Second Drive

2015 Volkswagen Golf R [w/video]

Grip It And Rip It

  • Image Credit: Seyth Miersma
  • Engine
    Turbo 2.0L I4
  • Power
    292 HP / 280 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    6-Speed Manual
  • 0-60 Time
    4.9 Seconds (est)
  • Top Speed
    155 MPH (limited)
  • Drivetrain
    All-Wheel Drive
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    3,283 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    52.7 CU-FT (max)
  • MPG
    23 City / 31 HWY (est)
  • Base Price
Volkswagen hired a photographer to come shoot the handful of journalists that it brought to drive the 2015 Golf R at Buttonwillow Raceway north of Los Angeles. This fact, though unremarkable in and of itself, was something I hadn't noticed until I was well into my track time – probably ten laps deep on a day that would see me run twice that number. In any event, I noticed the intrepid shooter as he was sprinting from one side of the track to the other somewhere before Turn 2, while I was barreling down the main straightaway, still looking through Turn 1.

In the roughly two-mile configuration of the track that I drove, Buttonwillow is a big, wide-open circuit, largely flat and with excellent overall visibility. On that layout, and just hours into my Golf R experience, I'd already become confident in endeavoring to push the limits of VW's latest blistering hatch. In fact, the easy nature of driving the thing quickly had me overestimating my pace. So when I saw the photog sprint across the tarmac I instinctively slowed way too much, way too early for Turn 1.

Looking back at the incident after I'd pitted for the session, I laughed at myself, knowing I'd have had to be driving almost double my actual speed to put the camera guy in any real danger of being hit. But the experience crystallized what my full test of the R bore out: this is a car that makes you feel much faster than you otherwise would, at least in a competition setting.

The 2015 Golf R is an über hatch that will flatter those hyper-enthusiasts passionate enough to splash out on its steep price tag, but without threatening sales of core models like the GTI and its ilk. That's a good thing for the VW fanboys, to be sure, and, I'd argue, a great thing for the strength of the German brand overall. {C}
2015 Volkswagen Golf R 2015 Volkswagen Golf R 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

The R felt both placid and comfortable while I clicked off highway miles in search of the racetrack.

My test in California had at least two things in common with the First Drive feature that Steve Ewing brought us with the Golf R in Sweden. First, we both drove European specification cars (though mine didn't suffer from the same sticker abuse that Steve's did). Second, we were both somewhat limited in terms of driving the car in varied, real-world situations.

My street route consisted almost entirely of tracking California's I-5 north out of Los Angeles; which any Angelino will tell you is a less-than-riveting mode of travel. Still, it did help to illustrate a case in which the Golf R is not at all better than the GTI in real-world operation, though certainly no worse, either.

Very often, it is during the drudgery of commuting that high-performance variants of ordinary models start to feel out of place. In the case of the Golf R and its Golf parents, this couldn't be further from the truth. The R felt both placid and comfortable while I clicked off highway miles in search of the racetrack, seeming every bit as quiet, stable and cossetting of ride as the softer Golf TSI I drove months ago. Perhaps if I drove them back-to-back I'd be able to note a higher amount of road noise from the wider Golf R rubber, but any uptick in uproar was small enough to barely be worth a mention.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R 2015 Volkswagen Golf R 2015 Volkswagen Golf R 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

On a day-to-day basis, in fact, the Golf R's rich standard equipment list is likely to be more impactful than its lurking performance potential. Heated leather seats with powered articulation come along with the base spec, as do items like automatic climate control and LED running lights.

Michael Klopotowski of VW marketing was on hand to walk us around our European-spec cars and point out what would be different for the upcoming North American version, as well as some new features for the R model. Rather than list them all, I filmed the short presentation so you all could hear it from the horse's mouth.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R Walkaround | Autoblog Short Cut

You want this car or you don't based on what it can do at a place like Buttonwillow.

Suffice it to say that even the most basic R will be very well turned out, but not so fancily that it upstages any other high-trim members of the Golf line. While the R is more aggressively styled than the rest of the VW herd, too, its larger wheels and lower stance hardly merit the price premium. The Golf R looks good, but you won't be one of 5,000 expected buyers for the car based on its looks alone.

No, you want this car or you don't based on what it can do at a place like Buttonwillow, even if you're unlikely to bring yours there. Dicing with traffic on I-5 or nipping through rush hour anywhere in America, a regular Golf or a GTI will serve you just fine. Better, in fact, as neither will have cost you $36,000 or more to get your hands on.

But in a place where cornering precision, throttle response and absolute grip come into play, there's undeniably no replacement for the R badge on this Golf. Nor are there more than a handful of true competitors on sale today, at least in our country.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R 2015 Volkswagen Golf R 2015 Volkswagen Golf R 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

The R's power-to-weight ratio makes it extremely competitive with the Subaru WRX STI.

