Details of the new Golf R are out ahead of its full debut at next week’s Detroit Auto Show. And all I can say is that it begs the question that any good Golf should: Why would you ever buy anything else?
With a claim like that, I had better get to the good stuff quickly. This car packs a massive punch: 290 horsepower from a turbocharged TSI 2.0-liter bomb. Not only is that 30 more horses than you got in last year’s Golf, it’s more than you get from the new WRX.
Don’t for a minute think that that all this power is being wasted trucking unnecessary weight around either. With the dual clutch DSG Automatic the R can sprint from zero to the speeding ticket territory of 62 mph in 4.9 seconds. That’s the kind of power that comes with responsibility.
In this case that responsibility comes in the form of shockingly good gas mileage, 33 mpg on the European cycle. EPA figures aren’t out yet, but a rough guess based on the last model suggests an EPA figure of 27 mpg combined. That is shockingly good on a car faster to sixty than most Porsche Boxsters.
In part this sinister German efficiency is achieved through the use of friendly Swedish pragmatism in the form of a Haldex all wheel drive system. VW says that the Golf R has permanent all-wheel drive, and that’s basically true, except for the Haldex coupling. This ingenious piece of technology doesn’t just stop sending power to the back wheels when they aren’t needed, it actually decouples the drive shaft to save the resistance and friction of turning it. This means you get front-wheel drive efficiency but AWD traction.
Speaking of traction, the Golf R uses a combination of technologies to make the car stick to the road like it was welded there. A multi-plate clutch directs power between the front and back. An oil pump commanded by the car’s robot brain can engage the clutch. The more engaged the clutch, the more power goes to the rear wheels. In fact this system can turn the car completely rear-wheel drive as needed. That gives the driver the opportunity to trick the computers into letting her get the tail out.
But as they say on late night infomercials: “that’s not all folks!” VW also throws in traction control that uses the brakes to intercede when wheels start to slip and what they call the XDS cross differential lock. This bit of engineering trickery allows the brakes to function as a limited-slip differential by sensing conditions indicating understeer and braking accordingly.
If all of that is more technical than you care for, allow me to summarize. You will need the jaws of life to pry this car loose in the corners. And that’s a good thing when you consider the kind of power it has.
The styling isn’t significantly different, but the changes VW made are good ones. The car gets new side skirts, an aggressive dual exhaust, and surprisingly nice standard 18-inch rims. I particularly like the LED running lights that look like they come of one of this car’s Audi cousins. They let you know that this car is something a bit special, without shouting to the world that you have no taste.
The interior is neither revolutionary nor anything particularly special to look at, but everything you could want is there. Leather, high quality synthetics, excellent seats, and because this car is German it will all be put together properly. Tech wise you get VW’s latest 5.8-inch touchscreen display, that comes packed with info and ‘tainment.
That brings me back to where I started. The Golf R, especially in its four-door guise, promises to be all things to all people. Want a safe, efficient run-around? The Golf R can do that. Want something with space in the back and enough traction to take you into the mountains for a day of skiing? The Golf R can do that. Want something that can beat the pants off of most Porsches, BMWs, and Mercs while still saving you enough money for a Caribbean vacation? The Golf R can do that to.
If you are only going to get one car, I struggle to think of why you wouldn’t at least consider the Golf R. Even if it ends up costing a bit more than the $35,000 of last generation, this thing is an absolute steal. Just don’t tell VW; we don’t want them to find out.