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Review of: 2016 Volkswagen Golf R 5dr HB DSG
2016 Volkswagen Golf R: VW makes a performance monster
By Dan Heyman
Feb. 8, 2016
Now in its third iteration (fourth, if you include its two R32 ancestors), the Volkswagen Golf R takes everything that you love about the Golf hatch (and the GTI! —Ed.), and turns up the wick somewhere north of 10; no, more like 12. Or maybe 15.
How does it do that, you ask? Well, the addition of all-wheel drive helps (making this the only Golf available with such a drivetrain, until the Alltrack arrives later this year); then, VW adds some styling pieces for a little extra panache; and finally, the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine gets upgraded to produce more power and torque.
Sounds like a winning combination, doesn’t it?
Pros & Cons
- + Acceleration
- + Sharp handling
- + Value for money
- - Automatic transmission
- - Rear seat space
- - No three-door bodystyle
Even for the non-indoctrinated, it’s easy to separate the Golf R from its less-endowed siblings like the GTI or standard Golf. The wheels are bigger (19 inches—your only choice—replace 18s on the GTI) and uniquely styled, the front bumpers get larger air intakes, and there’s no missing that quad exhaust—obviously last year’s centralized twin set-up just wasn’t enough—when seen from the rear.
The R equals the GTI both in overall width and track width but, thanks to different suspension tuning, sits lower than its cousin. It’s not so in-yer-face as many of its competitive kin—like the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG, or the upcoming Ford Focus RS, for example—are wont to be. That’s kind of VW’s MO when it comes to many of its cars: conservative handsomeness. Or something. There are a smattering of “R” badges, though, to keep happy the folks that need to display their Golf as “something different.”
This is where things start to get a little more serious. There’s no GTI tartan here; just a standard pair of deep, leather buckets with 12-way power adjustment for the driver. Indeed, the R benefits from VW’s knowledge of how to properly package an interior, in that I would challenge most anybody to not find a comfortable front seating position. Yes, it’s a little more cramped out back, but really, if you’re into people-moving, go for the Sportwagon or wait for the Alltrack.
Of course, the fact that VW only offers the five-door R here while they’ve got a three-door in other markets suggests they actually think folks are going to use the back seat, but I suspect that to be a cost saving measure more than anything. Remember: our friends down south still haven’t come ‘round to the fast-hatch idea, so the extra two doors are likely a carrot to finish the job in US markets.
The R is refreshing in that unlike so many performance-focused versions of a model, it gets a comprehensive set of standard tech goodies, too. Chief among these is the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two services that show how carmakers just aren’t quite at the same level as proper mobile developers when it comes to interfaces.
To put it simply, CarPlay (I have an iPhone) is fantastic. It’s 100 percent plug-and-play, so all you have to do is connect via USB and the eight-inch touch screen becomes an iPad Mini lookalike. Your music, your contacts and even Apple Maps are all available for use. My one complaint is that rather than reading a text message you recently received, selecting it on-screen prompts Siri to ask how to respond, whether you’ve read the text or not. That’s a small beef with what is otherwise a fantastic system.
Not enough for you? Well, there are also heated seats, dual-zone climate control, 400-watt Fender audio with eight speakers, and our car’s $2,015 Technology Package, which adds navigation, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise, park distance control, and autonomous emergency braking. Would I opt for the tech pack? I don’t know; what I do know is that when I drive the R, I couldn’t care less about blind spot warnings.
Power is rated at 292 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s up from 256 and 243, respectively, on the old car. Peak torque comes at 1,900 rpm, and sticks around all the way to 5,300 rpm, at which point you’re just 100 revs away from peak hp.
That’s enough with numbers and figures. All you have to know is that this car will fire you down the road with a kind of controlled chaos that I’ve rarely experienced. I’d say it’s more akin to a Porsche 911 than the now-defunct Mazdaspeed3. High praise? Maybe, but the Golf R deserves it.
Power comes on smoothly with only slight turbo lag, giving the impression of an unwinding rubber band slinging you forward to the horizon ahead. It’s accompanied by a nice, deep exhaust warble (yes, it is artificially enhanced depending on how wide open the throttle is) that sounds almost like the 5-cylinder Audis of old. If this sounds like a serious performance machine, it’s because it is one.
Except, I guess, for the DSG transmission in my tester. It’s not bad—in fact, it’s one of the quicker shifters I’ve experienced—but it will never replace a proper manual ‘box in a fast hatch like this. I’ve driven cars equipped with both, and the manual is oh-so good.
Straight-line speed is one thing, but with a hot hatchback like this, you need to be able to tackle the twisties, too.
I had a chance to experience the R on-track, and it was really quite something to behold. Thanks to the smart 4Motion AWD system, this here is a car that will make most anyone feel like a hero when it comes time to push it. Yes, the Golf became a little bit softer for this generation, but I’d say that’s more apparent with the GTI than it is here.
The R will dive into a corner, bite, and spring out with an immediacy that almost makes it feel like a rear-wheel drive car, thanks to a dynamic chassis control (DCC) system that automatically adjusts the suspension to help curb understeer—inherent in front- and all-wheel drive cars—and initiate turn-in. It’s standard in Canada, which is great because it’s necessary when you weigh a none-too-slim 1,515 kilos, which drops to 1,489 if you go with the manual. Which you should do.
That’s because with the manual, the R will cost you $39,995 at the checkout, putting it on the same level as a similarly-equipped Subaru WRX STI, and a full 10 grand less than the BMW M235i xDrive coupe, neither of which can match the Golf R on all fronts. It’s better equipped than the Subaru, and believe it or not, it drives better than does the Bimmer. VW has a real winner here.
Actually, “real winner” is probably not doing the Golf R justice. It knocks it out of the park: the dynamics, the power, even the creature comforts are all aces. I approached the Golf R expecting it to be good, having driven previous models. The 2016, though, blew me away. There’s just so much to like, and it’s great that with the R, we get to see how good sporty hatches can be.