2015 Volkswagen Golf R Review

VW’s New Rude Boy Rocks

2015 Volkswagen Golf R Review

Whether you own one or not, there’s no denying the buzz Volkswagen’s Golf creates.

It all started in the mid-1970s with the first generation that went on to birth several variations including the GTI that is widely credited with creating the hot hatch segment.

But it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that the Golf really came into its own with the R32, a groundbreaking product in its own time.

Of course VW didn’t stop there and for 2015, the U.S. is taking delivery of the fourth Golf R. This is the quickest and most powerful version of the Golf that VW has ever offered in America.

It has 292 horsepower, 280 lb-ft of torque and it can hit 60 MPH in 4.9 seconds with the dual clutch gearbox or about half a second longer with the manual. In either case, the thing runs like crap through a goose and you get launch control with the dual-clutch transmission.

As with R versions of the Golf in the past, it comes standard with Haldex all-wheel drive. The Golf R is a front-wheel drive vehicle by default, but it can send up to half of its power to the rear axle in order to maintain optimal traction. Truth be told, I was skeptical going in. Slip -and-grip systems tend to do too little too late, but it turns out my doubts were ill founded because it takes effort to upset this car. In light load scenarios like gentle highway driving, the Golf R de-couples its rear end to act strictly as a front-driver. VW says it only takes a few milliseconds for the multi-clutch pack to react and direct torque accordingly. Then again, that’s nothing new. The Golf R and preceding R32 variants all have a reputation for being remarkably stable.

But what’s different about it this time around is that the Golf R has electronic differential locking and VW’s XDS+ cross differential braking system on both axles. The system mimics a limited-slip diff by applying braking to the inside wheels to offer better traction and reduced understeer.

This is also the first time Volkswagen is offering both a manual and a six-speed dual clutch gearbox to us in its ultimate Golf at the same time.

Just like the GTI, it’s available with variable damper settings to offer a more comfortable or performance oriented ride according to your preference. This car sits two tenths of an inch lower than the GTI or 0.8 inches lower than a normal Golf.

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Pricey Golf or Bargain Audi?

So you can look at this car one of two ways. Either its like a Golf cranked up to “11” or – and I prefer this one – it’s a cheaper and more practical Audi S3. That’s because this car shares its platform and powertrain with the Audi apart from one thing: the option to choose a manual gearbox. I say more practical because the S3, like the A3, is only available as a sedan and the Golf is shaped like… a Golf.

The stick will show up later in the model year, meaning you’ll only be able to get a DSG if you’re one of the foremost customers. Honestly, I’m not sure which one I would buy. I love a manual as much as anyone else, possibly more, but the DSG really is that good, especially with a heavily boosted four-cylinder.

Rowing through the gears is intoxicatingly fun in this car. Grip the handle with your right hand, punch the lightly weighted clutch with your left foot, throw it into the next gear then let the left pedal out, squeeze the gas and hang on. It just wants to keep pulling like a puppy with a new toy. As much fun as it is, the fact remains that the manual is no substitute for the speed of a dual-clutch transmission.

This may not be an issue for you, but frankly the pedals in the manual are spaced too generously for my feet and that makes it tough to fully enjoy where it does best: streets and circuits.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any track time, but that does bring me to an important point. Just like the new GTI, this car has adjustable drive modes that change shift mapping, throttle response, steering weight, and in models with adaptive dampers, it can offer a comfort mode as well. Oh and for the first time in North America, traction control is fully defeatable, which is good news if you plan to participate any sort of autocross competition or track lapping.

For better or worse, I was primarily focused on keeping the shiny side of the car facing up, and that’s where the all-wheel drive system comes into play.

Where’s the Fight?

The Golf R’s most direct competitor from a performance perspective is probably the Subaru WRX STI and it’s worth pointing out that the system in this car isn’t as aggressive as the STI’s. But here’s the trade-off, you’re giving up the all-out rally car credentials that the STI has for something that will do just as well in most cases in a much nicer package.

Of course, this thing isn’t exactly cheap. It starts at $37,415 equipped with the dual clutch automatic. With adaptive dampers and navigation, it runs up to $39,910. That’s a healthy margin over the STI’s $35,000 starting price, but keep in mind that a well-equipped version of that car is over $39 grand as well.

The Verdict:

If you’re willing to sacrifice ride comfort in the name of all-out performance, stick with Subie. But if you don’t mind taking a little bit of potential off the top, the Golf R offers most of what the STI will in a much more comfortable and practical package. The good news is, you’ve got lots of time to decide because unlike past versions of the Golf R that were part of a limited release, this model is going to be sold all the way through the MK7 Golf’s life cycle.

