Volkswagen Golf R (2016)
The VW Golf R gets accused of being too tame and subtle next to the likes of the Ford Focus RS and the Subaru WRX STI. Come to think of it, is that really a bad thing?
After one week with the Golf R that’s a resounding NO. Yes, the boy racer Focus RS has impressive performance numbers, clean crisp design as well as a big rear wing, while the WRX STI has an incredibly storied pedigree respected by almost every gearhead worldwide. We realized after one week of daily driving the Golf R, it offers something else; Refinement. The Golf R has a sensible, clean interior, much like those of a much higher segment car. Nothing in the Golf R feels cheap, or even out of place. What’s even more remarkable is the fact that the Golf R we drove had only one option, the 6-speed DSG transmission. What a pleasant surprise that was, as the car didn’t feel like it was missing anything. That’s rare today, as most manufacturers will nickel and dime you to death with options that should be standard. The Golf has become an iconic car for VW. With its lineage going back to the 1970’s Rabbit. Today, you still find a lot of that design philosophy in the entire Golf lineup. The front fascia is modern and elegant. The headlights are unique and stylishly designed, yet offer a signature, jewel-like look for the Golf from the front. Wheels and brakes are noticeably more aggressive and larger in size, yet do not scream for attention. At the rear, one instantly notices the elegant yet sporty set of quad-exhaust tips that in a subtle way say, this car is special. The Golf R specific exhaust tone reminded us of a horizontally opposed engine, not unlike the Subaru famed boxer power-plant. Definitely an aural enhancement to the driving experience without being obnoxious or droning.
The standard seats are superbly comfortable and easy to adjust. The thick leather wrapped steering wheel is a delight for the fingertips and the simple yet intuitive controls and switchgear offer a near-luxury feel that is not typical in this segment. Rear seat is comfortable for two, tight for three. One of our staffers is over 6’7” yet fit in the back, albeit snuggly comfortable enough for a 10-15 drive to lunch.
The dual clutch transmission; DSG in VW speak, provided amazingly crisp shifting, especially when down shifting. While in the driver selected “Race Mode”, it even downshifted with, shall we say, a bit of an attitude all the way to a stop. Definitely delivering a smile every time it did that. From 2016 on, a manual transmission is offered. We are so smitten with the Golf R that we plan on driving one with the manual just to see how it compares to the DSG. So how does it perform? Well, it’s faster than the STI but slightly slower than the RS. Don’t frown, in the real world this will probably not even be noticeable. Acceleration is linear and powerful, although one needs to go deep into the pedal to get some oomph going. Braking is direct and reassuring. Spirited cornering offers great feedback through the steering and pedals. “This is a wonderful daily driver” I kept repeating throughout the week!
Bottom line? This is a boy racer inspired, fun to drive hot hatch for a refined, more mature audience yet offering German quality and simplicity.
MSRP: $36,750.00 MSRP (As Tested): $37,570.00
Fuel Economy (observed): 23.5 MPG
Engine: Inline 4 cylinder turbo, 2 liter, 292 HP, 280 lb-ft torque, 4Motion permanent all-wheel drive
Popular Options: 6-speed DSG transmission, mojo mats