|Positives: Handsome sheetmetal, great all-wheel drive and manual tranny combo, a blast to drive, can work for small families, great standard feature set.|
|Negatives: Some cheap bits inside, frustrating infotainment system detracts from the driving experience.|
|Bottom Line: The Golf R is thrilling, pricey, and rare with its AWD and stick shift. It's too bad the infotainment system is so painful to use. We'd take it, though, because it's the final year of the R with the stick.|
The Golf R delivers plenty of on-demand power from its turbo four that connects to all four wheels via the 6-speed manual transmission. Clutch action is excellent, and overall feedback in the Golf R feels very organic. It's powerful at virtually all speeds, and it's very connected.
Ride Quality: The ride quality is certainly on the firm side, but we never found it out of sorts. It manages bumps and expansion gaps just fine. If you're looking for a cushy ride, you're barking up the wrong tree.
Acceleration: The Golf R will do 0-60 in about 4 seconds. While it might not be nearly as quick as the Supra 3.0 (382 hp), it will match or beat the new Nissan Z (400 hp), which shows how well it puts the power down. It also weighs a couple of hundred pounds less than the Z.
Braking: The brakes are excellent and provide great brake feel and pedal control. You can drive this car fast without worrying about bringing it to a stop quickly.
Steering: The steering is sharp and precise. There's some solid feedback coming through the steering column, but it's not as eager as the Supra's.
Handling: We love the combination of the adaptive chassis, limited-slip differential, and the AWD with torque vectoring. The car provides tremendous composure and great balance.
The Achilles heel of the Golf R has nothing to do with the driving, despite the fact that it detracts from the actual driving. VW wanted to make it look cool, which it does. The lack of knobs and buttons and those awful slider controls really messes with user friendliness.
Infotainment System: The touchscreen lacks responsiveness, and it takes time to figure out what you want to select. We think having most of the controls relegated to the screen is dumb for a hot hatch, and the stupid home button is a small square on the left side of the screen.
Controls: The worst thing in the Golf R are the physical touch climate controls that are sliders below the touchscreen. They're hard to find while driving because they're not physical knobs. To make things worse, they don't even illuminate in the dark. Who thought that was a good idea? The weird "CLIMA" button is in a tiny font and once you actually press it (off-screen), climate controls pop up (on-screen). That's not confusing at all.
It's probably because we're middle-aged that we think the Golf R is just about perfectly styled. It's not as dramatic or as flashy as a Supra or the Z (or even its GTI sibling, for that matter), but we think it's mature enough for even us to get away with it parked in our driveway. VW did an excellent job with the evolutionary exterior styling. The interior is attractive, but there's still a bit too much cheapness throughout. Also, since we're old school, we'd love to see analog gauges instead of the digital information screen.
Front: The front end isn't as dramatic as the Golf GTI, although most of the styling elements are the same, with the exception of the lower fascia and the GTI's attractive diamond-cluster fog lamps. Gone are the F-shaped plastic strakes from the old R, instead replaced by bracket-style trim, a nice change.
Rear: The rear is actually more stylized than the front end with sharp taillights, a pronounced roof spoiler, and some very nice quad ovular exhaust tips.
Profile: The shape of the Golf R is excellent with short overhangs, sporty black trim, and just-right body creases. We don't like the wheels as much as the last R's, but they do just fine and allow the blue brake calipers to pop through nicely.
Cabin: The interior is sporty and Spartan, and that's a good thing. It's just too bad that the plastics look on the cheap side.
The Golf R does pretty well for a sporty car when it comes to occupant comfort. The cabin is airy, and visibility is very good all around. As a daily driver for one or two people, it's more than adequate, and under hard driving the car keeps you in check very well. It's just the dearth of high-end materials, poor ergonomics, and a tight back seat that compromise matters.
Front Seats: The driving position and the seats are very good. They could use more cushioning, but the bolstering is spot-on. We don't like the presence of so many hard plastics where your arms come in contact, and it seems like a bad choice for a car of this price.
Rear Seats: 35 inches of rear legroom is as tight as the Mazda3 Hatchback. There really is no room to stretch out and forget 6-footers for longer than 15 minutes or so.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The cabin is relatively quiet with no squeak or rattles. Sound deadening is decent, and wind noise is kept to a minimum. You do hear some road noise, and the growl of that angry turbo four.
Visibility: Big windows and manageable pillars make sightlines all around very good, which makes it pretty easy to drive the Golf R very aggressively.
Climate: Aside from the maddening system operation, itself, the hot and cold air on tap work quickly, as do the heated/ventilated seats.
The new R scores very high in terms of crash safety and overall safety technologies. For a car that you're likely going to drive pretty hard on most occasions (because it begs to), that's very good news, indeed. It
IIHS Rating: The Golf R attained the Top Safety Pick+ award for "good" in every category except for one notch down ("acceptable") in the headlight category. It's Front crash prevention: vehicle-to-vehicle was "superior".
NHTSA Rating: Not tested.
Standard Tech: The list is very long and includes Intelligent Crash Response System, Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, Rearview Camera System, Park Assist & Park Distance Control front and rear, Dynamic Road Sign Display, High Beam Assist, Hill Hold Control, Travel Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Assist, Front Collision Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking w/ pedestrian & cyclist monitoring, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Traffic Alert, and Head-Up Display.
Optional Tech: None.
The Golf R does very well in terms of rear cargo space because of its hatchback and fold-down rear seats. The small item storage is decent, allowing for easy access to daily gear.
Storage Space: There's nothing huge for storage, but the armrest compartment, open cubby, and door pockets are decently sized and easily reachable.
Cargo Room: The rear cargo space with the seats in position measures in at 17.4 cubic feet, and the fold down seats make room for a large 53.7 cubes.
The Golf R does pretty well in terms of fuel efficiency, although our overall mileage was hampered by our aggressive driving habits. Shocking, we know. The turbo four is smooth at high speeds, and 28 highway is quite good for a car this powerful.
Observed: 19.4 mpg
Distance Driven: 143 miles.
The premium Harman Kardon system comes standard on the Golf R, which is pretty much fully loaded in its stock form, and the system is a very good one. The sound provides ample bass, good clarity, and no distortion that we noticed.