What is a ‘hot hatch’? In the past, a simple formula: associate a powerful engine with a small platform. The first Volkswagen Golf GTI was not the first in history, but it was one of the most memorable, because it was one of the best to solve the equation.
So, in 1976, the differences between a GTI and a production model were not many, apart from the engine (110 HP instead of 70 HP), the gear lever and the upholstery. Today, there is a chasm between the entry-level version of Volkswagen’s compact car and its sportier version, the R.
This finish, even more powerful than the GTI and with four-wheel drive, was introduced with the fourth generation of the Golf, in 2002. It was then that the paths of what enthusiasts had considered the Golf philosophy began to diverge.
So, back to the same question. Does a hot hatch have to be inherently affordable? If we take into consideration that the 20th anniversary Golf R costs 67,570 euros, it seems evident that high performance, at least the top of the range, is reserved for a few.
The current Golf GTI, an excellent compact sports car, starts at 45,985 euros.
However, the Golf R has long distanced itself from this segment to become something different and aspirational. It doesn’t matter that for that price you can access other models that, objectively, represent better value offers: the Golf is a vehicle that has high fidelity.
The R has been criticized for being too “serious.” Aseptic, even. Inside there are practically no buttons and it is easy to get lost in the menus in the multimedia system. But, given the importance of this model for Volkswagen – not for nothing did Auto Express name it the best car in history – they have taken the driving sensations very seriously.
And when a German is serious about a car, it is a guarantee of success.
The 333 horsepower of the Golf R is delivered with sufficient speed thanks to its turbocharger, which is very satisfactory – it accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.7 seconds – but even more so is the four-wheel drive.
If the GTI feels reckless enough to sense where the limit of the rubber’s grip is in corners, with the R that doesn’t happen: at all times the car feels under control, with the precision of an architectural study and fluidity in his journey.
In 2023, it is difficult to justify the purchase of a compact with 333 horses for almost 70,000 euros. But it’s not about making a rational decision. The Golf R exists because it cannot disappear, it is too important to do so. With it, the Volkswagen Group demonstrates that, although it is now much more than a ‘hot hatch’, its original spirit endures.