WHAT a wonderful dilemma. Caught between two hot hatches with enviable reputations and the real-world performances to back those up. That they are both from the same stable - derivatives of Volkswagen's most accomplished vehicle - is a nice aside.
The new GTI Performance steps elegantly into the financial gap between the much-loved GTI and much-wanted Golf R - which has just won Motor magazine's bang for your buck award. We took both hot hatches home to see how deep the differences run.
There is little to fault in the interior of the Golf. Both these cars retain that understated classiness, with an uncluttered cockpit and neatly aligned dials and buttons.
Aside from a different chrome contrasts, the stop-start button in the Golf R and the insignia that highlights each model, the only other major visual clue is the red instrument backlights in the GTI Performance, compared to the bright blue hues in the Golf R.
Bucket seats, of Alcantara leather - are decidedly comfortable, the side bolstering holding snugly even when you are ripping through a series of tight corners.
Both are fairly spacious for small cars and, as expected, tall adults will find the rear legroom a tad tight, but for a small family or couple, the accommodations are more than suitable. Perhaps the only disappointing thing is that the 14.7cm infotainment touch-screen is not only lost in the enveloping surrounds but could really do with better, sharper graphics.
There are handy storage options dotted around the cabin and while the boot will cope with a reasonable grocery shop, you will have trouble fitting anything but a small pram in there.
On the road
The Performance GTI has the same amount of torque at its disposal and just 7kW more power than the regular GTI, but manages to offer up a much more thrilling performance. It feels quicker, more nimble and even more dependable at speed.
The Golf R with its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine bespoke 4Motion drivetrain is really a joy to drive, the all-wheel drive system allowing it to stick like glue in the corners irrespective of the weather conditions. It sounds fast - and is - a throaty growl upon start-up growing into a lusty rumble as you demand power.
Both cars benefit enormously from Adaptive Chassis control, which allows the driver to almost tailor his experience, as well as Volkswagen's progressive steering, which makes for a quicker steering feel with less effort.
The biggest plus, however, and probably what sets these cars apart from the GTI in performance, is an electronically actuated mechanical diff lock; a hardware-based system which apportions torque to whichever front wheel needs it more. This system works seamlessly with the existing XDL system and stability control to ensure you can drive them hard out of corners, accelerating sooner with no concern for under or oversteer.
What do you get?
Meanwhile, the Golf R boasts keyless entry with push-button start, a number of aesthetic differences - notably the R badging - with the real show points confined to mechanicals. There are a few options, like Vienna leather at $3150, panoramic glass sunroof at $1850, and a $1000 driver assistance package.
Little expense has been spared on safety, with both models boasting a host of active and passive features.
Competition is likely to come from the Subaru WRX STI (from $49,990), Ford Focus ST (from $38,290), Renault Megan RS (from $43,990), and the Peugeot 308 GTI, which has yet to arrive on our shores.
Consumption for the GTI Performance is listed at 6.6 litres/100km but we managed closer to eight, while official figures for the Golf R is 7.1L/100km (7.3L/100km man).
Volkswagen offers three years/unlimited kilometre warranty, with three-year road-side assist, as well as capped-price servicing for six years or 90,000km
There is enough space in the back for littlies or two relaxed adults. The GTI Performance comes as a dual-clutch auto, which may be a problem for those who love a manual option.
As good as the GTI is, these are better. It all comes down to whether you are happy to hand over more coin for that extra thrill.
Sleek, modern and sporty, both the Performance GTI and Golf R do enough to catch the eye despite an almost understated demeanour.
The Performance GTI sits 15mm lower to the ground than the GTI, with a bright red stripe across the grill and its badge proudly stamped on red front callipers. The Golf R is distinguished in its 19-inch Cadiz alloys, redesigned bumpers and side skirts.
In theory, the Performance GTI offers the perfect middle ground for those that want more power and performance than a GTI but really don't want to hand over $10,000 more.
But the R is about more than the sum of its parts, however spectacular they are. The thrill of the drive so in tune with the burly soundtrack, evokes feelings that are probably worth the monetary difference.
What matters most
What we liked: Drive experience with speed around the twisties, cutting-edge technology, classy interior.
What we'd like to see: Perhaps a manual option in the Performance GTI, a touch more driver involvement, a sportier exterior.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty with capped-price servicing for six years or 90,000km.
Model: Volkswagen Golf Performance GTI and Golf R.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive hot hatch.
Engine: GTI Performance 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo-petrol generating maximum power of 169kW@4700-6200rpm and peak torque of 350Nm @ 1500-4600rpm. Golf R 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo-petrol generating maximum power of 206kW@5100-6500rpm and peak torque of 380Nm@1800-5100rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch auto (and six-speed manual available in Golf R).
Consumption: GTI Performance 6.6 litres/100km Golf R 7.1l/100km.
Bottom line plus on-roads: GTI Performance $48,490, Golf R $54,490.
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