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CAPE TOWN, South Africa – I had two criticisms around the 2014 launch of the Golf 7 R in South Africa. The first was the fact that, at the time, the then-most powerful production Golf retailed for just R13 000 less than its arguably more sophisticated (yet identically underpinned and powered) Audi S3 Sportback cousin. The second was to do with the car’s quad-tailpipe and symphonised sound setup that offered the same largely monotone drone no matter which drive mode was selected.
While neither of these personal bugbears seem to have had an impact on local sales of the R, with the introduction of the Golf 7,5 version, at least one of those quirks has been addressed.
Corresponding with the recent facelift of the TSI and GTI offerings, the updated Golf R gain newly designed bumpers front and rear, as well as LED head- and tail-lamps. While chrome-look mirrors remain standard fitment, carbon-look items can also be ordered. Standard “Spielberg” 19-inch alloy wheels complete a package that subtly reinforces the R’s place at the summit of the current Golf family tree.
Included in an interior update is an impressive new (and standard) Active Info Display that, as we’ve noted in other recent Golf reviews, adds a welcome touch of modern sophistication to the range. It’s here, within the standard Drive Profile Selection, that I found solace in the fact that there’s a discernible difference in exhaust note between the Comfort or Normal settings and the Race mode. That said, I also like the fact that you are able to switch out the decidedly boomier soundtrack associated with Race mode by configuring the Individual setup.
As an option, buyers are able order chassis control that adds configurable adaptive dampers to the package. On this note, I found the default damper setting more than capable of offering a best-of-both-worlds compromise between comfort and dynamism.
Corresponding with the model facelift comes a small increase in performance for the already most powerful production Golf to date. Here, the car’s turbocharged 2,0-litre TSI engine has been granted an additional 7 kW to offer an overall 213 kW (still some way short of the 228 kW figure offered overseas), with 380 N.m of torque available between 1 850 and 5 300 r/min. Mated with an updated seven-speed DSG transmission, the new R is able to reach 100 km/h, from standstill, in a claimed 4,6 seconds (the previous model offered a claimed 5,0 seconds).
More than the power increase, however, it’s the combination of the updated interior treatment handed to the entire Golf range through its midlife facelift, together with the thankfully tuneable exhaust note (that now lets to you switch to a more civilised, low-key, soundtrack) that make this updated Golf R that much more appealing than the last.
But, and it’s a fairly big but in the case of the updated Golf R, what of the Audi S3 Sportback?
Negligible specification anomalies (including 18- versus 19-inch alloys) aside, the standard S3 Sportback is actually cheaper (R646 000 versus R647 300) than the new Golf R, while offering 15 kW more power, 20 N.m more torque and a standard maintenance plan versus the Volkswagen’s service plan.
The question remains then, how much more value do South Africans place on an R badge over Vorsprung?
Fast factsModel: Volkswagen Golf R
Price: R647 300
Engine: 2,0-litre, turbocharged
Power: 213 kW
Torque: 380 N.m
0-100 km/h: 4,6 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 6,9 L/100 km
CO2: 156 g/100 km
Transmission: 7-speed DSG
5 year/90 000 km service plan