It begs to be driven hard

It was cold, and I was nearly 5,000 feet up looking down onto one of the most beautiful "mountain" ranges I’d ever come across. If you head about an hour east of San Diego, you’ll find yourself dead in the center of Cleveland National Forest. It is wonderful, breathtaking seclusion from one of America’s finest and busiest cities.

But that stunning view was just a cherry on top of what had quickly become a day of stunning driving. Twisty mountain roads, long straights, and a car that seemingly could handle everything you threw at it. The new 2015 Volkswagen Golf R.

PHOTOS: See More of the 292HP Volkswagen Golf R

I don’t usually get mushy over Volkswagens — actually, quite the opposite. The entire Golf lineup, in my honest opinion, lost a huge amount of character from where it once was. The Golf is a very OK hatchback, the GTI slightly OK-er, but when you get behind the wheel of the 292-horsepower Golf R, it makes you feel something different entirely. Volkswagen somehow managed to pull all the existing life left in the Golf lineup into one single vehicle. It comes with 292-horspower, 280 lb-ft of torque, all-wheel drive, and your choice of a DSG or manual gearbox (coming soon). The idea was that where the GTI serves as the average enthusiasts hatchback of choice, the Golf R acts as a more grown up, more refined version.

RELATED: The Volkswagen Golf R Might Not Be the Most Powerful Golf

Technically speaking, the Golf R competes directly with cars like the BMW M235i, the Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG and the Subaru WRX STi. It’s really hard to compare those four cars, though. They all have a similar price point, yes, and similar performance, but let’s be real — no one is cross-shopping a VW with a BMW or Mercedes. The closest thing you’ll get to a VW Golf R is an STi or a new Focus RS (which just came out like two days ago). But here’s the thing, having driven both the Subaru and VW, I can’t find any reason you would want an STi over a Golf R. Other than off-road ability, maybe, because the Golf R is pretty low to the ground. Comparing the two directly, though, the Golf R handles better, feels quicker, and is generally more enjoyable.

RELATED: 2015 Volkswagen Polo R WRC Looks Like a Winner Already

You’re also getting a smaller displacement (2.0-liter vs 2.5-liter), better mpg (approx. 30 vs 23 highway), about the same 0-60 mph time (5.2 seconds), and a much better interior, all for about the same price (starting at $36,595 with manual). Speaking directly to the Golf R, it is a fantastic little hatchback. While the DSG shifts with pinpoint accuracy, the manual version — which should be in U.S. dealerships in the summer — really lets you feel the entirety of the car. All 292 horses work together with all four wheels to combine for one of the most sure-footed cars money can buy.

RELATED: See Photos of the Volkswagen Golf R 400 Concept

In short, it's a Golf that actually makes you want to go out and buy it. Volkswagen engineers really wanted to get the most performance they could out of this thing — and no surprise, that comprehensive engineering is not going unnoticed. All 500 pre-orders of the new Golf R (with a DSG!) have already been accounted for before the car officially goes on sale. See Internet, we Americans really do care about hot hatchbacks after all. Specs: Engine: 2.0L 4-Cylinder Turbo Horsepower: 292 0-60: 5.2 Seconds Price: $36,595

Positives: Insanely grippy Intoxicating power Great gearboxes

Negatives: Pricey for a Golf

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