Road Trip: Volkswagen’s hot hatch heats up Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley

When it comes to the Annapolis Valley, you’re probably picturing following the river through small towns and villages, farmland and grapevines. But get out of the valley and there’s a whole world of twisty roads, steep hills and drops to the coastline on bits of pavement that are sometimes actually gravel and are almost always narrow. In other words, perfect roads for a hot hatchback like the Volkswagen Golf R.

The roads in the hills surrounding Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley provide perfect twisties, climbs and descents for the VW Golf R

I had never really explored sights outside of the main Valley, but the Golf R offered something flashy and a photographer friend wanted to make full use of the scenery and the car. That’s why I found myself headed north on Highway 12, ready to take a turn east toward Gaspereau Vineyards.

It’s your duty to take the fun way when you’re driving a Golf R

Why 12 instead of the 101? Because I have a 292-horsepower, 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder at my beck and call along with three silver pedals at my feet. That means I’m taking the fun way. Route 12’s long, sweeping, high-speed curves are perfect for letting this four-wheel drive hatch stretch its legs, and for the Sport mode to let the exhaust bellow through the four tips in the rear.

It turns out that many of the regions best vineyards and wineries aren’t down in the valley, near the main roads. Nothing against those ones, but near the top of the mountains to the south you’ll find loads of great grapes and even better views.

Or you’ll find what I’m looking for: twisty pavement.

Volkswagen’s Digital Chassis Control is a back-saver on bumpy, broken pavement

Lowering the car two centimetres compared with a standard Golf could send you on a trip to the dentist with this broken pavement rattling your fillings, but the R has an adaptive suspension with variable dampers. VW calls it Digital Chassis Control, I call it a back-saver.

Hit those craters in the asphalt and the shocks relax to make things more comfortable. Put it in Comfort mode and it’s even softer. Race mode tightens everything, making sure that the steering is razor-sharp and that the skinny 19-inch tires stay firmly stuck to the roads when you’re moving quickly.

And moving quickly I was, following White Rock Road and looking down at vines, livestock, and other fields. Then it was time to cross the valley to where some of my favourite spots in the province are hiding. The places where your cell phone will blink in confusion because for some reason there’s no signal tethering you to the world.

Tucked-away fishing villages provide respite from the hustle and bustle

Places like Harbourville. You’ll barely see them on a map, these small current and former fishing villages along the Bay of Fundy, great places to sit and disconnect and just watch the tides roll in. There’s a restaurant, and you’ll find cottages to rent nearby, but not much else for anyone coming to visit. And that’s the point, really, that lack of hustle and bustle.

Getting here is all kinds of fun too, because most of the climbs up the North Mountain go every which way but straight. They twist and turn up the rock, and the sharp turn-in of the Golf R loves every moment of this pavement assault.

While the steep grades might unload the drive wheels of a lesser hot hatch leaving your front inside tire spinning, the R’s all-wheel drive sends power to the planted rear and darts toward the next corner. It’s so capable at mountain climbing that it’s nearly dull. It’s far quicker than the less-powerful, front-drive GTI, but that competence takes away some of the nervous, playful excitement of the GTI.

Volkswagen’s Golf R is all grown up

Like the lesser-travelled parts of the Annapolis Valley, Volkswagen’s Golf R is a bit more grown-up. Sitting and sipping a glass of wine, or staring off into the horizon with no Twitter notifications disturbing you, or conquering every piece of tarmac you can throw it at.

The excitement may lay at the bottom of the Annapolis Valley or behind the wheel of the GTI, but if you don’t need that excitement anymore, have little to prove, and just want to arrive quickly and comfortably to your getaway, you’ll not find a better pair than these hidden places and this Golf R.

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