2016 Volkswagen Golf R

2016 Volkswagen Golf R

We attempt to answer the question: Is the Golf R a worthy step-up from the GTI?

2016 Volkswagen Golf R

Well, what have we here?

May we present the VW Golf R (nee Golf R32.) You’d be right to think of this as the pinnacle of the Golf range, thanks mostly to its engine output and AWD. Some will wonder if this is simply a case of VW turning up the boost and adding a rear differential and on paper, it would be hard to argue otherwise. Yet the Golf R is much more than the sum of its parts. The GTI has always been known as one of the best front wheel drive cars you can buy and the extra helping of thrust and driven wheels does add a compelling dimension to the Golf experience. It allows for a sort of dual personality to the car- it’ll switch roles from refined and relaxed commuter to back road apex stormer as easily as you would activate the front defogger.

Refined and relaxed, huh? Aren’t AWD performance cars supposed to be a little raw?

Traditionally, players in this marketing segment have always been a little rough around the edges. When the original STI and Mitsubishi Evo used to vie for supremacy, air conditioning and maybe some leather trimmed seats were the only nod to comfort- nothing was supposed to take away from the laser focus on going as fast as possible. People who actually used these things to get to work and back in between track days longed for something a little more enjoyable to drive when not at 10/10ths.  While the segment has slowly allowed for luxury trimmings to trickle down into their cars, there really hasn’t been anything that balanced the need to have a little fun when no one’s watching while not getting pounded into exhaustion when simply running errands. This is where the Golf R shines brightest- its hardware will allow for some pretty wide grins but will whisk you places in refined silence and comfort when you ask it to. Not only that, but it’s vastly better built than its competitors- actually, it would acquit itself extremely well against cars costing much more.

How does it measure up to the established players in the segment?

The Golf R competes in a small but highly competitive niche populated by the aforementioned STI and the soon-to-be-released Ford Focus RS. While the STI is regarded as a seriously competent sports car and the uber-Focus promises to pose a serious threat, the Golf R deviates slightly from these two and you only have to look at it to see why. The others employ flashy wheels, blatty exhausts and swollen body panels while the Golf R plays the sophistication card- other than the quad tip exhausts and a few subtle badges, there isn’t much to let the world know you’re piloting the best Golf ever. Whether you prefer the designation of Q-ship or sleeper, the Golf R epitomizes flying under the radar. It effortlessly delivers on its promise of superlative driving thrills while closely resembling your socially responsible neighbour’s Golf hatch- great practicality, a good measure of safety and commendably efficient.

What’s it like inside?

As we stated earlier, the Golf R is easily the gold standard for fit and finish and an overall feeling of quality when compared to its rivals. It comes by it honestly; even the most basic Golf has a feeling of solidity and good workmanship. Textures and touch points could have come directly from Audi (in many cases, they do) and everything is screwed together rather well. Highlights include a delectable flat-bottomed steering wheel with red stitching, and Recaro seats that nail the compromise of all-day comfort and lateral support. One of the biggest strengths the Golf R has to leverage is the hushed nature of the cockpit, something it’s competitors cannot come close to replicating. Keep the revs low enough so as not to wake the insanely annoying Soundaktor engine noise enhancer and you’ll be treated to luxury car levels of silence.

So what’s not to like?

The biggest complaint we have is with the aforementioned Soundaktor. Ostensibly installed underhood to make the engine sound better, it does anything but. Not only does it give the Golf R a pseudo-Subaru, gravelly flat-four thrum but it sends unwelcome vibrations and rattles through the dash at certain RPM when cold. The infotainment system, while the subject of a complete redesign and now with a large, bright touchscreen still suffers from lag- on more than one occasion we reverted back to our smartphones for navigation because the in-car unit fell flat. And, despite the level of standard kit and the quick reacting AWD, there are those who will resolutely maintain that $42 grand is just too much for a Golf, although we don’t necessarily agree with the last point.

OK. What’s the verdict?

It’s such an overwrought cliché, but the Golf R is like an onion- there are many layers that you need to peel back methodically to fully understand this car. At first it just feels like a fantastically executed hotted-up GTI, but then the virtues of the chassis and AWD combine with the overall package to drive home the point that this is anything but. We’ve had fellow gearheads confide in us that they’d rather be behind the wheel of a Golf R rather than some heady stuff costing much more on a challenging road- high praise indeed. If you’re the type who isn’t into automotive grandstanding but needs a car that can satisfy your primal needs for fun while not beating you up the other 90% of the time you use it as a means to get from Point A to Point B, you need to check out the Golf R.

2016 Volkswagen Golf R- Specifications

Price as tested: $42,710

Body Type: 5-door, 5-passenger hatch

Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive

Engine:  2.0 litre inline-four turbo, DOHC, 16 valves

Horsepower: 292 @ 5,400 rpm

Torque (lb-ft.): 280 @ 1,800 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Curb weight:  1,542 kg (3,400 lbs)

Observed Fuel Consumption: 11.3L/100km (21 mpg)