Volkswagen’s Mark VII Golf is a sensible, comfortable and spacious car that dares not to be different but entirely predictable, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R on the other hand, its a complete maniac! Volkswagen kindly flew us out to Arvidsjaur (no we do not have a clue on how’s that’s pronounced either!), where we were greeted by a wind chill of -27°C, as you will see, it all turned out to be a rather special trip!
After being subjected to a barrage of technical jargon featuring very German words such a ‘yaw’ and other technical terms relating to components locked into differentials, it was time to wrap up and get behind the wheel of the latest iteration of the quickest production Golf ever.
When approaching the car from a distance the first thing that enters your mind, our frozen by this point, is just how taught and purposeful the R looks. The Mark VII straightened out the rather vague and bulbous curves of the Mark VII car, and as a result the R looks remarkably aggressive, there are crisp angles everywhere and its hard to think that a car that we later found to be rather supple and spacious could look so tough and meaty on the outside.
Inside it’s all typical Volkswagen, no bad thing, with a clear and un-cluttered dash focused around a large, clear and very responsive touch screen that is complimented by a half a dozen switches around the gear knob and a small screen between the rev counter and speedometer. As with all R cars, the dials are a bright white contrasted against the deep blue needles that do not require a second look to register in the drivers mind.
The steering wheel is not overly thick or chunky but fits comfortably in the drivers hands, we can’t comment on the feel of the steering as on ice there was no feedback to be felt. The weighting is exactly what you would expect from Volkswagen, usable but not woefully soft or disengaging, keen to revolve back to centre.
The R branded seats offer good support and will not leaving you sliding about the cabin, something we found out when one foreign journalist opted to cut an icy apex, launching the car a couple of feet into the air and coming back down on the ice very hard, but in one piece!
The ergonomics are very pleasant, we are not personally fans of imitation carbon fibre, but Volkswagen have wrapped the seat edges in a polymer designed to mimic to look of the materials weave. The sporty carbon look does not end there. Plastic trim around the doors and inserts in the dash feature a smart carbon pattern, in this instance the plastics feel good and do not look cheap unlike many other cars in the segment.
We were teased with the presence of a stunning blue 5-door manual car that was parked in the dining room at dinner and for the technical brief, the next morning we emerged from the hotels warmth into the Arvidsjaur darkness to be greeted with the blinding lights of around 30 2015 Volkswagen Golf R’s lined up in formation, all but 5 wrapped in a rally-styled R livery with unique numbers.
Car number 20 was ours for the programme and the 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine burbled into life, a strikingly impressive and creamy sound for such a small and efficient engine, we agreed that we missed the delicious tone of the Mark V R32 and tentatively eased onto the frozen and empty roads of the city. A short drive led us to the frozen lake where all the magic would unfold, at this point to sun began to peek over the hills and thought the huge snow laden fur trees turning the sky to a mellow shade of pink. The cars were anything but.
Having been split into smaller groups we were presented with a short slalom course to test the levels of traction, or lack of, using the cars different stability control options, including the option to turn the systems off entirely (a first in a Golf R), and the cars ‘Modes’ comprising of Eco, Normal, Race and individual. It was clear that VW had perfected the ESC systems, when left on entirely the system fulfilled it’s purpose and reined in any power and stopped the wheels from being spun. Once deactivated the car became a real brawler but would follow any inputs the driver made resulting in, on the ice at-least, a car that would hang it’s behind out at the stamp of the fast pedal. Of course there was a third option, the sport function, as you guessed it is a perfect balance of the two and is called ESC Sport+.
The slalom was followed by a braking competition, win the drag race but do not over shoot the finishing posts, an interesting task and one that immediately filled our frozen boots with confidence as the ABS systems proved to be very effective even in the challenging conditions.
The real fun was to follow and the drifting lessons began! Volkswagens instructors would put Ken Block to shame on this surface, the ease of which they swung and handled the car with effortless control and potency left us in awe. Every instructor either had an illustrious racing history or had graduated from a stunt school. Our particular coach, Ronny, held the world record for the tightest hand-break 180-degree parallel park, with just 5 centimetres between each bumper! Ronny even treated us to a full on physics of drifting lesson right out of the back of his car! Lunch was promised and there was a smell of anticipation in the air as we has been told a local delicacy was on the menu, barbecued reindeer! It did not fail to surprise and neither did Volkswagens wooden Teepee structure complete with wifi and a log burning fire.
As the day progressed we attacked three different course, focusing on taking the car with speed over the surface while transferring the weight over the front wheels as we approached a tightening apex. This was not difficult in a car where power is fed to the wheels that were loosing traction, an effective way of maintaining grip and one that meant the car would always push to be neutral. As a result the slides we were being pushed to achieve we’re easily held and very controllable. By looking at the apex and gently balancing the throttle and steering angle, the car would remain predictable and result in massive drifts along with bigger smiles from all the drivers!
Technically this is achieved by predominantly using two instruments, the Haldex Four Motion system and the electric differential branded XDS+. Haldex is not new concept and has been seen in cars such as the Mercedes-Benz A45 and CLA 45 AMG cars. Power initially goes to the front wheels, but when traction is lost as much as half can be transferred to the rear via an automated clutch in the rear differential. XDS+ is again related to the differential and is a phenomenon that was first seen in Formula 1 car built by McLaren and is seen in the McLaren 12C.
XDS+ is very similar to Brake Steer, when the differential detects slippage the wheels to the inside of the apex is braked and as a result the rotation and the momentum of the car is enhanced in addition to the steering input from the driver. This was felt to be very effective in the slalom trial. In ESC Sport+ both of these systems have a reduced effect and do not act when ESC is switched off.
As a result of the electronics and mechanical grunt the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R produces some serious figures from its engine. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces an impressive 290hp from 5,500 to 6,200rpm. Maximum torque is now 380Nm, an increase of 30Nm over the previous generation R whilst weighing 1,476 kilograms, a 45kg reduction over its predecessor. The Mark VII R will it 100km/h in a very respectable 5.1 seconds in manual guise (the only gearbox available for us to test) or a brisk 4.9 seconds when fitted with the DSG transmission.
Of course on the ice we could not get close to testing such figures however when utilising the cars torque in higher gears above 2,500 rpm it was clear to see that the car is happy to leap towards it 7,500 rpm redline and pull hard whilst doing so courtesy of 380Nm of torque. As with the majority of German manufactured cars top speed is restricted to 250km/h and we have no doubts that the car will struggle to reach such a speed!
The program was not only throughly enjoyable, but a stark reminder of how quickly cars are advancing to this day. The previous generations of the Golf R could have been just as much fun on the awe-inspiring lake, but none would have been as competent, compliant or as capable in the hands of a novice or professional as the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R. We will have to wait to put all of the cars potential to use on the tarmac but we are sure that it will redefine the hot-hatch market once again and force other manufacturers to raise their game.