  • Felix James

    I wonder why it’s a 6-speed DCT and not a 7?

  • Rickers

    Did you try the launch control? What was it like?

  • improvius

    I could be wrong, but I think the 6-speed is rated for more torque than the 7.

  • Aaron

    With a quick download from APR (in the future) I bet this will walk an STI and still have it’s normal S3 like manners.

  • Scott

    I like the prospect of wider pedal spacing. With my boats, I like to be able to jump in and drive without having to change into Capezios.

  • Mark S

    Don’t see the point, 292hp is plenty of power and chipping will blow the warranty on a 40k car.

  • Mark S

    Would be interested to know more about it handled in the twisties – does it more neutral than a regular GTI (with or without performance pack)?

  • Maximania

    Point is that on a stock tune, an STI might be quicker. Might. Spend a few hundred bucks and that will change. Of course, that goes for both cars, but the Golf might get more for the same money. Plus, it’s nicer all around.

  • Mark S

    Not really sure that beating the STI matters overall. Even if the R had the edge in power/speed in stock or chipped format, do not think we are comparing apples with apples, though I concede some folks may cross shop. Hopefully though, they soon realize the differences pretty quick. For example, STI has the very adjustable differential setting, while the VW has the awesome interior and adjustable dampers.

  • Luke Vandezande

    Yes very much so.

  • Luke Vandezande

    No sadly there wasn’t time. It was an extremely compressed trip.

  • Rickers

    Aren’t those guys criminals or something?

  • Felix James

    Odd. It’s not like it makes mountains of torque.

  • Aaron

    This vehicle utilizes the new (to vw) electronic stability control that will help keep the vehicle from under steering thru corners by applying the front inside caliper. I bet it will handle like its on rails.

  • Aaron

    Chipping it won’t necessarily void the warranty. From what I’ve read APR’s tunes are invisible to vw diag equipment. And it all really hinges on your dealer. Will they fix it under warranty knowing it’s modified? We as consumers have certain rights even when modifying our vehicles.
    All that being said, who doesn’t want more power?!?

  • Mark S

    Yep, some of them are stealthy but a risk I think. On the power front, it must be my meagre skills, but I have plenty of fun 200hp and 207 lbs ft. I will admit, more is nice to help me not look bad when I braked too hard for a corner (I can fly out of the corner!). I think the driving a slow car fast has some merit.

  • Mark S

    True, but the GTI performance pack comes with trick handling for the FWD hence the question.

  • Mark S

    Many thanks. Was thinking the R works if you drive in a way that the RWD comes in a lot or if you live in a place where AWD would be useful, otherwise save money and get the GTI with the trick handling performance pack. Sounds like the R though has more cards up its sleeve than the GTI this time round.

  • Aaron

    Absolutely agreed. If you can beat somebody with skill vs power its always a better win. But I crave that grunt. The raw acceleration.

  • Mark S

    Given the choice of a Ecoboost Stang or a GT, would have the GT for straight line fun and line lock. Who is not intoxicated by the noise of the Hellcat! Just that I find tons of fun in the twisties with a MkVI GTI, the only niggle in my mind is would I have more fun in a more neutral or even oversteer little car.

  • Transpower

    How do they get 292 hp out of a 2.0 L four-cylinder engine???

  • AP

    Direct Injection, reinforced internals and a larger turbo, I’d guess.

    They’re not uncommon at this point. Mercedes has a 355HP 2.0T, Volvo has a twincharged 2.0 that makes 300HP, and another experimental triple charged 2.0 that makes 450hp.

  • Terry Clark

    40K for a vw golf, r u kidding me?

  • Luke Vandezande

    Depends on how you look at it. Its priced to compete with the STI and the Focus RS. For what it does and what it’s up against, I’d say pricing is bang on in this case although I can see where you’re coming from.

  • “you’re giving up the all-out rally car credentials that the STI has for something that will do just as well in most cases in a much nicer package.”

    For the record, VW already won all various rally races.

  • Mark S

    ……considering that this share a lot of DNA with the S3 and is a hatch, it reads like a great deal.

  • Mark S

    Subie notable by its absence still on the World Rally front?

  • But Subaru is still in the rally game in the US, Asia, and Russia.

  • Mark S

    Very true, but miss the blue and gold flying around Wales and other places. At least they fly round the Isle of Man.