On the track: 2015 Volkswagen Golf R
VW’s super Golf is faster than a GTI -- but is it more fun?
You’ve probably seen the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R in photos by now, which means you know it looks a heck of a lot like the 2015 Golf GTI. There are a few visual tweaks here and there, granted, but does the Golf R bring something like 10 grand more goodness than the GTI?
Volkswagen hasn’t announced pricing, but the previous R was around $35,000 and the GTI starts at around $10,000 less than that. See, the GTI is a hell of a good car by any standard, and as you may have expected, the Golf R and the GTI share a lot in common -- even the engine is a couple ticks short of the same.
The Golf R makes substantially more power thanks to a larger turbocharger, different pistons and a revised cylinder head design, and unlike any other Golf, it comes standard with all-wheel drive. There are a few styling cues that set it apart from the GTI both inside and out, but it hardly feels like a completely different car when you swing the door open and plop buttocks in the seat. The shift action is shorter and more positive, and there are blue things smattered about, like the gauge needles and the ambient lighting. There are gigantic quad exhaust pipes, a lot like those that can be found on Audi thundercars (I already miss the center-exit system of the previous R).
- More photos: 2015 Volkswagen Golf R
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The Euro-spec Golf R that I’m driving has 296 horsepower (ours will have less, don’t worry) and 280 lb-ft of torque (1,800-5,500 rpm). Volkswagen says it’ll get to 62 mph in 5.3 seconds with the 6-speed manual, and the automatic is quicker still, at 4.9 seconds (but who cares). That’s a hell of a lot more everything than the GTI (210 horsepower, 258 lb-ft, 6.5 seconds to 60 mph).
But it takes a tight, technical road course like Summit Point’s Shenandoah Circuit in Summit Point, West Virginia, for the R to reveal itself above the GTI. Turn the traction and stability control as close to “off” as you can in a GTI, and it will start to understeer on corner exit, letting you know with a little tire squeal. You have to take a little more time with the gas and let the car focus on the corner before laying into it to get the most out of it. Push the Golf R out of the same corner, though, and torque is quickly shifted around as the car finds grip. Understeer is defeatable with the gas pedal.
Similarly, a quick stab of the brakes just before an off-camber left causes the Golf R to tuck in its nose, tightening the line, allowing for a fast exit. Here, the GTI can certainly be provoked into rotation, but it takes enough brake input so that it’s just not a fast (or fun) way around the corner.
The power delivery is surprisingly different, too. The GTI has a familiar lag-free power delivery; its turbo boost is right now with an instant onset of torque that tapers off as the tachometer needle swings closer to redline. The Golf R takes a little longer to make full boost -- some might even call it “laggy” by today’s standards (it would still have been considered miraculously quick to spool a decade ago). Nevertheless, full torque is available at 1,800 rpm. The difference, though, is that as the revs climb, so too does the power. The Golf R even seemed to get a second wind just before redline.
Without question, the Golf R is the quicker of the two around the small circuit. And while I’m at it, I’ll add that it has a slightly nicer interior, and it’s rarer, too. It shifts better, and I like the brake feel better. But is it more fun? Because isn’t that the name of the game with cars like these? I mean, if you were really concerned with lopping a couple tenths off your ride to the supermarket, your hard-earned bucks probably wouldn’t be going into a hot hatch in the first place. And the truth is, to me at least, that the Golf R isn’t $10,000 worth of extra fun. So buy a GTI.
James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.
In my opinion the R would be worth the price increase. If you want performance, you understand the incremental increase you receive and what that means. Enthusiasts love to hear this language from the author ..."Without question, the Golf R is the quicker of the two around the small circuit. ....It shifts better, and I like the brake feel better." If you do not classify yourself as an enthusiast and don't crave that extra 5% at the top of the performance graph, then go with the author's recommendation.
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