In the automotive world, adding a letter designation instantly tells people what you're up to: if there's a sinuous "S" on the back, expect sporty handling; if there's an "E", it'll either stand for efficiency or you'll be plugging your car into the wall.
But perhaps nothing is as inspiring as the regal R - emblazoning the 18th letter of the alphabet on your machine is a bold move for any manufacturer to make.
It signals an intent to mark out whatever's behind the badge as something very special indeed, the alpha and omega of the model selected.
Well, today's Golf is brought to you by the letter R, and it's the ultimate expression of the Teutonic hot hatchback.
Surprisingly, it's a four-door. If you know your way around the VW car configurator, you might note that the two-door GTi was previously king of the turbocharged hill over there, with the lightest weight and the highest performance.
And while this Ã¼ber-racy hot hatchback is 10,000 smackeroos more expensive than its entry-level cousin, you might not know it to look at it.
Sure, there's special 18inch alloy wheels, a unique front and rear fascia and the aforementioned "R" badging, but overall things are quite subtle.
Start thinking about what kind of hot-looking metal you can get yourself for almost $40K, and the Golf R doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.
If you want to flash your cash, you'd be far better off in a Genesis Coupe, brightly-coloured Mustang or Camaro - heck, for that kind of scratch, you can see your way into a BMW 3-Series.
Then again, I'd like to
think this is VW at their best.
While Japanese and Korean manufacturers seem deadlocked in a competition to out-style each other with swoopy designs, and the domestic manufacturers insist on painting everything orange and fitting chromed wheels of a diameter more suited for a Conestoga wagon, restraint is a good thing.
Yes, this car hauls. No, it doesn't shout about it.
It's practical too, with four-door ease of access and a big trunk. I mean, it is a Golf after all, and that makes it a Euro-sized, family car.
If you've got kids, good news: booster seats and rear-facing child seats are much easier to handle with this sensible, square-doored layout. Fold down the seats for a snowboarding expedition; pick up your in-laws and their luggage from the airport. No problem.
As a special model, you do get a few little touches not found on a regular GTi, like aluminum kickplates and some R-badging inside. Everything else, though, could be found on your average, high-trim regular Golf.
That means a clean, simplistic layout, uncluttered and spartan. The seats are comfortable and well-bolstered and free of tacky badging. The stereo is very good, but not thumping or blaring.
In fact, the only un-subtle thing about this car is having to explain to someone why you paid so much for it: they'll think you're a pirate. It's a Golf ARRRRR.
Of course, you could always just take 'em for a spin around the block.
With a tuned up 2.0L stolen out of the Audi TT, a solid six-speed manual transmission and all-wheel-drive to harness every one of its 256 horses, the Golf R is sure to impress right-seat passengers with grip, grip, grip.
At least, once you figure out how to get it off the line without stalling, that is.
First gear is far too long, and the R sort of bumbles off from a stop with a bit of a lag and slop from the all-wheel-drive drivetrain. No GTi-esque chirrupy front-wheelspin here, just a lug and you're away.
It's not a great first impression, but it's also not an inaccurate one - the Golf R is not a boy racer like its front-wheel-drive cousins. It's grown-up, sensible, responsible: fast, but not Fast and Furious.
In the dry, I liked the car all right, but couldn't see the point. Then it rained and the lightbulb popped up over my head. Aha! That's what this thing is for.
With considerably more mid-range punch from the larger turbo-charger, the Golf R burns through an on-ramp with absolute confidence. No fuss, no muss, all grip. It's as much fun as a GTi (maybe a little more), but better than that, it's a much more secure, buttoned-down feel.
This is the GTi all grownup, and as a sensible four-door with all-wheel-drive practicality and a long-lasting manual transmission, you begin to get an idea of how well it appeals to its target market. This is the ultimate Golf for the Ultimate Golf fan.
Yes, it's costly, but they've outgrown their ratty college GTi and it's finally time for something nice.
While its $39,675 price seems sky-high next to a regular GTi, the gap shrinks considerably when you start considering options.
Namely, the Golf R doesn't have any. It's a fully-loaded model; pick your colour (grey, blue or black), and that's it. No optional audio package, no extra navigation.
Load up the base GTi, and the gap closes to right around three thousand dollars - for an extra 50hp and all-wheel-drive, that's not bad. Factor in the resale that the rare Golf R will have, and things look even better - like I said, it's the sensible VW enthusiast's choice.
Observed fuel economy is solid, with official ratings at 10.9L/100kms city and 7.5L/100kms highway. We all know how far-off official numbers can be, and with a sporty car that encourages vigorous driving, expect worse and you'll get it. However, it's not much worse than the standard car, and far better than something like a Subaru STi - note that premium fuel is of course recommended.
Subaru WRX five-door ($33,395)
For the family-man or - woman in a hurry, the WRX has been the pocket-rocket of choice for more than a decade. With 265hp, a flared-out body shared with the STi, and stupendous Subaru AWD-grip, it's hard to think of anything that offers better all-weather confidence, performance and value.
Unfortunately, it is still a bit loud, a bit uncouth, and somewhat plasticky. There's a reason VW is able to charge more for its products, and it's that baby-BMW feel of their vaunted German ride and handling. The WRX is the value choice, the STI is the hooligan's choice. With the least power, the Golf R remains the tasteful option
Volkswagen GLI ($27,590)
We've already demonstrated that the GTi isn't that much more expensive than the Golf R. However, if you're looking for a practical car with German feel and a high fun-to-drive factor, here's the best-kept secret in VW's range.
The GLI is a fantastic car to drive, planted and very fast, and with a thrilling growl from its 2.0L four-pot turbo. It's also a sensible family-sized sedan, and a bit of a sleeper-car. Thoroughly enjoyable, cheaper than a Golf - a great buy.
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