Volkswagen rates the 2.0-liter turbo beastie under the hood of the R at 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. With a curb weight of 3,283 pounds for the manual-transmission version, that gives the R a power-to-weight ratio that's extremely competitive with the Subaru WRX STI.

The thrust from the turbo four also makes the top-dog Golf feel lighter than I'd expected on the track. Real bite from the engine can be felt low down in the broad torque curve, meaning it's never difficult to dive into the throttle an find quick, powerful response.

Buttonwillow is rife with long, open sections and gentle sweeping turns where I had the six-speed manual slotted into fourth gear, and the car pulling hard up the rev ladder. Still, I was always comfortable in just changing down to third for the tight turns following those fast bits, as maximum torque could be had at just 1,800 rpm. In fact, as I got faster and gained confidence, I realized that running the engine out to redline in third gear was generally a pointless exercise, as top power arrived at 5,400 rpm, well before the cutoff.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R

Hard as I might push, accelerating out of corners felt quick, but the exhaust never offered a roar worthy of the sensation.

Part of my reason for wanting those extra revs, I suppose, was that, even with the louder exhaust note that comes when the car is set to Race mode, it's relatively quiet at all but the fastest engine speeds. Hard as I might push, accelerating out of corners definitely felt quick, but the exhaust never offered a roar worthy of the sensation.

The six-speed manual transmission was a bright spot for me, both in terms of ease of use on the circuit and in regular driving. Throws aren't rifle-bolt precise, I suppose, but they're still quite accurate and easy to execute thanks to a light, positive clutch. I suspect that the DSG version of the car, which we Americans will get in the 2015 model (the 6MT will go on sale here for 2016), is probably better for track use, but less satisfying in day-to-day life.

The Golf R offers drivers a selection of drive modes, including Comfort, Sport, Race and Individual, of which I quickly found Race to be the most inviting on the track. (Shocking, I'm sure.) With Race switched on the electronic stability control switches off, allowing the car to corner with more fluidity and neutrality than with the computers watching.

Despite the front-engine layout and the Golf's front-drive origins, the R's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system helped to keep the car from plowing into fast corners. The Haldex coupling seemed to keep power flowing to the correct wheels when I dialed in lock quickly, aided, no doubt, by the XDS+ "cross differential system" that compensates for understeer by way of brake actuation.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R

The VW team needed to pack us up well before I felt like I'd found the fastest lap I could manage in the car.

Now, I want to be clear that we were only doing three laps at a time before pitting and cooling off the cars, but I couldn't feel the XDS system having a deleterious effect on the brakes. It stands to reason that extended driving and braking, coupled with the cross-differential use, would lead to quicker fade from those stoppers, but in this less-stressful environment they always hauled the car down crisply.

With all of these systems working cohesively, I was able and willing to push the R harder and harder, lap after lap. The VW team needed to pack us up and shuttle us back to LA, well before I felt like I'd found the fastest lap I could manage in the car. And the minders basically had to steal my helmet to get me gone from the joint.

Precise turn-in, grip from all corners, body-hugging seats and flat cornering attitude thanks to the suspension and stiff chassis; all of these made me feel like a motoring hero over the course of one afternoon. That's a tremendous thing to say about any car, and a really remarkable statement when it comes to a hot hatch.

Volkswagen didn't have any of it's excellent 2015 GTI models onhand to compare and contrast with the R, but I'd expect that the lesser Golf is also fun on a track, while being hugely less capable at the bleeding edge of performance. The question is, do you care?

2015 Volkswagen Golf R

I couldn't be any more pleased with the Golf R as an object in its own right.

As I stated earlier, in 2012 and 2013, only a few thousand North American buyers found the extra performance of the R worth the high jump in MSRP over the GTI. In 2015, the Golf R will cost $35,595 plus $895 for destination and delivery. At that price, and without the kind of dramatic styling or badge snootiness that helps to sell Audis, the R really only competes with the Subaru WRX STI that starts a few grand lower at $34,495. The calculus about which of those is a better 'deal' involves highly personal thoughts and use cases based on driving style, brand preference, taste and a thirst for outright performance potential. I'll simply weigh in by saying both are great to drive, and both are outshone overall by the sparkling value offered by their lesser-powered siblings ( WRX and GTI).

Even with the current base Golf the excellent TSI and the performance value offered by the GTI taken as read, I still couldn't be any more pleased with the Golf R as an object in its own right. I look at it as a kind of gift to the fevered Volkswagen fans in this country, too often denied the best performance metal that the company offers elsewhere in the world. More over, the fact that VW can (and almost certainly will) find a happy home for enough of these R models to make it financially viable, makes it a happy bellwether for the market overall.

That's a great thing to say about a car, so flattering to its driver, that I felt like I was doing 150 mph when I was really doing 105 mph (even if the cameraman did screw up my corner).

Volkswagen Golf R Information

Volkswagen Golf R

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