The performance hero of Volkswagen's latest Golf will deliver Porsche-like acceleration at a fraction of the price.
The hero of the broad Golf 7.5 lineup – the "7.5" denoting an update to the seventh generation of the long running European small car – is the Golf R, priced from $52,990, plus dealer and on-road costs.
Powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the all-wheel drive five-door can accelerate to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds when paired with the seven-speed DSG automatic transmission, a $2500 option.
That's 0.2 seconds quicker than the model it replaces – and the fastest Volkswagen ever sold in Australia.
It's also quicker than V8-powered Holdens with engines more than three times larger and faster than Porsche's entry-level sports cars, the 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman, priced from $115,600 (each accelerates to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds, or 4.7 seconds if you option the Sport Chrono Package).
High tech performance
Key to the Golf R's ballistic take-off is its all-wheel drive system and electronically controlled launch control.
But the Golf is not just about acceleration.
Its 4Motion all-wheel drive system promises potent cornering, while there are adjustable dampers that allow the driver to dial up firmer suspension for race tracks or more stable high speed cornering.
Inside, there's Vienna leather, heated, seats. Part a long list of standard gear that rivals some luxury cars.
Speaking of which, Volkswagen Australia managing director Michael Bartsch believes the Golf is the benchmark being targeted by many car makers.
"The Golf is the compact car that all other manufacturers – affordable and prestige alike – seek to emulate," he said.
If you want some of that hot hatch feel without the $55K price tag, there's always the Golf GTI, one of the most iconic names in hot hatches.
From $41,490 it employs much of the Golf R's secret sauce but does with a bit less power (169kW) and powers only the front wheels. Or you can get the same basic package with 180kW in the GTI Performance (from $47,990), which marks the return of the three-door Golf.
Aussies like it hot
Why all the fuss with the most expensive Golfs money can buy? After all, small cars are all about saving money, right?
That used to be the thinking, but these days luxury brands are falling over themselves to deliver premium cars for less money.
BMW 1-Series, Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class are prime examples.
Each now has a car to contend with the popularity of the Golf GTI, adding a luxury badge to the performance equation.
Not that Volkswagen struggles to attract buyers.
Up to one in four Golfs sold in Australia are GTIs and Rs. Aussies have a reputation for spending big on performance and the Golf has been a big beneficiary of the switch to small cars over the past decade.
It's all about the value
Volkswagen's Golf has always been a premium mainstream player, moreso in recent years as VW Australia has crunched its German head office for competitive prices.
As part of the 7.5 model update Volkswagen has dropped the base 92kW engine, instead opting for a 110kW version of the 1.4-litre turbo for the 110TSI, priced from $23,990 as a manual or $26,490 as an auto.
Performance is helped by a turbocharger, which ensures punchy around-town acceleration and easy highway cruising.
It's also impressively economical, using at little as 5.4 litres of fuel per 100km.
However, whereas key competitors – think Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Subaru Impreza – all run on regular unleaded fuel, the Golf calls for a premium unleaded brew.
Standard equipment includes alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, reversing camera, auto emergency braking and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, allowing smartphones to display various apps on the 8.0-inch colour screen.
The Trendline (from $24,990) brings auto wipers and headlights as well as parking sensors.
Step up to the Comfortline (from $28,990) or Highline (from $34,490) and there's everything from auto lights and wipers to a panoramic sunroof, smart key entry and satellite-navigation with gesture control – as well as more powerful engines.
And out back…
Most small cars have walked away from wagons, instead pushing buyers to SUVs that Australians seemingly can't get enough of.
But Volkswagen has persisted with the Golf wagon, largely off the back of strong demand in the car's heartland, Europe.
Wagons cost about $1500 more than the five-door hatch that is the mainstay.
For that you get roof rails and a retractable luggage partition and a heap more luggage space (605 litres versus 380).
And for the more adventurous there's the option of a Golf Alltrack, from $34,490.
As the name suggests, it's about tackling some tracks and trails most small cars wouldn't dream of.
Key to its light duty off-road ability is the 4Motion four-wheel drive system and taller suspension, which reduces the chance of hitting something underneath the car.
For more of the latest car news, visit Drive.com.au.