2,500 miles within the VW Golf R: The last word European highway journey


Final yr I took a McLaren 570GT  virtually 2,000 miles on a highway journey round Europe. It was a visit that you just’d assume could be each automobile lover’s dream — a wonderful, {powerful} automobile cruising via gorgeous environment.

However whereas the journey was nice and the McLaren was unquestionably very good, I felt the expertise would have been higher in a barely extra toned-down automobile. It is not that the McLaren is not wonderful — it truly is — nevertheless it’s quite a bit to deal with, notably in tough circumstances and for components of the journey I felt my stress ranges spiking as I fearful about whether or not I had the abilities to maintain it underneath management.


Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

So when it got here time to do the identical 2,500-mile journey this yr, I selected the Volkswagen Golf R. Able to accelerating to 60 miles per hour in simply 4.6 seconds and sounding like a spitting banshee within the course of, the Golf R is likely one of the most ferocious hatchbacks cash should buy. Besides, it is extra manageable than a McLaren supercar.

The 570GT might have been a formidable supercar for the journey, however I truly consider the Golf R is a greater long-distance tourer. Here is why.

The journey begins

My route started in Geneva. I used to be there already, protecting the Geneva Motor Present for Roadshow, so it was a smart place to begin. Plus, it was precisely the place I would began the earlier yr within the McLaren.

The primary leg took me from Geneva to the Julier mountain cross. Leaving town behind meant chewing via the miles on seemingly limitless motorways, made all of the extra gray and depressing by ceaseless rain. Fortunately, a strong playlist of Periphery, Dream Theater and Taylor Swift helped the miles go by. To not point out my prepared provide of Swiss chocolate.


Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

Because the terrain grew to become mountainous, the clouds broke, leaving a extra promising sky overhead to start my ascent. Whereas the highway floor was clear, as I climbed greater into the mountains the snow began build up on the edges. I would skilled one thing comparable within the McLaren final yr, which began to get a bit of tail-happy on a few of the tighter corners within the icy circumstances.

It was right here that I famous how way more assured I felt behind the wheel of the Golf R. Whereas the roads and circumstances have been very a lot the identical, the less-powerful Golf was way more manageable, and I used to be much less more likely to inadvertently spin the again finish out have been I to get too cocky with the accelerator. That confidence translated to a much less anxiety-inducing drive, letting me admire not solely the automobile itself, however the lovely roads and the gorgeous surroundings.

Going up at first was nice enjoyable. The switchbacks on the mountains have been wonderful; the automobile felt so balanced right here, hugging the corners after which exploding out the opposite aspect with a roar from the titanium exhaust, with no finish to the grip. However farther up the mountain, issues took a flip.


Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

Terror on the mountaintop


Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

The upper I climbed, the extra snow I discovered. The wind was blowing arduous, too, sending but extra snow billowing over the highway and severely decreasing my visibility. Going up was nerve-wracking, however manageable, so long as I inched my means up at a snail’s tempo. As I received excessive to make the descent, issues went from unhealthy to downright terrifying.

I rapidly realized the automobile was combating for grip each second. Regardless of me solely driving at about 10 mph, the automobile would merely proceed sliding once I utilized the brakes. I stored testing them, wanting to verify I may a minimum of cease if wanted, nevertheless it was evident the brakes have been now ineffective to me.

To be clear, the automobile was not at fault right here. Because it turned out, it wasn’t fitted with winter tires, which is the naked minimal you want if you are going to try one of many mountain passes in winter.

By this level, my coronary heart price was via the roof and I used to be satisfied that this was how I would die. I dreaded assembly a automobile coming the opposite means on a nook as I had no means of stopping my automobile, from sliding straight into them and pushing us each over the sting. Panic set in and my thoughts was operating via 100 totally different potential outcomes — none of them good. If I managed to cease the automobile, what then? Name for a tow? Wait till higher climate? It was midwinter and I could not simply sit within the automobile till the snow melted. Nor may I abandon it along side the highway and stroll down.

Finally the automobile stopped itself by sliding off the highway and right into a snowbank — mercifully, at such a sluggish velocity that no harm was executed to the automobile. I made the choice then to try to show round and return the way in which I got here. Positive, going again up appeared suicidal, however I figured that if I would managed to drive up one aspect of the mountain, these roads have been evidently clear sufficient to offer me some traction. Perhaps the aspect I used to be descending had been hit with snow all afternoon and was solely going to worsen?


Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

I managed to show the automobile round and, sustaining the snail’s tempo, ultimately handle to wind my means again to the underside of the cross, the place I would began what now appeared like a long time in the past. After taking quite a lot of minutes to relax, I discovered a close-by lodge and handled myself to a much-needed pint.

I noticed a number of highway indicators displaying reside details about the circumstances of Switzerland’s many mountain passes and whereas most have been closed, the Julier cross was marketed as open to site visitors. In hindsight, I admire that “open” would not essentially imply “protected,” notably when your automobile is not correctly outfitted.

Fortunately, I would deliberately not booked any resorts or deliberate a particular route, so I used to be free to make a last-minute change. Fairly than attempt to traverse snow-covered mountains, I as a substitute determined to go to the a lot hotter, way more hospitable south of France.

A curving coastal cruise

My route into France consisted virtually completely of motorways, punctuated by common stops at toll cubicles (each made all of the extra awkward by my UK-spec, right-hand-drive automobile, that means I could not merely attain out to pay, however needed to get out of the automobile each time).


Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

As soon as I hit the coast I discovered a highway (the SS18) that follows and snakes its means alongside the shore, slicing round steep cliffs, giving breathtaking views of the Cote d’Azur shoreline and picturesque French cities. Had I continued farther alongside, I would have ultimately reached the impossibly modern cities of Cannes and Saint Tropez — though even within the top-end Golf R, I would have made little influence in opposition to the Ferraris, Maseratis and different sports activities vehicles that dominate these cities.

