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Long-term review

VW Golf R Mk8 – long-term review

£40,025 / £48,450 as tested / £390 pcm
Published: 02 Dec 2021
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SPEC HIGHLIGHTS

  • SPEC

    Golf R Performance Pack

  • ENGINE

    1984cc

  • BHP

    320bhp

  • 0-62

    4.7s

Audi RS3 vs VW Golf R: is Drift Mode pointless?

Elsewhere on the good ship HMS TopGear.com you’ll see the new Audi RS3 doing battle with AMG’s idea of a four-wheel drive superhatch and you might think ‘hang on, why isn’t your Golf R here?'

Well, it was. The Golf R journeyed to Wales, but was barred from the main test, partly because it’s considerably less powerful, and partly because even with its ridiculous as-tested price of nigh-on £50k, it’s £10,000 too cheap to be a true hyper-hatch. Mad ol' world.

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It was an interesting lens to reappraise the Golf R through, though. How cheap and nasty its interior feels compared to the tactile, button-led Audi and Merc. How its false hi-fi engine noise detracts in character, and, yes a sense of expense, next to the raucous AMG and warbling Audi.

And how the Golf is the most subtle hot hatch on the market: no bespoke wheelarches, just some flared bumper trim. And the prettiest exhausts of the three, because they’re real ones.

What intrigued me most of all was the Drift Mode, because that’s the headline act, isn’t it? VW puts that on a car because it knows giddy journalists like me will mention it high up in the story, and that’ll mean we chat about it lots, take exciting pictures of the tyres falling to bits and you’ll want to buy one.

What’s alarming is – just like the AMG and RS3 – how unintuitive it is. Photographer Johnny bravely placed himself in a safe spot to take photos of my sideways legendariness, but in multiple attempts the car never did the same thing twice. As you can see.

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Sometimes it’s just understeer, sometimes it snaps sideways hard, other times it arcs more gracefully, but then angrily swings back into line as the torque runs out. Don't even think about delicately feathering the throttle to fine-tune your angle. The computer will presume you're bailing out. You've got to keep it utterly pinned, the steering wheel almost straight, and let the electronics send the drive to the tyre it likes least. It's a very weird, quite brutal sensation.

On the road, these drift-o-matics are ironically less predictable than old-fashioned RWD oversteer, and the ethics of hiding them a mere touchscreen press away does niggle me, if I’m honest.

But that’s okay, because there’s a disclaimer pop-up window you have to agree with before the car settles into lairy mode. Right. That’ll put off the wallies who’ve seen a GIF of Fast and Furious and fancy backing their superhatch into a Nandos at ninety miles an hour.

On a basic ‘living with ‘em’ point, the Golf was about 3 or 4 mpg more frugal than the 2.0-litre AMG, but could only match the much lustier Audi five-pot’s fuel economy, despite being a cylinder and 80bhp down. I was surprised the RS3 wasn't dramatically thirstier.

The red and yellow cars also pulled into focus just how infuriating the R’s auto upshift gearbox is – in manual mode, stop doing it for me, Golf. Or why bother fitting paddles at all? You could have chucked them in the bin, along with all the other useful knobs and switches.

This sort of sums up the R, so far. In here somewhere, there’s a really good car. A car as good as the old Golf R. But it’s been tangled up and muddied under several layers of annoyance and irritation. But I'll keep digging...

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