The Volkswagen Golf R has received almost universal praise since its release. Available in hatch or estate form, many testers suggest that it might well be all the car you’ll ever need.
As a result, the model is in extremely high demand, making it quite hard to simply head along to your nearest Volkswagen dealer and drive home the same day. Fortunately, there are many alternatives which all have their unique advantages over the Golf R.
Mercedes A45 AMG
For those in a big hurry
There’s one thing that the A45 AMG has on its side – straight line speed. Thanks to a monster 355hp engine and four-wheel drive, the “baby” Merc will demolish the 0-62mph dash in 4.3 seconds. It produces phenomenal grip around the bends, and fires out of them at an alarming rate thanks to the four-wheel drive traction.
Inside and out, the A45, to some, looks a cut above the Golf, thanks to a classy dashboard design and some fantastic front sports seats. However, many testers would argue that the VW offers not only a more involving drive, but a more compliant suspension set up than the overly-firm Mercedes, making it much better suited to bumpy UK roads.
Seat Leon Cupra 280 ST
For practical performance
In many ways, the Leon is a slightly less extreme two-wheel drive version of the Golf R. It rides on the same platform, is powered by a slightly less powerful 276hp version of the Golf R’s engine, and shares many more Volkswagen group parts under the skin.
Like the Golf R, the Leon 280 is available as an estate. The fact it packs a genuinely practical 587-litre load bay somehow makes the six-second 0-62mph time even more hilarious. Traction is described as “phenomenal” by testers, and the extra weight over the rear makes the tail even more playful when you provoke it.
The Leon is something of a performance bargain. It possesses nearly all of the talents of the Golf, while costing almost £2000 less.
Ford Focus ST
The performance bargain
For the price Ford asks for the Focus ST, it seems something of a steal. Testers love how it drives, with an enjoyable handling balance and a firm yet compliant suspension set up, making iit almost impossible to shake the ST’s composure even along the most dempanding roads.
It is the slowest car of our five, but a 0-62mph time of 6.5 secondsis hardly sluggish. Like the Seat, it is available as an estate, too. If you don’t mind a cabin which some find a little odd looking, viewed as a driver’s car the Focus is right up with the best of them.
For rear-wheel drive balance
The BMW M135i is not the sportiest here, nor does it look it. Don’t let that fool you though – aside from the Mercedes – the BMW is the most powerful car here. As part of the recent update, BMW tweaked the twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six to produce 322hp. The benefit of a rear-wheel drive setup should be felt in the twisty bits, and off the line, too – it hits 60mph from a standstill in just 4.9 seconds.
The 2015 update has addressed one of the worst aspects of the old model: the looks. The ungainly looking face of old have been revamped into a design which makes the BMW one of the more attractive Golf R rivals.
RenaultSport Megane 275 Trophy-R
The extreme option
It may not be the outright fastest in a straight line here but, around a race track, it’s a different story. The RenaultSport Megane 275 Trophy-R officially holds the record for a front-wheel drive car around the gruelling Nürburgring circuit in Germany. Its time of 7 minutes 58.4 seconds is a scarcely believable fifteen seconds faster than the BMW.
That incredible speed has been achieved through drastic weight saving measures – the rear seats, air conditioning and even the radio have been removed as part of the diet, while a new exhaust system sheds off a couple of kilos and frees up a few horsepower from the 2.0-litre turbo engine. All of these measures contribute to a total weight of 1280kg – 101kg less than the regular Megane 265.
Not only is it seriously rapid, but testers love the raw, extreme driving experience, backed up by what many agree is one of the most capable front-wheel drive chassis of all time.
Or you could get a Golf R
All of these rivals are very talented but it’s still tricky to argue with the sheer breadth of ability the Volkswagen Golf R possesses. Check out its full review and our preview of the Golf R Estate, then head over to our car configurator to see how much you could save on your favourite superhatch.