The hot hatch game has been heating up, but Volkswagen shouldn't be left behind.
The Volkswagen Golf R was the dominant player in the US hot hatchback market when it arrived in 2012. The latest Mk7 Golf R is still one of the most well rounded cars money can buy, but it is almost too good at everything. The hot hatchback segment has heated up with new entrants like the Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R, and Hyundai Veloster N. We still love the Golf R, but it is starting to look a bit bland next to some of its hotter competitors. The Golf R may be a bit behind, but we have five small improvements to put it back on top.
The Golf R is an extremely capable car with some impressive performance figures, but it doesn't really excite us in the same way as the Focus RS and Civic Type R. The Golf R may be able to keep up with its competitors on paper, but it doesn't create as big of a smile. Part of what makes the Golf R great is its ability to do everything well. We believe Volkswagen needs to focus on compromising a bit of the Golf R's comfort in order to make it a more engaging driving experience. It shouldn't go as far as the Focus RS by offering an extremely stiff ride, but the Golf R needs to have more of a soul if it hopes to stay competitive in this segment.
Part of the Golf R's lack of soul stems from its engine. There's nothing wrong with the 292-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but it isn't the type of engine that begs to be flogged at the top of the rev range. Volkswagen showed off a concept car called the Golf R 400. The idea was killed off because of cost reasons, but we think VW should resurrect it. We believe a Golf R 400 with the 2.5-liter five-cylinder from the Audi RS3 and TT RS would be the perfect answer to the Focus RS and Civic Type R. This engine produces 400 hp and a sound befitting of a supercar.
Along with more power, the Golf R needs a bit of a makeover. The Golf GTI actually looks more aggressive than the faster Golf R, which we feel is a mistake. The Focus RS and Civic Type R are a bit too outlandish for a lot of buyers, but Volkswagen can split the difference by making the Golf R just a bit more aggressive looking on the exterior and interior. We love the Golf R's interior, but we'd love to see Volkswagen offer up some more aggressive seats like the ones found in the European GTI Clubsport or the R 400 Concept.
In the US, the Golf R is available in only five colors: red, blue, grey, white, and black. This is a bit depressing considering that Canada offers the Golf R in a whopping 35 colors. These include 10 shades of blue, three shades of brown, five shades of green, three shades of orange, three shades of of purple, and three shades of red on top of the no-cost color options. Unfortunately, most of these colors costs a whopping $2,995, but we'd still like to have the choice in the US. Why settle for a boring Oryx White when colors like Ginster Yellow and Traffic Purple are available?
Our final improvement deals with the Golf R's 4 Motion all-wheel-drive system. The Golf R uses a Haldex AWD system, which is shared across the VW and Audi lineups. Unlike some more modern AWD systems, the Haldex system sends power to the front wheels by default, then applies up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels. This means the Golf R is actually FWD during most driving situations. Competitors like the Focus RS can send up to 70% of the power to the rear wheels with drift mode. This creates an ability to slide the car around like a RWD car, which isn't really possible in the Golf R. Volkswagen should consider a more RWD-biased AWD to make the Golf R more exciting to drive.