First Drive: 2016 Volkswagen Golf R

The Volkswagen Golf R didn't exactly take the market by storm when it first came to Canada in 2012.

It wasn't for a lack of effort on behalf of the hottest of Volkswagen hatches wasn't impressive—it put 256 horsepower and 243 lb.-ft. of torque down to all four wheels—but rather a lack of supply.

Volkswagen only brought about 500 examples to Canadian soil that year, followed by another 250 or so for 2013, all of which were equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox, and all of which sold out almost instantly.

A lot has changed since then, with the 2016 version available with the choice of six-speed manual or dual-clutch automatic transmissions, and, perhaps more importantly, no limit to the number of units heading this way.

Powered by a beefed up version of the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine found in the latest GTI, the 2016 Golf R makes 292 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque, and offers up a meaty torque band that starts at 1,900 rpm.

Turbo lag keeps the EA888's hammer from dropping instantly, but the Golf R is both pleasing and pleased once it does, galloping away from the line to 100 km/h in less than five seconds with the DSG.

Cars with three pedals will complete the run about half a second slower, but if it were my money I'd save the $1,400 and stick with the manual gearbox.

That's not to speak ill of the DSG, which shifts faster than I can think, but there's something about hammering through the gears in this thing that adds to the fun factor.

After driving both versions, the auto box left me satisfied but hungry for more action.

Save the extra cash otherwise spent on the dual-clutch upgrade and put it towards a set of track tires.

And speaking of the track, throwing the Golf R around near three-kilometre east track at Calabogie Motorsports Park proved fun and friendly, with the Haldex-sourced 4Motion all-wheel drive system gobbling up understeer in a hurry.

The weight of the Golf R—3,283 lbs. with the manual, 3,340 lbs. with the auto—was more noticeable on the track than the street on corner entry, but with enough speed it feels no different than a GTI, albeit a faster one.

Which is the last time I will mention the Golf R's slightly more pedestrian sibling here.

Comparing the two is natural though a little unfair, like debating the utility of the Chevrolet Colorado midsize and Silverado fullsize pickups.

On the road, the Golf R can be fairly mild-mannered, with tendencies that make it almost feel like a run-of-the-mill Golf.

It does, like all five-door Golfs, sacrifice quite a bit of rear cargo room—about 283 litres, to be exact—in the name of additional passenger room, which is nothing if not interesting considering three-door versions are sold on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Golf R even feels like its commuting-duty counterpart in the Golf lineup, at the pumps, where it burns fuel, albeit premium, at a pace only about 20 per cent worse than the standard Golf while making about 40 per cent more power.

Manual cars get a rating of 10.9 L/100 km in the city and 7.7 L/100 km on the highway, while DSG-equipped Golf Rs improve to 10.2 L/100 km in town.

Those numbers suddenly seem even more impressive when compared to the Subaru WRX STI, the Golf R's only real competitor until the Ford Focus RS hits the market, which returns a rating of 13.8 L/100 km in the city and 10.2 L/100 km on the highway.

Take the Golf R to the racetrack, however, and it's not out of the realm of possibilities to watch the needle shed a quarter tank after a handful of hot laps.

From the track to the street, the Golf R offers up a whole lot of fun for $40,000.

And as it makes up for lost time in Canada, the 2016 edition could be the best dual-purpose car this side of the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat on the market.

Base price: $39,995

As tested: $43,615 (freight included)

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