Volkswagen has this week graced us with an all-new Golf R, as expected now that we’re a few months into the shelf life of the 8th generation of Wolfsburg’s big-selling hatchback. It’s not the most powerful of the hot hatch crowd – the four-cylinder EA888 has its sane tuning limits when you have to bear in mind a three-year warranty period – but it does have some new party pieces to speak of.
The biggest news is that it joins the yobbishly-sideways hot-hatch rave kicked off several years ago by the Ford Focus RS and continued by the Mercedes-AMG A45. One of the new R’s USPs is the fact that it’ll wag its tail under power; something the old one resolutely refused to do.
Being able to send up to 100 per cent of torque to a single wheel is a neat trick, too, if perhaps a little too flattering to any ham-fisted oaf who gets behind the wheel. We can imagine the new R being a supremely confidence-inspiring thing to grab by the scruff of the neck and chuck down a country road or a small circuit, but too much confidence isn’t always a good thing.
Depending on your country this may not have rung true for you, but in the UK the Golf R was launched with stupendously, unbelievably attractive finance deals. Throw £1500 at a lease deal deposit and you could put a new R on your driveway for about £200 a month. It was no surprise, then, that the four-wheel drive flagship Golf soon began outselling the stalwart front-driven Golf GTI.
Of course it was going to happen. The R was as just easy to drive, faster, generally better in the wet and was, on paper, the best Golf you could get. Given that in a lot of cases it was actually cheaper than the GTI to finance, the arguments in favour of the two-wheel drive tartan-merchant seemed a bit thin.
Of course, the initial offers only lasted so long and the GTI soon took back over, but the difference isn’t as big as you’d imagine. In sales figures we obtained from VW in the UK, the GTI has outsold the R in four of the last five years (including 2020 so far). In 2016, while the R’s offers were still popping, the GTI made up 6.51 per cent of all UK Golf sales versus the R’s 7.73 per cent.
It was neck-and-neck in 2017, with figures of 7.58 per cent and 7.54 per cent respectively. In 2018 and 2019 the gap stretched to 1.97 and 2.53 per cent, in line with the R getting more and more expensive, but a late flurry in 2020 has seen the R, so far at least, come to 4.14 per cent versus the GTI’s 5.12 per cent. Both figures are proportionally lower due to the general increase in demand for common-or-garden versions of the all-new Golf 8.
Looking at those figures tells us that when the R gets too much more expensive than the GTI, the latter benefits. Volkswagen has clearly made efforts to push the R upwards and away from the cheaper but arguably no less desirable option: there’s that slight power hike, the roughly 5000 per cent increase in shiny blue bits and the drifty business outlined above, all of which mark the R out as a much more techy option than the GTI. Most likely it’s also going to be quite a bit more expensive.
The GTI has maintained its evergreen mash-up of agile front-wheel drive handling, sensible-ish pricing, a cool and timeless interior and performance aplenty for most roads without offering so much that you leave the road backwards at the first fast right-hander. A lot of buyers might think it makes more sense than the blue-suited drifty boi. It’s been said before, but the GTI has always been all the Golf you need.
Unless those bonkers, subsidised finance deals make an unlikely reappearance, the new R is likely to remind people the more affordable GTI is plenty good enough. In doing so, it might redirect some extra sales fizz into it, and that’s no bad thing.