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On the track: 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

VW’s super Golf is faster than a GTI -- but is it more fun?

By James_Tate Aug 20, 2014 12:56PM

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).


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.

27Comments
Aug 21, 2014 7:53AM
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In my opinion, the R is worth the price increase.  But, $10,000 would be steep.  However, let's compare apples to apples (as best we can until the R pricing comes out).  A base 2015 4-door GTI with cloth interior and manual transmission is $27,000 and this would be approximately $10,000 less than the R.  This is hardly a fair comparison though.

If one looks at the GTI Autobahn w/ DSG automatic and leather (and a bunch of other upgrades), you will find a non-marked up sticker price of $32,800.  The R w/ DSG (each USA Golf R will get 4-doors and leather) is expected to come in at or just above $38,000.  When one juxtaposes these two vehicles, the premium price is approximately $5200.  While the R will boast additional upgrades, I would pay the increase only for the sophisticated Haldex all-wheel drive system, HP gain from 210 to 290 (bigger turbo, different pistons and cylinder head), and torque boost from 258 to 280.  Plus, you get a limited edition vehicle to boot!
Aug 21, 2014 12:55PM
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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.

 

 

Aug 26, 2014 7:48AM
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Put $600 into a reprogram of the GTI and you get 270 HP out of it. No brainer
Aug 22, 2014 2:43PM
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I have a MKV Gti. Great car. The next step is, and will be, a different letter of the alphabet. Always wanting to take the next step, I just can not justify the Porsche Cayman right now. I need a practically practical car, and that is the "R".
Aug 24, 2014 8:49AM
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Each generation of Golf R has always been faster than the GTI, yet each eventually is discontinued. The reason is simple and typically VW, a little more for far to much money. The R just doesn't compare to the value for the money of the GTI.  
Aug 26, 2014 11:12AM
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What a waste of money - can buy a Subaru WRX STI for that - 350 Horse AWD - turbo - will leave the GTI embarrassed.  Have had several VWs including a GTI/Touareg/Jetta - all fell apart under 40K miles.
Aug 26, 2014 11:21AM
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Love my 2014 GLI 30 Anniversary Edition... Just popped on a APR chip with Intake and Exhaust... so right around 310HP maybe 290 torque.... very good improvement over the 210hp...LOVE APR...
Sep 12, 2014 10:30AM
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People will buy this car for the all wheel drive, and that it is a hatchback. Any enthusiaist will enjoy the ability to drive this car in the winter, and the utility of the hatch back. The turbo charged engine is great for driving in the mountains at high altitude. Subaru dropped the wrx sti hatchback for 2015. So for all the hatch lovers this is the only option for an all wheel drive hatchback. I'm plan on getting one of these or the rumored 2016 mazdaspeed3 AWD. I sold my 2011 wrx hatch, and I miss it. I don't miss the annoying loud engine noise in the cabin on the freeway. The golf r should be more refined.
Aug 27, 2014 6:47PM
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Which to choose.....  On the one hand, more power and speed is the only valid reason to buy a powerful, speedy car.  On the other hand...less money but still keeping some speed is a nice concept too.  Buy the GTI (2 years old) and throw the larger turbo, intercooler, headers, cams and intake improvements from the aftermarket.  It will still be substantially cheaper, but have 100 more horsepower than the Golf..  Phew.  That was easy.  Now...set aside some tire money, and go out and enjoy.
Aug 21, 2014 3:36AM
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The link in your article for the "thundercars" cover links to an image hosting site with popups and redirects to NSFW adds. Please fix that ASAP.
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