If you’re looking for a Volkswagen sports car in the $30,000 range, look no further than the GTI. This enhanced version of the Golf is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that develops 210 horsepower that's sent to the front wheels. Both fun and practical, it’s considered the champion of its class.
But for some, this little whip just isn’t enough. Even though it’s a convenient car, some drivers want more power and performance.
A powerful engine
The Golf R has a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. Although it’s based on the GTI’s mill, it’s more akin to the engine found in the Audi S3. Like the S3, it has 292 horsepower and 280 foot-pounds of torque. This power goes through a six-speed manual transmission —you can also choose a DSG automatic gearbox with the same number of gears; according to Volkswagen, buyers are equally divided between these two options— before being sent to a Haldex all-wheel drive system that distributes torque between the front and rear via an electronic clutch. For left to right distribution, a computer activates the brakes individually. In case you were wondering, it’s the same drivetrain as in the S3 (except the manual transmission, obviously).
Blend into the crowd to better pounce on prey
Put aside all this sophisticated equipment and you’ll find a good old five-door Golf, with its generous 490-litres of cargo space in back and five seats. Even from the outside, you have to know where to look to differentiate an R from a Golf Highline or a GTI. If it’s stopped, you might spot the 19-inch wheels or the R badges behind the front wheels and in front of the chrome-trimmed bumper. From the rear, the small insignia is hard to see, but the exhaust outlets are a dead giveaway: there are four of them, and they set the R apart from its slower cohorts.
Inside, on the other hand, there’s a little more luxury, including white stitching that contrasts superbly with the black leather and bluish accents here and there, like on the dashboard needles or the LED lighting in the doors. In the Golf family, blue is the official colour of the R, while the GTI has long been associated with red. The Golf R’s passenger compartment is also decorated with a few faux carbon fibre panels and piano black plastics, adding a little touch of luxury.
The only option available on the Golf R is the Technology Package that adds an eight-inch touch screen, adaptive cruise control and a battery of other aides, such as blind spot detectors. Although the starting price is $39,995, you’ll have to add $2,100 for this package and $1,400 for the DSG gearbox.
If math isn’t your strong suite, let me help: the best-equipped Golf R sells for $43,495.
Top marks in all subjects
If you’ve already driven a GTI, you’ll feel right at home behind the wheel of the R. The ride is essentially identical, the transmission works the same way and the soundproofing is impressive. Expect more pronounced acceleration and none of the understeer inherent to front-wheel drives. The Golf R is also extremely neutral in turns, even with the most enthusiastic driver. As in any four-cylinder enhanced by a big turbo, there’s a slight lag between the moment you press the accelerator and the delivery of the power. Once the power arrives, however, you won’t be disappointed.
Two points of view
There are two ways to approach the Golf R. If you’re like me, your initial reaction will be to wonder how in the world you could justify spending $40,000 on a Golf, no matter how dynamic it may be. Keep in mind that it’s a compact whose base version starts at $18,995.
On the other hand, having driven it on the highway and at Calabogie Motorsports Park in the Ottawa region, I tend to view it like an Audi S3 wagon: it has the mechanics and performance of a luxury car, it’s very well equipped, comes with satellite radio, Bluetooth, satellite navigation—and it turns heads and is luxurious enough to justify its purchase price (with the exception of certain hard plastics). What’s more, it costs about $5,000 less than the Audi. If you look at it that way, it’s practically a bargain!