List a few iconic cars. Perhaps you thought about the Ford Mustang, the Chevrolet Corvette, or the VW Beetle. Did you consider the VW Golf? Maybe you should. Perhaps not the original hatchback, the Golf is none-the-less the progenitor of all modern hot hatches. It’s dominance paved the way for the famed GTI. But, on occasion, VW has found it necessary to turn up the heat even more. Enter the Golf R. Even if the Golf didn’t make your list of icons, this may be the Golf for you. With the Golf’s unassuming good looks and a drivetrain full of character, the R certainly fits its nameplate.
The Tornado Red Golf R arrived fitted with Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) and navigation – the entirety of the Golf R’s options list. They come together in a package that adds $2,500 to the R’s base price, raising its as-tested price to just a touch under $40,000. From a performance standpoint, the Golf R competes against the Subaru WRX STi, Ford Focus RS, and the essentially-discontinued Mitsubishi Evo. However, it’s more expensive than both. Setting aside price, the Golf R’s other competitor is arguably its closest relative, the Audi S3. With much of the same standard equipment and an identical drive train, the R has better value for money than the S3. And that’s before you factor in the added practicality of its 5th door and VW’s younger brand appeal.
That conclusion was not an easy one to reach, however. It took a summer joyride to Massachusetts’s highest peak before we could cast our ballots. Loose surfaces and high elevation highlight the Golf R’s strong suits. The suspension, although adjustable, was most often left in Normal. Before we set up the 8 mile road to War Memorial Tower at the summit of Mt. Greylock, we customized the Individual settings in the Golf R to pair sportier throttle and steering with the normal suspension. Amongst the twists and turns and up the rising elevation, the practical, everyday persona that makes the Golf so popular gave way to the power-rich attitude of the Golf R.
Inside, the Golf R is a pleasant space to be. Unlike the S3, the R comes with standard sport seats. The firm and secure seating position paired with the large greenhouse offers immense confidence. While the driver gets a power-adjustable seat, the passenger’s manual adjustment feels downright barbaric on a car for this price. The navigation system is better than VW’s we’ve had in the past, but is still confined to an almost comically small screen. It’s not the center stack from the Touareg, but its touchscreen was very easy to use and the Fender Audio system was great for playing your favorite music…or the intake noise from the engine.
Speaking of the engine, it’s the same 2.0L turbocharged, 292-horsepower four-banger that’s fitted to the S3. It sounds better in here, probably thanks to the fact that there’s more cabin over the exhaust system. The quad exhaust tips that allow it to clear its throat are a first for the Golf R. The 4Motion all-wheel-drive system worked seamlessly and produces very little understeer. The Golf R manages to be around 120lbs lighter than the S3. Whether it’s the weight or the steering calibration, the helm of the Golf R feels a bit livelier. 60mph comes up quickly, in 4.9 seconds, and the R continues on pulling up to 155mph. It corners flat, but the slight turbo lag means that you need to be in the right gear at the right time. It’s a fun driving experience that anyone can enjoy.
The balance between comfort, practicality and fun driving nature helped make up for the disappointing week we had with the summer-tire clad GTI in the dead of winter. If you didn’t think of the Golf as an icon before, this range-topping R will change your mind. It’s one of the best all-around cars that money can buy. The R is far more mature than its be-winged competition. Simply put, the Golf R was one of the best cars that I’ve driven this year. What better way to live up to its iconic history.
|2015 VW Golf R
|DCC & Navigation||$2,495|
|Tornado Red Exterior||N/C|
|6-Speed DSG Automatic Transmission||N/C|
|As Tested MSRP||$39,910|