The 2015 VW Golf R is a near-supercar trapped in the body of a five-door hatchback.
Not that the body style hurts its performance, but the Golf R’s level of ability goes way beyond its humble body style and even that of the slightly-less-sporty Golf GTI.
The Golf R, now in its seventh generation, is a complete update that is larger, wider and quicker. It uses VW’s new 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injection four-cylinder that is pressurized to 292 horsepower with 280 foot-pounds of torque at a very low 1,800 rpm. Power on in Race mode, and the engine spits sparks tearing through the six gears of the direct-shift automatic gearbox. It’s like a Formula One performance in miniature.
VW cites 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds, but with the 4-Motion all-wheel drive and Haldex center differential it’s almost more fun to carve up the back roads. A six-speed manual will be available on 2016 models.
The Golf R is a dirty halo and as such competes with such screamer compacts as the BMW M235i, Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG, Subaru WRX STi and the upcoming Ford Focus RS.
The R is sold in two trim levels with a starting price of $37,415, including the $820 freight charge from Puebla, Mexico. For another $2,500, the top model gets 19-inch wheels with Bridgestone Potenza RE 050A summer performance tires, navigation, parking sensors, dynamic chassis control and a Fender audio system.
But it is the dynamic chassis control — DCC — that makes the upgrade so worth it. It is just fun to feel the suspension absorb, rebound and enable — in milliseconds — without beating up occupants.
Derived from the architecture shared with the Audi S3, the R shares that detail-oriented and upscale interior and assembly. Its design is contemporary inside and out with a tasteful “tuner” treatment, including a lowered suspension (0.8 inch), unique bumpers and side skirts, 18- or 19-inch wheels, a rear diffuser and dual chrome exhaust tips.
The electric steering is steady and lightweight and requires just minimal inputs to clip the apex and stay on course. The chassis feels as rigid as 2-foot slab of aluminum and that stiffness lets the suspension work better over all surfaces. There is remarkable adhesion in aggressive cornering that at times feels like rear-wheel drive with seat-of-the-pants push.
There is good seat support and a functional 38.4 inches of front headroom that will require some drivers to duck and pivot on entry and exit. Sightlines are open over the shoulder, a benefit of the four-door hatch body style. The Golf R is the only hatchback among the competitors.
The cabin is well soundproofed with little wind noise but some tire noise on the Interstate, but that’s a given with these low-profile performance treads. Volkswagen is still catching up with adequate ports for device connectivity and there is no USB connector here and just an old-style iPhone wide connector.
The back-seat area is quite roomy with nearly 3 feet of legroom. The seatbacks fold easily to expand cargo space from 22.8 cubic feet to 52.7. For those with kids and cargo, this package is almost too good to be true.
With such heady European competitors, the Golf R has its image work to do. And even the upcoming Ford Focus RS has all-wheel drive and at least 315-hp from a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It makes one wonder why VW didn’t just go for 300-hp in the R and let the MPGs fall where they may. But, after a good hard run, this car isn’t about the printed numbers; it’s about the pleasure of precision and control.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage.