The Golf R is the apex of Volkswagen’s hot hatches. [credit:
Jonathan Gitlin ]
From its earliest days, the automobile has been a status symbol, where badge has mattered often as much as engineering. There’s a human tendency to pigeonhole, and we infer much about a person simply by knowing what they drive. Occasionally though, something comes along that transcends this class structure. The original Mini, which appealed to the smart set in 1960s Europe, for instance. Or the Ford F-150, as often used to commute to an office as to a construction site. The Volkswagen Golf definitely falls into that category.
When it was first launched in Europe in 1974, the Mk1 Golf was utilitarian, a people’s car to replace the Beetle. But the secret of a classless car is that it’s anything but. Peter Sellers might have driven a Mini at the height of stardom, but his was lavishly trimmed by the coachbuilder Radford. Suburban dads can spend as much on a leather-lined F-150 as they could on a big BMW the way their forebears did in the ’90s. And the Golf broke out of being a mere people’s car when it added the GTI to the lineup. VW didn’t invent the hot hatch, but it did execute it probably better than anyone else. The company certainly advertised it better, and the car was as popular with yuppies as it was with middle-class moms.
Take a GTI and turn it up to 11
More recently, VW decided it could sell even more Golfs if it added a variant above the giant-killing GTI—enter the Golf R. If the idea behind a GTI was to take a front-wheel-drive hatchback and give it more power and better suspension, the R takes it a bit further. Now there’s an even more powerful engine—a 2.0L turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder with 288hp (215kW) and 280lb-ft (380Nm). To achieve this with VW’s ubiquitous EA888 engine, the R engineers gave it a new cylinder head (plus valves and springs), a new turbocharger, new pistons, and a new injection system.