2015 Volkswagen Golf RPosted on February 2nd, 2015
German performance to the power of R
By Nina Russin
Wet roads, chatter bumps and chicanes are all in a day’s work for the 2015 Golf R: the race-prepared version of Volkswagen’s popular hatchback utilizing all-wheel drive technology derived from the OEM’s World Rally Championship experience.
Volkswagen has been a WRC regular since the early 1980s, with six podium finishes between 1983 and 1988 in the Golf GTI. In 2013, the OEM put on a new game face with the Golf R Polo, jumping on the podium for six of its initial eight competitions. The first street-legal R to come to the United States was the 2004 R32. Volkswagen sold all 5,000 units allotted to the market with ease.
The 2015 Golf R shares the same MQB platform as the current Golf and GTI. Powered by a turbocharged 2-liter engine rated at 292-horsepower and 280 foot-pounds of torque the newest Golf R accelerates from zero-to-sixty in under five seconds.
Buyers can choose between the DSG automatic transmission available at rollout and a six-speed manual transmission that follows shortly thereafter. Pricing begins at $36,595 for the base DSG model, excluding the $820 destination charge.
Test drive in Southern California
Recently Volkswagen invited members of the media to test the newest Golf R on some winding canyon roads east of San Diego. During the event, I had the opportunity to drive both the DSG model with DCC, the OEM’s adaptive damping system, as well as a European-spec car with the six-speed manual gearbox.
The new R is every bit a racetrack capable car but it’s also one that can live in the real world. The hatchback’s tall cargo area offers more storage space than equivalent-sized sedans. Granted, the cargo bay isn’t as big as the new Golf wagon that arrives later this spring, but there’s enough room for camping equipment, golf bags and the like.
The adaptive suspension enables the driver to adjust shocks and struts for his needs, with a soft comfort setting for motoring around town and a race setting for the track. Engineers listened to customer feedback and created a shut-off switch for the electronic stability control system when the car is being raced.
The DSG automatic transmission replicates the feel and performance of a manual gearbox by employing friction rather than fluid couplings. There are two clutches: one that operates gears 1, 3 and 5 and the second 2, 4 and 6. The system operates with lightning speed, enabling the driver to flick between the gears for maximum control on winding two-lane roads.
Although the DSG box is more practical for owners living in congested urban areas, it was the manual gearbox that stole my heart. Granted, I have a bias towards cars with clutch pedals, but this one almost drives itself. The gears have quite a bit of range, so the driver doesn’t have to worry about constantly shifting in traffic. But if he wants to get jiggy in the corners, flicking through the gears with the short-throw shift lever is tons of fun.
Front-to-rear weight balance is excellent. Unlike the Subaru WRX STi that it competes against, the Golf R doesn’t exhibit a tendency towards extreme understeer: a real danger in a car with this much power.
It also works quite well in pure automatic mode, giving the Golf R a solid but very linear launch off the line. Turbocharging enables the engine to reach peak torque at 1800 rpm: a slight tip of the throttle. It also reduces parasitic power loss at altitude.
Engineers have moved forward light years in terms of their ability to tune electric power steering systems. The one in the Golf R delivers excellent on-center response.
The advantage of EPS is weight reduction under the hood. Shaving weight off the chassis enabled engineers to boost the Golf R’s fuel economy to 30 mpg on the highway and 23 around town. The turbocharged block does require premium-unleaded gasoline.
The Golf R sits 0.8 inches lower than the Golf: 0.2 inches lower than the GTI. The four-wheel independent suspension consists of a strut-type setup in front and multilink in the rear. Eighteen-inch rims come standard, but the DCC upgrade adds 19-inch alloy wheels.
Not only does the Golf R feel like a rocket to drive, it looks like one as well. Unlike most hatchbacks that have a slab-sided appearance from the back, the Golf R resembles a Sumo wrestler squatting on his haunches. The large wheels and fenders frame four chrome exhaust tips that emit a satisfying belch following full-throttle acceleration.
Visibility around the perimeter is good. I was able to adjust the power driver’s seat for a clear forward view, and the B pillar is thin enough so as not to interfere with the driver’s view to either side.
Because the Golf R has a luxury price tag, it was important that designers make the interior meet the standards of that audience. With features such as leather upholstery, keyless entry and start, heated front seats, Bluetooth and satellite radio, the Volkswagen Golf R can toe the line with the BMW and Mercedes-Benz models it competes against.
A flat-bottom steering wheel is a nod to the car’s racing heritage. Redundant steering wheel controls enable the driver to focus on the road with minimal distraction. I was very impressed by seat comfort, especially lower lumbar support. The steering wheel diameter is small enough to make women drivers feel comfortable.
Designers distinguish the Golf R from other members of the family with badging on both the exterior and interior, as well as chrome and graphite trim to complement the leather upholstery. Dual-zone climate control keeps both front row occupants comfortable.
A standard rearview camera projects a wide-angle view to the back of the vehicle in the center stack screen when the driver shifts into reverse. I found both the gauge cluster and center stack screen easy to read in early morning darkness and the bright sunlit afternoon.
The Volkswagen Golf R comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control, bi-xenon headlamps, adaptive front lighting, VW Car-Net connected car service with emergency notification, a rearview camera, park assist and automatic post-collision braking. The factory warranty includes complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first year up to 10,000 miles.
The Golf R begins rolling into dealerships in February.
Like: A hatchback that combines performance inspired by the brand’s WRC racing heritage with enough versatility to meet the needs of buyers with active lifestyles.
Dislike: High MSRP will keep the Golf R out of the reach of some of the brand’s enthusiasts. Premium fuel increases the cost of ownership.
Base price: $36,595
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 292 Hp @ 5400 rpm
Torque: 280 lbs.-ft. @ 1800 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 4.9 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 23/30 mpg city/highway2015, Luxury 2015, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, performance, pricing, standard safety, Volkswagen
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