The French Riviera is an incredible, and exquisite, place to take pleasure in a automobile. The tight bends of the coastal route imply your driving needs to be exact and assured, however the common intervals of straights supplied by the tunnels permit for extra liberal use of the accelerator.

However nevertheless good I assumed the coastal highway was, it was nothing in contrast with what I discovered inland.


Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

I headed for the Verdon Gorge, an superior geological formation tucked into the hills within the South of France. And to get there, I wanted to climb greater once more. Fortunately devoid of snow, the roads I discovered right here have been utter bliss to drive. Huge and sweeping, this route supplied all the pieces from technical thrills to blistering straights and it is right here that the Golf R actually got here to life.

Limitless strings of sharp corners gave me ample alternative to play with the paddle shifters of the dual-clutch transmission, manually dropping down as I hit the nook to offer me loads of energy as I dug into the throttle on the nook’s exit — accompanied, in fact, by an excellent roar from the Golf’s engine. These summer season tires that had beforehand left me sliding via the snow have been now virtually glued to the highway.

I used to be so completely happy to be within the Golf R right here. Fairly aside from velocity limits, there merely wasn’t room to max out a supercar, however I used to be capable of take the Golf R proportionately a lot farther than I may have within the McLaren, and have an entire lot extra enjoyable within the course of. It was right here that the outdated adage of “it is extra enjoyable to drive a sluggish automobile quick than a quick automobile sluggish” actually grew to become obvious.


Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

Not that the Golf R is even near being sluggish. The acceleration it achieves from its 306-horsepower engine (in UK-spec, Efficiency Pack guise) will simply pin your again in opposition to the seat, whereas the simple dealing with and boundless grip make it really feel nippy and agile. The Golf R is exhilarating to drive, and on these roads, I would not have chosen another automobile.


Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

On a latest highway journey via Scotland, I referred to as the Highland Vacationer Route that connects the cities of Aviemore and Ballater the very best driving highway I have been on. However this ribbon of gorgeous asphalt from Grasse, close to Cannes, to the Verdon Gorge has since taken my high spot. That is, I am fairly assured, the very best driving route in the entire continent of Europe, and I used to be equally assured I used to be in the very best automobile for it.

With just a few photograph ops alongside the way in which, I finally made it to the Verdon Gorge, the place the highway actually narrowed, with precipitous drops over the sting and blind corners at virtually each flip. Naturally, this slowed my progress, as did the quite a few cyclists and sightseers who all appeared content material to meander across the roads at a sluggish strolling tempo. Overtaking right here would have been fully suicidal.

From the gorge, my route took me farther into France’s Provence area, with quite a few lengthy, straight roads criss-crossing throughout gorgeous fields that might have been flooded with purple lavender, had I been round later within the yr. For me, the expanses of greenery beneath the clear blue sky have been sufficient of a visible deal with after the white-out I would suffered within the mountains.

Provence is dotted with many small hillside villages, most of which have been constructed lengthy earlier than the invention of the automobile and as such, aren’t precisely simple to navigate in a single. Tight gaps between buildings, cobbled streets and complicated one-way methods meant that even a compact automobile just like the Golf felt like attempting to haul a bus round city. Had I been in a low-slung, large supercar just like the McLaren, my nervousness dial would have actually been cranked to the utmost.


Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

My final day in Provence was principally spent having fun with the attractive surroundings and consuming any pastries I may discover that made liberal use of apricots and custard. The next day meant setting the Golf’s sat-nav for residence and chewing via just a few hundred miles of motorways earlier than boarding the Eurotunnel practice, which took me beneath the ocean and again to England.

Studying a lesson

I’ve no complaints about my McLaren journey final yr. It is the dream, proper? Bounce in an unimaginable supercar, fireplace it up and head off on a whirlwind tour of the Swiss Alps and the winding roads of continental Europe. It was actually nice enjoyable.

The issue was that the McLaren was too good for me. Its energy, its dealing with, its brakes; all the pieces is so finely tuned on a automobile like that and to get the very best out of it, you want a pair of very expert fingers. And whereas I’ve pushed loads of high-end efficiency vehicles in my time at CNET, I am no educated racer. I do not know learn how to take a automobile like that anyplace close to its restrict. Positive, I may drive it sedately at 30 mph the entire time, however then, what is the level of being in a supercar? The unimaginable potential of that automobile was merely wasted on me.

The opposite factor I’m is scared. I am going to fortunately admit that. I am dominated a lot of the time by that voice behind my head that all the time warns of impending doom. It is the identical voice that pipes up once I go snowboarding, reminding me of how fragile my bones are, proper once I’m rushing down a steep mountain run.


Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

Within the McLaren, that voice was notably loud. Each nook I went across the voice could be there, screaming at me that I do not know learn how to correctly rescue a slide, or reminding me of how massive the invoice could be if I scuffed the paintwork.

Within the Golf, that voice was lastly placated. It wasn’t fearful about me shedding management once I tried having enjoyable, or about broken paintwork as I snuck alongside a vacationer bus on a mountain cross. As an alternative of reminding me of the way I may die every time I took a racing line in a bend, the voice solely gave me a peaceful, cool, “You bought this, buddy.”

What’s extra, the Golf R was comfy on the lengthy motorway stretches, endlessly playful within the corners and compact sufficient to suit via rural France’s cities, but nonetheless large enough to let me get all my gear within the hatch. After greater than 2,500 miles throughout some significantly lovely — and significantly difficult — circumstances, I knew that this automobile had given me all the pieces I needed from the journey.


Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow


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