We may never know the full scale of the projects that were killed as VW scrambled to cut costs in the wake of dieselgate. The ones that are public knowledge are bad enough, and although it’s a decent-sized list, one sticks out for me - the Golf R400.
This is despite the fact I’ve never been all that fond of the standard R. It’s never struck me as an enthusiast’s hot hatch - for proper engagement and fun, it surely has to be the front-wheel drive GTI or one of its derivatives. The issue is for a circa-300bhp power output these days, you don’t really need to drive all wheels - doing so merely adds weight and takes away involvement. Having to back off a little in the wet with a front-driven GTI seems like a small price to pay for added enjoyment.
The R400, though, would have fixed that. 395bhp from the EA888? Hell to the yeah, I thought. This would be a four-wheel drive Golf worth having. The original concept revealed at the 2014 Beijing Motor Show was production-ready, and VW bigwigs were known to be keen to sign the whole thing off.
The other stuff happened, of course, and the R400 was ditched. And that’s where M52 comes in.
A new tuning brand from UK outfit Mountune and US wheel manufacturer Fifteen52, M52 will pump the EA888 up to 355bhp. OK, so that’s a little way off what the R400 promised, but the torque figure of 369lb ft eclipses the 332lb ft number the concept managed. To get there, you’ll need a Stage I tuning module, and ideally the ‘M52 X3’ induction system. With the extra go unlocked, you’re looking at a 0-60mph time of 3.7 seconds.
There are other companies out there who’ll extract these kinds of power and torque figures and even more if you want, but what’s particularly interesting about the M52 is it could almost pass for an official effort from VW.
The EA888 still feels…like an EA888. There’s the usual smooth power delivery and the linear attitude at the top end. Turbo lag has increased, an inevitable side effect of an increase in boost pressure, but there’s still precious little of it.
I say almost pass for stock, as thanks to the turbo muffler delete, the snail is a whole lot more vocal than before. Not that I’m complaining.
The increase in power and torque is obvious the moment you put your foot down. It’s a seriously quick car, without being too excessive or unnecessary. I took the car down the same roads I tested Mountune’s M520 Focus RS on a few hours prior, but despite being 158bhp down, I was probably making faster progress than in the Ford. You can get into a much better rhythm with this.
What’s more, the pokier EA888 - unlike the standard version with its 296bhp and 280lb ft outputs - actually taxes the four-wheel drive system. And not in a way I expected. I thought torque steer would be the order of the day, but if you boot it in a tighter corner, the rear will occasionally get a little frisky.
The icing on the cake solves a major bugbear I have with all VW Group products with DSG gearboxes - the paddle shifters. Whether it’s a Polo GTI or an Audi R8, you get the same pathetic little plastic tabs stuck on the back of your steering wheel. Instead, the M52 has a pair of lovely billet shifters that are much larger and protrude closer to the rim of the steering wheel. If you don’t fancy anything else on the menu here, you can - and should - order those separately.
What I’m less fond of is the stiffer springs fitted to Mountune’s test car. They hamper the ride quality and make the car bounce around too much on bumpy back-roads. Stance be damned - you’re better off without all that stuff. The highly effective brake kit, though, is a box I’d be inclined to tick.
To buy everything fitted on this car (minus the wheels and the super-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres), it’s over £3000, while the power increase on its own works out at £715 for just the module, and over £1000 if you bundle in the induction system. For (probably) the closest thing to an R400 you can have? That’s tempting.