by Chris Wall
The Volkswagen GTi is the bread and butter performance car for the automaker, but while it's a really good hot hatch that's known to set the bar for these kinds of cars, it's still not the best Golf in the range. That's an honor bestowed on the Golf R (we discount the Clubsport thanks to it's limited production numbers). When comparing the two cars, many features are the same inside and out between the rivaling turbocharged hatchbacks, but the R-model's clear advantages come in the form of a bump in overall power, and the addition of an all-wheel drive drivetrain.
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Inside the Golf R things are decidedly upmarket with fine leather, brushed aluminum or piano black finishing and that R logo placed in key locations. The power-adjustable front seats are made to keep you in place during hard cornering, evident from the low seat bottom and high side bolsters. The dash layout is great; busy even, thanks to the center console that's home to the color screen for the infotainment system, the climate control buttons and air vents.
There's a 3-spoke flat-bottomed multifunction steering wheel, and depending of you go manual or auto, it will have paddle shifters attached. The instrument gauges feature an aluminum bezel and a black face with white numerals, but the blue needles are what stand out – a small but nice R-only feature. Space is goof for a hatchback, 4 can seat comfortable, 5 at a push, and all heights will work. The trunk will fit some basic luggage for two at 23 cu-ft., but the rear seats have the 60/40-split fold down function to free up 53 cu-ft.
Having a turbocharged engine and an all-wheel drive drivetrain, it's clear that the main function of the Volkswagen Golf R is to have a great driving experience, at speed. The suspension is firm allowing for safe, high speed cornering, and with available DCC adaptive chassis control allowing adjustments to the damper settings on the suspension the setup can be tailored for the road or track at hand. The Golf R primarily sees power heading to the front wheels, but when conditions demand the 4MOTION all-wheel drive system will send up to 50% of the available torque to the rear wheels.
The manual transmission makes for a fun, engaging drive that driving enthusiasts will love, but the dual clutch DSG transmission with Tiptronic and Sport mode is equally rewarding when pushed hard. The steering feedback is good; you always know what the car wants to do so you can stay ahead of the electronic driver aids and be completely in control. The amount of slip needed to get the rear wheels working hard is minimal, and can be felt kicking in to help.
Powering the Volkswagen Golf R is the same turbocharged 2.0-liter engine as seen in a few Volkswagen models, but it's been given a different tune to produce more power. The GTi makes 220 hp in Sport trim with 258 lb-ft of torque, but in the Golf R it's up at 292 hp with 280 lb-ft of torque.
This can still manage 30 mpg on the highway, but being able to hit 60 mph in just 5.2-seconds with a top speed limited to 150 mph is what makes the Golf R more special than the rest – those are some really good numbers for a 2.0-liter setup. The 6-speed manual is solid, purposeful and involving, but the 6-speed DSG automatic with Tiptronic paddle shifting is the way to go.
Active safety on the Volkswagen Golf R includes ABS with anti-slip regulation, a 3-mode electronic stability control, electronic brake-pressure distribution, engine braking assist, hydraulic brake assist and a brake override system. Electronic assistance comes from forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking with a blind spot monitor, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control.
The Fender premium audio system and the color touchscreen heading up the infotainment system are standard features in the Golf R. Most things that you'll find as an option in the GTi are included in the Golf R, which is one of the reasons the more expensive Golf R actually works out great price-wise.
When you want to be one of the popular crowd and own a modern performance car, Volkswagen offers up some great options, especially in the Golf lineup. When the much-loved GTi just doesn't offer up enough, it's time to look at the Golf R.
This turbocharged hatchback is fast and responsive and is equipped with an all-wheel drive drivetrain and either a manual or automatic 6-speed transmission to make it an involving, great handling car. It's packed with all the best bits from the GTi and then some, and the pricing makes it an attractive buy.