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First drive: VW Golf R wagon to woo fast families

Wagon wheels: Volkswagen's Golf R wagon is powered by the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the Golf R hatch, and will also send the power down to all four corners.

Soaring practicality meets searing performance in a high-value seductive package

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Volkswagen logo1 May 2015

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

VOLKSWAGEN has confirmed that the much-anticipated Golf R wagon is set for an October launch in Australia, with a compelling set of numbers unmatched on the new-vehicle market here – including sub-$60,000 pricing, 1620-litre cargo capacity and, not least of all, 250km/h speed-limited capability.

Mirroring its successful five-door Golf R hatch sibling from the B-pillar forward, the R wagon differs from the regular Golf load-lugger with a redesigned rear bumper featuring a specific diffuser and quad exhaust outlets, darkened tail-light lenses and LED numberplate illumination.

Specification-wise, the two R-rated body styles will be identical, from the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder powerplant to 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.

The engine in question is Volkswagen’s EA888 1984cc direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-petrol, delivering 206kW of power from 5100-6500rpm and 380Nm of torque from 1800-5100rpm.

Note that this is the special ‘hot weather market’ state of tune that is down on the European 221kW power output for reasons of endurance and reliability.

In Euro tune, the R wagon is capable of accelerating to 100km/h from standstill in 5.1 seconds (the same as an Audi S4 Avant), and – with the electronic speed limiter removed – can hit 271km/h.

Conversely, the average combined-cycle fuel consumption figure is 7.0 litres per 100km, which equates to 164 grams per kilometre of CO2.

Reflecting its more family-orientated demographic, no six-speed manual gearbox is offered in the wagon, meaning that the sole transmission on offer will be a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic, driving all four wheels via the latest Haldex 5.0 coupling that oscillates up to 99 per cent of torque between the front and rear axles.

The chassis, consisting of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear suspension, sits some 20mm lower than regular Mk7 Golf wagons, and features electronic differential locks dubbed EDL that work with electronic stability control and XDS+ brake cornering systems to assist handling and roadholding.

While the ESC software has been modified with higher intervention thresholds than in normal Golfs, R-spec drivers have the ability to switch it off altogether. Additionally, the steering is sharper thanks to a progressive steering gear ratio that cuts wheel twirling from 2.75 turns to 2.1 turns lock to lock.

Another R exclusive is the DCC adaptive chassis control system with comfort, normal, sport, race and individual settings that modify the throttle, steering, transmission, dampers and air-conditioning levels according to driver preference.

Despite the advent of AWD, there have been no passenger or luggage space compromises in the Golf wagon’s transition to R, with capacity ranging from 605 litres with the rear seats up to 1620L with the backrests folded.

Standard equipment has yet to be finalised for the Australian market, but should include Alcantara/cloth sports seats, satellite navigation, blue ambient lighting, climate control air-conditioning, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, remote rear-seat unlatching, a roller-blind cargo cover, and 225/40R18 tyres on 18-inch alloy wheels.

That is the R wagon on paper, but how does it feel from behind the wheel?Measuring in at 332mm longer in length and up to 140kg heavier in mass, the Golf uber-wagon is not quite as fast or sharp as the hatch version, but, frankly, only a back-to-back test between the two would reveal the real-world differences.

From the first turn of the key, the (EU-spec) 221kW 2.0-litre four-pot turbo lures you in, leaping off the line far more energetically than one might expect.

Keep the right foot planted – particularly in Sport mode – and the soaring exhaust note eggs you on with dramatic orchestral soundtrack style, thrusting the VW in three-figure speed territory with impressive ease.

Despite the family-friendly shape, the R wagon is a strong and powerful statement of intent, with acceleration and speed to catch the eye of awaiting constabulary. Remember, to find another machine with matching numbers, you need to move on up to the $108,500 S4 Avant.

Yet it is the R wagon’s exquisite dynamic control that is just as likely to captivate, thanks to steering of supremely measured response, defined by its pinpoint accuracy and superb feedback.

To show off its handling prowess, VW rented out the challenging Ascari circuit in Spain, where we were made to follow a driving expert who demonstrated the R’s unwavering complicity as it weaved through a number of demanding corners.

It flattered even the most ham-fisted drivers into thinking they were racing heroes, and demonstrated in no uncertain terms that this vehicle is all about towering performance and reassuring control.

Back in the real world, the fundamental Mk7 Golf DNA is a strong basis for the R-rated wagon, bringing a lavishly presented interior offering ample space for adults, brilliant seating, quality fittings and an easy-to-navigate dashboard.

Flocked door pockets, rear air vents and beautifully tactile surfaces also help justify the circa-$60K expected pricetag for what is essentially a small European performance car.

That said, our test car’s hard and rather noisy ride – on optional 19-inch alloys – proved tiresome on less-than-smooth roads, though the adjustable dampers’ ‘comfort’ mode helped.

Nevertheless, it is clear that this Golf carryall retains the R hatch’s fabulous ground-covering capability and then builds on it with true family-focused practicality.

And since finding another wagon with equivalent performance and AWD security means breaking through the six-figure barrier, you could even argue that the R could even stand for ‘relative bargain’.

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