Volkswagen Golf R a performance weapon
All our regular Golfs and GTIs come from Mexico, but the Golf R is built in Germany All our regular Golfs and GTIs come from Mexico, but the Golf R is built in Germany
Spying the red Volkswagen in our driveway, my wife asks, “Is that a regular Golf?”
“Hardly,” I reply, with just a hint of disdain. “It’s THE Golf. The R. All-wheel drive. Almost 300 horsepower. Nineteen-inch wheels. Over 43 grand, as it sits.”
My betrothed rolls her eyes and mutters, “Who would spend that on a Golf?”
Fair question. After all, to the casual observer, this uber-Golf does not exactly scream its king-of-the-hot-hatch status, despite its quad exhaust tips, big alloys, hunkered-down stance, and more aggressive front fascia. Even in this Tornado Red colour, I spent a week in relative automotive anonymity.
And that’s kinda cool, because the Golf R truly is a formidable performance weapon, privy only to those in the know.
I take my wife for a spin so she can be in the know. We snuggle into the terrific R leather seats that hug in all the right places. Glancing around the interior, she gives a nod of approval. It’s a high-quality effort that doesn’t look out of place in this price bracket, dressed up as it is with piano-black and carbon fibre-ish trim, fine detailing, a big, central touchscreen, and a beautiful, three-spoke, flat-bottom steering wheel. She likes the cool blue pointers on the gauges, and the illuminated blue streaks on the kick plates and front door panels.
I press the starter button, and the 2.0L, TSI direct-injected turbo four barks to life. “You know, honey, this is basically the same engine as in the GTI, but they’ve reworked it with new head pistons and larger turbo. So, it’s making 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft up from the GTI Performance’s 220 hp and 258 lb-ft.”
I continue. “And the 4Motion, all-wheel drive can send up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear wheels. VW says the R will scoot to 100 km/h in a tick under five seconds with this DSG, six-speed, twin clutch. It starts at $39,995 for the six-speed manual car. I had one out on the track at TestFest, and it stuck to the tarmac like a squashed ’possum.”
“Ooh!” she replies, gazing out the window. “It looks like Sharon got new curtains.”
We set out in Comfort mode which has the transmission upshifting early and the adaptive Dynamic Chassis Control in its most butt-friendly setting. Despite the Golf R’s lowered ride height and massive 19-inch wheels, the ride is surprisingly compliant. In this mode, the R does a fine impersonation of a small luxury car, especially with the $2,015 Technology Package that ramps up the goody count with a larger, eight-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection with cross traffic alert lane departure warning, and park assist.
“So why does the Golf R cost $10,000 more than a GTI?” she asks.
“Well, along with all the mechanical upgrades, you’re also getting bi-xenon headlights, navigation, VW’s new Discover Media touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, and a decent Fender-badged audio system. It only comes with four doors, so it’s super practical, too. But, really, THIS is what you’re paying for.”
I reach down and press the mode button, cycling from Comfort to Normal to Race. The suspension firms up, the tranny drops down a gear, and throttle response sharpens. With some open road ahead, I give the R some welly, and it lunges ahead on a tide of revs and torque. The DSG twin-clutch bangs off upshifts, and with each, there’s a charming whumf from the exhaust. Yep, this is a mighty rapid hatchback.
VW has given the experience more urgency by piping a low, growly engine note into the cabin. I’d prefer my Golf to not sound like a Subaru, but that’s just me.
Steering is quick and dead accurate, and the car responds immediately to inputs. Grip is tenacious, and it corners with a point-and-shoot neutrality, helped in no small part by electronic, brake-induced torque vectoring. And the real fun is feeling that push from the rear wheels.
2016 VW Golf R
Base price/as tested: $39,995/$43,410
Engine: 2.0L TSI turbocharged four
Fuel consumption (city/highway L/100 km): 10.9 / 7.7 (manual) 10.2 / 7.8 (automatic) premium fuel
What’s Hot: an uncanny blend of comfort, utility, quality, and blazing performance
What’s Not: defending its price to non-believers
Subaru STi: $37,995-$45,395; 305 hp, 2.5L, flat-four turbo. What’s Best: hard-core performer; 8/10
Ford Focus RS: $46,969; 350 hp, 2.3L, turbo four. What’s Best: power, hi-tech, all-wheel drive (yet to be tested)
Peter Bleakney is a regular contributor to Toronto Star Wheels. The vehicle tested was provided by the manufacturer. For more Toronto Star automotive coverage, go to thestar.com/autos . To reach Wheels Editor Norris McDonald: email@example.com