– Detroit, Michigan
Many of my fellow auto writers here in the U.S. adhere to a firm policy when it comes to handing out car-buying advice to friends and loved ones: “The answer is always GTI.” (“The answer is always Miata” is also popular.) That little truism – based on a near-constant performance-per-dollar value of the Volkswagen hot hatch – only falls flat when the advice seeker has already OD’d on GTI addiction. For these poor souls, the German company offers the still hotter Golf R.
It’s an undeniably entertaining thing, the Golf R. But the real question is whether or not it’s good enough to make us all forget the far-cheaper icon that sits just below in the Golf universe.
- I reviewed the Audi S3 that shares a powertrain with the Golf R – the same 2.0T engine making 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, six-speed dual-clutch transmission, and all-wheel-drive system – just days before I drove the Volkswagen. Both cars are hilariously quick, whether you’re dashing through a weekend autocross or darting through traffic. The Golf R sounds better, most of the time, but I like the Audi a bit more for its sleepier looks and streamlined interior.
- The VW version wins in terms of practicality, though. Along with the very dynamic powertrain, everything you’ve ever loved about Golf packaging stays intact here. This is a hatchback that feels just about right in all of the critical dimensions: Tall folks like me won’t scrabble for elbow and headspace when they should be concentrating on the road, and the cargo area has plenty of room for your stuff and things.
- When it launched, I drove a Golf R at Buttonwillow Raceway where the “XDS” system – that’s intelligent inside-wheel braking in place of torque vectoring, essentially – seemed to cook the brakes prematurely. On public streets it works quite a bit better, simply trimming my line around curves when I’m driving quickly.
- The braking power feels very strong in the real world, too. The pedal offers a great, progressive response, with stopping force just as sharp as I choose for it to be, even from high speeds. The car feels very stable under hard braking, too – no wobble.
- Jesus, take these huge wheels. I won’t argue that the 19-inch rollers on the Golf R look pretty cool, but up here in the land of frost-heaves and crumbling infrastructure, they offer a fairly harsh ride. And that’s with the adaptive suspension doing its best to iron out the bumps.
- Standard transmission bitch, here: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the VW DSG, and it makes the R measurably quicker than does the six-speed manual. I’d still rather have the handshaker – it makes the car more fun to drive day-to-day. And that’s kind of the point, right?
- Here’s an idea, just buy a friggin’ GTI. The ‘lesser’ hot hatch is still as much fun on normal roads, where the added power and grip of the Golf R are hard to realize. The GTI starts off with a $10,000 advantage in terms of price, and you can (and should) get plaid seats.
Sadly, you can’t really buy an Evo any more, but Subaru will happily sell you an STI for Golf R money. That car is far more intense and evocative, if you want something entertaining to drive on occasion, rather than a more laidback, quick car for every day.
Photos: Seyth Miersma / Motor1.com
Gallery: 2016 Volkswagen Golf R: Review
Volkswagen Golf R