There’s no dearth of hot hatches in the world. From the fearsome 276bhp Renault Megane RS to the outrageous 375bhp Mercedes-AMG A45, there are many strong contenders in this fiercely competitive segment. While there’s no questioning the performance credentials of these pocket rockets, and their immense ability to impart supercar-rivalling thrills to the person behind the wheel, none of them could arguably match the supreme blend of all-wheel drive traction and reassuringly poised performance the Volkswagen Golf R offers.
The quintessential German hot hatch, which had impressed us hugely in its current seventh generation guise, now gets a mid-cycle update. While some of these version 7.5 changes don’t have anything to do with the way the R drives, they do help enhance its reputation as an all-purpose car. These include a new infotainment system with gesture and voice controls and a 9.2in central screen and a 12.3in driver’s display. These definitely add an element of modernity to the Golf R’s cabin, although when you aren’t using gesture control, the screens tend to show a lot of fingerprint smudges. The cabin feels more premium than before while still being as driver-oriented as ever. Layout and ergonomics are perfect and getting into the ideal driving position behind the wheel is a breeze, while all round visibility is great.
There are some updates to the exterior as well, including sharper new bumpers, a restyled front grille, as well as full-LED headlights with dynamic cornering lights and LED taillights with sequential turn signals as standard. While it still remains as unassuming as it’s always been, the R does look a tad sharper thanks to these changes.
The seven-speed DSG has also been given some tweaks that Volkswagen claims results in fuel economy improvement by up to 0.3 litres per 100km. Well, this is one claim I didn’t seek to verify, and I doubt any Golf R driver will ever bother to. This is because fuel economy is the least of this brilliant DSG’s talents. The manner in which the transmission spreads the power through the rev range is exceptional. Every ounce of the 290bhp, 380Nm 2.0-litre turbo engine’s power seems to be at your disposal from the get go, with no let-off in the mid-range and even all the way up to the redline. The power delivery is linear and unremitting, and darting into corners appears to be the safest and most sensible thing to do. The levels of grip the R’s chassis offers is phenomenal, and there is hardly a situation that you’ll encounter on the road that will disturb the near-unflappable composure of the Golf R’s dynamics, especially in Race mode. While the exhaust note deepens into a more masculine snarl in the most extreme mode, it still does not do justice to the R’s mindboggling performance.
The updated R also comes equipped with a raft of convenience and safety features such as Adaptive Cruise Control with Front Assist, automatic climate control, Lane Assist, Park Assist, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert and airbags all around.
While it still remains as unassuming as it’s always been, the R does look a tad sharper thanks to these changes.
The Mk7.5 updates have brought the Golf R up to speed with the rest in terms of tech features, but the others will still have a tough time catching up with the R’s phenomenal abilities as an all-round performer, and that too at a starting price of Dh159,000. There are many hatchbacks that are more extreme, but none as poised and surefooted. The Golf R remains the most balanced hot hatch in the world, and all the car you’ll ever need.