. In truth, it's perfectly acceptable as standard and deals with the vast majority of lumps and bumps in the road well.

The Golf's throttle response is impressive and you can use the car's swathes of torque to punch you out of every corner. It does this with little fuss and means you can cover a lot of miles at considerable speed without really thinking about it.

There's not too much body roll either, and this just adds to the feeling of composure when cornering. It does all this time and again, with the Golf's all-round usability shining through no matter what the conditions.

Value for money

Prices for the Golf R start at £31,510. For that, you get adaptive cruise control, climate control and the all-new Discover navigation system with eight-inch touchscreen. Of course, you also get the R's subtle bodykit as standard, as well as 18-inch alloy wheels.

Our car weighed in at £38,165, and this increase in price was due to the inclusion of a larger 9.2-inch screen with gesture control, as well as lane assist with dynamic light assist and full Nappa leather upholstery.

In truth, you could do without the extras fitted to our car - the upgraded infotainment system is a nice addition, though - and simply enjoy it for what it is: a superb all-rounder for a smidge over £30,000. You can option the automatic gearbox - it costs more than £1,000 - but we'd be inclined to leave this box unticked and be happy with the manual.

Who would buy one?

The Golf R is ideal for anyone who wants a car that is involving to drive, quietly premium to look at and practical to live with. It ticks all the boxes you could want from a hot hatch, while its four-wheel-drive system makes it suited to life in the UK.

It's a touch soulless we'll admit, but that's down to the individual. However, if you want a car to make everyday life just a little more exciting, then the Golf R is the car you'll want.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: Volkswagen Golf R

Base price: £32,965

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol

Power: 306bhp

Torque: 379Nm

Max speed: 155mph

0-60mph: 4.8seconds

Economy: 47.9mpg (combined)

Emissions: 180g/km

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