The Golf R has been to the gym - and the results are definitely showing!
The following article appears in the the August 2018 edition of Volkswagen Driver Magazine.
The Golf R has been to the gym – and the results are definitely showing! Simon Harper called upon the expertise of Reg Local to put it through its paces and provide an expert assessment...
Like any relationship, there is a point where a car finally reveals its true self to you. You’ve gone through the usual courtship rituals – meeting for the first time, nervously going through the smalltalk, getting to know each other – building things up slowly and gradually until, at some point, early in the relationship, you find yourself on the right road, with minimal traffic, no distractions, and you’re finally able to reach deep into the car’s heart and find out what it’s truly capable of.
In the case of Simon’s Golf 7.5 R, this point came early on a spring Saturday afternoon, on an open and flowing section of the A683 between Sedburgh and Kirkby Stephen. I’d been in my usual instructor’s seat up until then, checking on Simon’s progress since our last coaching session, offering a few hints and tips and feeling quite pleased that he’d retained a lot of the stuff I’d taught him on our last run out.
We’d been looking for somewhere to snap a few pictures and found a suitable pub car park to swap seats and set up for a quick photo-shoot. While Simon organised his photography kit, I re-familiarised myself with his Golf R 7.5. This car had really impressed me the last time I drove it (some six months previously, as featured in the January issue). Although it had had a 50 bhp increase over standard at the time, I remember being more impressed with its composed and communicative suspension set-up than the power increase.
During my brief November drive in the Golf, I found it to be tractable at low speeds, with an excellent ride / handling balance – the sort of car that Volkswagen would probably have preferred to have built if they were aiming at a more hardcore enthusiast audience. The brakes weren’t quite up to dealing with the extra performance, but I was promised that the car would have new brakes – and many other new mods – the next time we took it out.
Back to the A683 in early May and my first impressions of the Golf as I gently accelerated up the road were that it was still almost indistinguishable from a standard R. It started, ticked over and ran at low revs just like the standard car, with none of the unnecessary trucculence or harshness that I’ve often encountered with other modified cars. It’s just another Golf...
Until, that is, you flick the DSG ’box down a couple of gears, bring the revs up to 3000 rpm and press the gas pedal firmly to the floor. At this point, the car loses all its previous inhibitions and launches you forwards in a way you’d never think possible in an ordinary-looking grey family hatchback. This Golf has a naughty side!
Simon informs me that the new hybrid turbo recently installed by VRS Northampton with software from MRC in Banbury is putting out around 485 bhp. If you’d have asked me what I thought a 485 bhp Golf would drive like before trying this one I’d have snorted with laughter and dismissed it as an undriveable drag-strip special with a potential lifespan of three quarter-mile mile runs until it blew up.
The reality is something entirely different. This car has lost none of its benign user-friendliness at normal speeds, but like Dr Jekyll after a quick slurp of medicine, when you open up the taps, you find yourself catching up with things very quickly indeed! The engine is a monster and Simon tells me that a detailed feature onthe work carried out by Will Linfoot at VRS Northampton is coming up in the magazine.
But again, I find myself just as impressed with the suspension set-up as I am with the significant increase in power. In addition to the Öhlins road and track set-up which has already been covered in a previous edition, the car has now been fitted with SuperPro front and rear anti-roll bars, lower control arms, suspension bushes throughout and uprated engine mounts.
The first impressive element of the chassis is that the suspension manages both characteristics (normal everyday hatchback and ballistic weapon) on a single passive set-up. No need to switch between modes or try to find your preferred setup for different roads or journeys – just get in and drive. Proper old school!
I’ve always believed that a car – especially a fast road car – should have a little body roll. Roll allows you to feel the approaching limits building up, rather than suddenly finding that you’ve reached and breached the limits of grip, with all the associated stomach churning and sweaty palms that entails.
In this Golf, body roll is tightly controlled, but there is still just enough compliance in the suspension which, combined with the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, makes for an extremely communicative set-up.
The steering was impressive the last time I drove the car and it’s now improved even more. Turn-in is hugely positive, without being overly aggressive and the SuperPro bushes have resulted in a much more communicative relationship between your hands and the steering wheel. Once the car is turned in and settled into a corner, its attitude is extremely adjustable on the throttle – especially with the big power increase – and the feedback from the steering gives you masses of confidence. There’s some black magic going on with those SuperPro bushes because they bring so much more control without a hint of harshness. How do they do that?!
Lift off mid-corner and you can feel the car noticeably tuck in and dive towards the apex. Squeeze the throttle (it really only needs a very gentle squeeze!), and you can feel the rear of the car settle itself and in the blink of an eye you’re launched towards the exit and looking for the next corner.
I found myself driving the Golf like a quick motorcycle – looking right through open corners and picking out my exit point as early as possible. The mid-corner shove, especially over 3000 rpm in third and fourth gear, is massively impressive and the sheer pace of the car requires you to be well ahead of it with your observations and thought processes.
And the brakes? Last time I drove this car, after a few runs for the camera and associated heavy braking, the pedal was starting to get a little softer, ‘that’ smell was starting to waft into the cabin and heat build-up was becoming obvious.
Now, with the Revo Alcon big-brake kit fitted, the car stops from high speeds under heavy braking time and time and time again, without a hint of fade or heat issues. Generally, this isn’t how I teach fast road driving – I prefer a smooth, flowing style with earlier, gentler brakes and an earlier application of throttle in the corner, but if you’re in the mood for really pressing on and leaning harder and later on the brakes – or if you’re planning to do lots of track driving, which is much more reliant on a heavy braking style, the Revo Alcon setup feels like it’ll take everything you could throw at it and keep coming back for more.
I spend a lot of time in some very fast and capable sports cars and I’m quite familiar with this level of performance, but I cannot express just how impressed I was with Simon’s Golf. Performance-wise, it’s right up there with some very fast and exotic machinery. On the other hand, it’s discreet and everyday-useable in a way I would never have thought possible.
Theodore Roosevelt famously adopted a foreign policy of ‘speak softly but carry a big stick’. This Golf 7.5R speaks very softly. And carries a whacking great telegraph pole!