By K.C COLWELL, Nov 2015
Let’s ignore Volkswagen’s diesel-emissions cheating scandal for the next, oh, 650 words or so. Needless to say, VW is getting all kinds of negative press, so much so that it’s easy to forget that the company makes some great gasoline-powered cars.
One of those great cars is the Golf. It shouts practicality with its utilitarian looks. It also drives like it belongs in an economic class—or maybe two—above its $19K starting price.
Upgrading to a GTI only heightens the experience: You get all the same practicality with a touch of flair, plus an engine and chassis that are just as happy lugging along in traffic as they are diving toward an apex on a canyon road. Hence, the model range’s perennial appearance on our 10Best Cars list.
Then there’s the Golf R, the ultimate incarnation of the breed, with four-wheel drive and a massaged EA888 turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 292 horsepower. The current-generation R launched solely with a dual-clutch automatic, just like its fraternal twin, the Audi S3. Now, however, it’s also available with a manual, a choice that saves 80 pounds at the scale and $1100 off the bottom line.
Dual-clutch Is Quicker
While gaining a third pedal improves the man-machine interface, it doesn’t help at the track. Unfortunately, the manual loses to the automatic Golf R against the stopwatch. The 0.7-second deficit from zero to 60 mph, which takes 5.2 seconds, is almost fully attributable to the two shifts required to reach 60; the gap shrinks to 0.5 second at the quarter-mile, which is dispatched in 13.7 at 103 mph. The Golf R manual is still respectable—and much quicker than the GTI—but it trails its counterpart from Subaru, the (manual-only) STI.
Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) is bundled with navigation and 19-inch wheels for a $2245 premium, and our example had it, just like our previous, automatic test car. So equipped, the R rides more firmly than the rest of the Golf family, but it isn’t bone-rattling by any means. With braking from 70 mph at 157 feet and lateral acceleration of 0.95 g, chassis performance of this manual version is solid—and nearly identical to the automatic.
One of the best parts of the car is how unassuming it is to drive, unless you decide to get aggressive with the steering and suspension settings. A typical commute is family-sedan comfortable. The clutch isn’t so heavy that being stuck in traffic makes you wish you’d spent the extra money on the automatic. And 21 mpg in our hands during a week that also included flogging during 10Best Cars testing is impressive. Basically, this is a well-rounded car. Engineers could have opened the exhaust to rival the Fiat 500 Abarth or the Alfa Romeo 4C, but they didn’t. Your dates will thank them for this—let’s face it, nobody’s wife would let them spend this much on a Golf—because they won’t be slouching in fast-and-furious exhaust-note shame.
Inside, there are but a few subtle differences to a Golf. The biggest is the center console, or rather, its lack of a functional elbow-rest cover from the factory. According to VW, NHTSA regs demand a latching closure on bins when there is a driveshaft underneath, or something like that. Fortunately, if you owned the car you can pop out the vents on the rear of the console and remove a single screw to get full access to the bin and the ratcheting and telescoping armrest.
The only genuine criticism of the R, excluding any subjective critiques of the styling, is the cost. The toughest thing the R has going for it is the existence of the GTI. Our test car cost nearly $39,000—basically double the price of a base Golf. Granted, this car is close to twice as good as a base Golf, but is it 50 percent better than a $26,000 GTI? Buyers make that call, but there’s no denying the greatness here.
2016 Volkswagen Golf R Manual Test ? Review ? Car and Driver