‘Yeah, but a Golf R only costs a couple of grand more…’ is a line often trotted out in reference to the Golf GTI. Which is not actually true when you delve into the price lists: a three-door manual-gearbox equipped GTI costs from £28,465 (due to a small price increase since we took delivery of our car) and a three-door manual R is £32,880.
A similar gap exists between the GTI and the next petrol Golf below it in the range. The price gap narrows towards the anecdotal £2000 when you switch to the monthly payment option presented by PCP deals, the way so many new cars are now bought. Just £10 a month was the gap we found on one website between the two hot Golfs on PCP, and there have historically been some very juicy deals on Golf Rs in particular.
So the original point remains: the Golf R really isn’t much of a financial leap up from the GTI. You would then, wouldn’t you? For that extra, you get significantly more power (306bhp plays 227bhp) as well as two extra driven wheels. And power is, of course, everything in the world of hot hatches these days.
Although… it isn’t really, is it? On paper, the GTI gives away quite a lot of performance for that £4415 (or tenner a month) price difference but any comparison between them is more nuanced than that. The GTI, remember, is the performance Golf, and indeed the hot hatch, that has endured longest of all, no matter how many different flavours of hot Golf have been above it in the range at various points.
So, long-term test Golf GTI, meet Golf R. The R that has turned up for this exercise is a five-door, which also makes for an interesting initial comparison with our three-door GTI. Someone asked me the other day how I was getting on with the bigger, heavier doors of a three-door.
To be honest, I hadn’t really noticed them, yet getting into the five-door R revealed a door that is much lighter in your hand and needs to be opened less wide for you to slip inside. The five-door hatch is definitely more suited to tighter spaces and has all the practical advantages. Looks aside, I can see why the days of the three-door hatchback are numbered.
Yet that’s far too practical a point on which to lead a comparison of two performance Golfs. Of greater intrigue to me initially is that this R has a six-speed manual gearbox, as does the GTI in our possession.
In the first few miles, it struck me that I’ve never driven an R with a manual ’box before, only one with the seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox, which is a £1270 option. I’ve always thought of an R as a car that’s very naturally suited to an automatic transmission. It feels in keeping with its brief as the kind of all-weather, everyday hot hatch that prides itself on usability equally as much as being a performance tool. I still think that now.