Positioned above the vaunted GTI in Volkswagen's Golf model range, the latest Golf R sticks with an all-wheel-drive configuration but ditches the naturally aspirated V6 of the previous iteration for a high-output turbo four. Though still not the quickest car in its class, the Golf R boasts tight handling, a smooth-shifting transmission and a well-trimmed interior.
The Golf R features a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, shared with the Audi TTS, that makes a healthy 256 horsepower and 243 lb-ft of torque. Whereas the outgoing car came exclusively with a six-speed dual clutch gearbox, a six-speed manual transmission is now the sole option.
Aside from improving the weight distribution from 62/38 to 60/40, the Golf R's all-wheel-drive system (lesser Golfs make do with front-wheel-drive) improves traction and contributes to a 5.6 second zero-to-60 mph run. Fuel economy is rated at 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.
Whereas European models get an adaptable suspension system, American-market Golfs work with a fixed suspension setup (stiffened compared with the GTI) in order to keep costs down. The brakes are upsized to 13.6 inches up front and 12.2 inches at the back, and the gloss-black-painted calipers nestle behind stylish new 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.
Signaling the Golf R's performance prowess is a unique, more aggressive front fascia, while around back a center-mounted dual exhaust setup and a diffuser spice up the look. The interior is quite similar to the high-quality unit in the GTI, though the steering wheel, shifter knob and doorsills are specific to the Golf R.
Trim Level Breakdown
The latest Golf R is available in both two- and four-door models, the latter a first for the U.S. market.
The base Golf R (available only as a two-door) comes standard with leather upholstery, heated sports seats up front, dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and an aux-in jack for mp3 players.
The Golf R with Sunroof and Navigation, available in two- or four-door form, adds (as the name suggests) a sunroof, a navigation system, a premium Dynaudio sound system.
All Golf R models are outfitted with front, side and side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and ABS.
Rivals to the Golf R include the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, which share the VW's all-wheel-drive, turbo four configuration, as well as the Mazdaspeed 3, which sends its power to just the front-wheels.