Fast and mature, the Golf R sits above the GTI in the Volkswagen Golf hierarchy. The first R Golf, the R32, arrived in the United States in 2004 and featured a 3.2-liter narrow-angle V-6. The name changed to Golf R in the sixth generation, when it lost the silky six in favor of a high-output, turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. The upcoming eighth-generation Golf is now getting the R treatment. It and the GTI will be the only Golf models sold in the U.S. We drove the new R in Germany where it’ll go on sale soon, but Americans will have to wait until the third quarter of 2021 to see them here.
The familiar turbocharged 2.0-liter four now makes 315 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, up from 288 horsepower and 280 pound-feet. With the dual-clutch automatic, expect to see 60-mph times in the low- to mid-fours. True believers will select the six-speed manual transmission, which will only be available in North America. The quickest prior generation dual-clutch Golf R we tested hit 60 mph in 4.5 seconds with the manual clipping a 4.8-second time. The turbo four’s power delivery isn’t explosive, but it is consistently strong and relentless, and turbo lag is barely noticeable.
In normal mode, the dual-clutch automatic transmission is eager to get into the highest gear to save fuel. Switch to Race mode and the transmission becomes aggressive, downshifting under braking and holding gears to redline. Like the GTI, the engine’s actual sound is amplified by a diaphragm connected to the intake and fed into the cabin. The sound is pleasant and adjustable should you want to silence it. A quick release of the accelerator leads to a delightfully boisterous crackle from the exhaust.
The Golf R’s chassis and all-wheel drive are supremely capable in bringing the power to the road. Turn-in is precise and sharp, and the handling is neutral up to the lofty limits. Our German-specs car was fitted with the optional Performance Package that adds two extra drive modes that we enjoyed thoroughly. Special mode is designed to conform with the specific challenges of the Nürburgring-Nordschleife and is a great setting for any back road. It sharpens the throttle, livens up the gearbox’s responses but dials back the aggression of the adaptive dampers. The second mode is a Drift mode, which sets up the all-wheel-drive system and stability control to allow for some delightful oversteer. You can also switch off stability control entirely.
The new Golf only comes as a four-door, and as we’ve already seen the redesign is evolutionary. It’s a very practical shape. There is ample room for passengers in front and in the rear, and the cargo area is SUV-like. The interior represents a big upgrade over the previous generation. VW’s engineers and designers have managed to hide their cost-cutting, and the visible surfaces still appear better than most of the Golf’s competitors. The driver is surrounded by decidedly futuristic digital instruments and capacitive switches. Hopefully, VW will set the pedals properly in manual versions. A six-speed GTI we recently drove had a brake-pedal position that made heel-and-toe downshifts virtually impossible.
The Golf R remains a refined small car with the practicality of a hatch and the soul of a sports car. As with the previous generation, the Golf R remains a Subaru WRX STI and Civic Type R competitor, but it offers more day-to-day refinement in a mature design. What the Golf R gives up in track-day fun it more than makes up for on your commute.
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