September 09, 2014 @ 04:45 PM

Volkswagen Golf R sampled in Sepang Circuit

The Golf R now lets the driver turn off traction control, handing more power and control over to you. But you really have to ask yourself: can you handle it? Words by Chris Ng

Words: Chris Ng
Photography: Chris Ng & Volkswagen Malaysia
The Golf R now lets the driver turn off traction control, handing more power and control over to you. But you really have to ask yourself: can you handle it?

Right after Turn Six of the Sepang International Circuit exists a slight turn to the right, which leads to a fork in the road. On that part of the track, if you bear right and it will take you into the pits; bear less to the right and you’ll find yourself on the main straight. Smack the apex just right and the accelerator would already be flushed to the floor as you exit the slip road. I bear less to the left.
Now, this means two things. First, now is not the time to dive into the pits and I won’t be doing that anytime soon. Hopefully. Second, the SIC has been chopped in half, which means I won’t be laying down rubber on the more technical sections of the track. Pity, because I do believe that the new Golf R is more than capable to challenge the track full on. In any case, I’ve been promised more time on this short two-point-seven-something kilometre track and I’m about to do my third.
But there are a few things that simply cannot be tested on a race track, such as how the Golf R handles the increasingly horrible roads around the Klang Valley or how many nutcases will run up the R’s tail. Yet, the take back here is that this hot hatch can be driven with a little bit more gusto than I would on public roads. In the interest of safety, of course. 
The walkie-talkie crackles to life, the nasally voice belongs to the driver in the lead car – a Scirocco R, in the correct colour because anything other than green is gruel. So far, he does not spew marketing gospel over the radio, letting the car do all the talking. Good.
“Guys, as Robert McAlister (Director, Strategy and Planning, VGM) mentioned earlier in the presentation, you can completely turn off ESC, also known as the Electronic Stability Control. This is the first time that you can do that in the Golf R.” 
OK, so maybe there is a bit of marketing salt to sprinkle. It is to be expected, yes?
“It is easy to turn it off. You need to hold down the ESC button for a couple of seconds for the car to tell you it is off. So, you can go ahead and do it, but only if you think you are confident enough to handle the car. Otherwise, ESC Sport is good enough.”
I am in ESC Sport mode now, the previous laps done could be considered introductions to the Golf’s various ESC modes – default, ESC Sport and ESC Off. In any case, how much deadlier can the Golf R be with the safety flipped off? The R brings with it the 4Motion system, which is Volkswagen-speak for four-wheel drive. The R uses the fifth generation, faster-acting Haldex that sends nearly all of the power to the rear wheels. 
Index finger now firmly holding the ESC button down, which is placed just left of the shift lever, which so happens to be obscured from my point of view. Some fiddling required although I do think that it is something that one would get used to in time. 
One. Two. I pull my finger away; nothing happens. Did I hit the correct button? The message that should have appeared on that little screen between the speedo and the tacho remain status quo. Nothing left to do but to hold the button down a while longer. Then, a beep, and the ‘ESC Off’ appears on the multi-function display, confirming my action.
Right now, the Golf R should be in its sportiest setting. It took awhile to get here, and I don’t mean the few laps that I had just completed. In order to reach this level, you need to put the six-speed DSG into ‘S’ mode. And then, through the centre touchscreen, locate the DCC driver profiles, finger through the menu till you reach Sport, which is denoted by two chequered flags. Exciting. That mode will put more feel to the steering and firm up the chassis. Once that is done, the ESC needs to be turned off to give you more control over the car. And now I am driving a true blue sports car.
Yet, I still have to wait for another lap before I can go any faster. The lead car is in the front and playing ‘Chase the Scirocco’ is quickly becoming all too easy. By far, I have the more powerful engine – a turbocharged 2.0-litre taken from the Golf GTI. Except that this engine has been given all sorts of mechanical improvements that skyrockets its power to 276bhp between 5,700rpm and 6,200rpm, and 380Nm of torque peaking from 1,750rpm all the way to 5,6000rpm. With the six-speed DSG, the Golf R is able to crack 100kph from standstill in 5.0 seconds – proper sports car territory.
“Alright guys, I’m going back into the pits. You can stay out if you wish, or come in with me. If you decide to stay out, I will call you in when it is time. Which is about 10 minutes from now…”
Everything after that is a blur. A rough mental calculation says that I have about 10 laps to suss out the car. The duet between engine and exhaust goes into the crescendos all the way to the redline. The Golf R is making all the right noises in very loud tones, which I suspect the helmet has something to do with the amplification. No time to deliberate on that one, Turn One comes and I’ve just passed the 200 marker. Brake. Hard. 
Coming down from close to 200kph, you’d wonder if you’ll be able to scrub off speed quick enough and if there is enough road to do so. The car judders a little, gets nervous just for a fraction of a second and it all calms down. The gravel still in a comfortable distance in front of the car.
Right foot goes from brakes to accelerator in near instant, but I hold the throttle at half. A peek at the speedo gives me two digits near the 100kph mark. Clear the first ‘S’ bend – Turn One and Two – and it’s full on the power once more. Oh the noise that’s coming from the engine; it is like a war-song that encourages more speed, more courage. By the time I clear turn number three, I would already be more than half way to 200kph.
The tyre squeals as if calling out for grip, and finds it. I am sure that there’s a good explanation, a very technical one, which would show just how the marriage of the XDS+ and 4Motion system is able to conjure grip where there should be none. I also suspect that the blazing hot sun nuking the tarmac had something to do with the heightened grip levels.
Turn Four rushes into view and I am compelled to put the pads and discs to good use; bites just as hard. And just as quick, all four tyres are screeching around Turn Five, never once losing grip. Lifting it off now would put the R into a gentle slide. It won’t catch you out, giving plenty of time and warning to control the slide properly. It’s easy, especially when the R is more than willing to work with you to get the results.  
I’m back on the straights, with the ESC still on off. From this round on, I find myself becoming braver, going quicker and achieving speeds that I would not have been doing if it were any other car of the same class. Of course, I am not perfect. Mistakes were made and quickly corrected. With the ESC set to Sport, you won’t even know that a correction had just been done. It works silently in the background, intervening only when absolutely needed and not a moment before. Which would make you think that you have the skills of a driving master; I admit that I did feel that way.
Yet, the question remains if you really do need the 4Motion and the extra power. The R, in spite of it being a better car, could handle with the same brilliance as a GTI. Use the R to get to the office and it would dawdle about with the same comfortable pace as the GTI. But with the GTI with Tech Pack priced at RM229,888, the Golf R with the same option, priced at RM285,888, is RM56,000. That’s a price of a new national car; it is something to think about over dinner.
The 10-odd laps ended too quickly but I had already arrived at the conclusion three laps ago. This is a Golf that deserves its R livery. The steering, the grille, the sides and rear have that distinct letter and shape. The subtle reworking of the front and the rear makes it as menacing as its performance. So, if I am going for the GTI and have that extra cash to spare, I’d put my money on the R instead. The Golf R is Volkswagen’s ultimate hatchback that is available right now; it could be the ultimate hot hatch to have for a long time to come. 

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On Sale
1,984cc, TSI, direct injection, turbocharger, four-cylinder, petrol, 276bhp @ 5700-6200rpm, 380Nm @ 1750-5600rpm
6-speed direct shift gearbox (DSG), 4Motion
5.0secs 0-100kph, 250kph, 6.9l/100km

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