2015 Volkswagen Golf R review

VW's Golf R isn't just a rocketship you can afford, it's one you can live with

The 2015 Golf R isn’t just the most powerful Golf ever, it’s hot-hatch royalty.
The 2015 Golf R isn’t just the most powerful Golf ever, it’s hot-hatch royalty.
The 2015 Golf R isn’t just the most powerful Golf ever, it’s hot-hatch royalty.

Highs

  • Gobs of mid-range torque
  • Sharp suspension and tons of grip from 4Motion AWD system
  • Four driving modes make for a tailorable experience behind the wheel
  • Responsive DSG gearbox
  • Comfortable cabin

Lows

  • Infotainment is average at best
  • Some turbo lag
  • No manual until 2016

“What does Race Mode do?”

My passenger had a legitimate question, but I’ve always been a “show, don’t tell” type of person. I toggled the Volkswagen Golf R’s Driving Mode selector and chose the icon with the checkered flags inside it, because, well, that’s my kind of button.

CarsDirect.comI could immediately feel the suspension hunker down, the steering increase in weight, and the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox downshift. S-foils locked in attack position, I responded by putting my foot to the floor.

The Golf’s 280 pound-feet of torque rocketed the car forward, pushing my torso into the leather-trimmed sport seats as I slammed the gas. A throaty rumble emanated from the turbocharged 2.0-liter in front of me, and as I entered the first turn, I kept my paw down and let the 4Motion all-wheel drive system do the work. An electro-hydraulically operated clutch engaged the rear axle, distributing power evenly across all four wheels for optimum grip and cornering speed. In what seemed like an instant, we were through.

“That’s what Race Mode does,” I answered.

I got my first glimpse at the Golf R back in January at the vehicle’s first drive event in San Diego, California. Under the brilliant Pacific sun, I fell in love with its 292-horsepower engine, adaptably sharp suspension, and comfortable cabin. When I heard we were getting a long-term Golf R for testing at DT, I pushed to the front of the line and put my name on the list.

My few short weeks with the car flew by. I toured the Pacific Northwest extensively in the Reflex Silver four-door, and over that time, I got to know the vehicle’s quirks, charms, and varying attitudes. For under $40,000, this is simply one of the most well-rounded cars you can buy, as it blends sports car speed with hatchback practicality, accented by blue ambient lighting and a smooth ride.

It’s the performance though — the surge of power and sharp handling — that are really worth the price of admission.

Uber Golf

My passengers and I were driving along Route 242, a scenic highway that runs from beautiful Sisters, Oregon across the Cascades Mountain range. It turned out to be the perfect showcase for the car, as the 37-mile highway features more twists and turns than a basket of curly fries, but it wasn’t just that. The occasionally harsh surfaces let us highlight the different driving modes clearly, as switching to the Comfort setting softened everything back up, enlisting adaptive dampers to mitigate bumps and back the chassis out of combat mode. Using a combination of German engineering and electronic witchcraft, the Golf R is quick when you want it, comfy when you need it, and it can change its attitude on a whim. If only we could say the same about ourselves.

The 2016 R model is the fastest and most powerful Golf to ever land on American shores, and it’s capable of 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds (although various outlets have clocked it as low as 4.5) and tackles the quarter-mile in just over 13. At the famed Nurburgring, VW set a time of 8:15, which is over a second quicker than the original Honda NSX.

With that much power coming from a 2.0-liter engine, there’s bound to be some turbo lag, and there is a smidge of it here, especially from a stop. If you don’t have time for that, the R boasts a nifty Launch Control function that holds the revs at about 4,000 rpm while you stand on the brake. Needless to say, it’s an exciting way to get to the speed limit.

The car’s 4Motion and Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) systems work together to nearly eliminate understeer as well, pushing the rear end out and stiffening the shocks nicely when coerced. It’s worth noting that DCC is not standard on the $36,595 base model, but it comes along with the $39,090 DCC and Nav version.

Day to day

Arriving back home, I settled the R into its Individual Mode, which allows the driver to customize steering weight, engine noise (thanks to VW’s synthetic “Soundaktor”), transmission aggressiveness, and suspension rigidity separately. I already appreciated the car for its quickness and agility, but its daily driving practicality is the cherry on top.

This is simply one of the most well-rounded cars you can buy.

With the seats folded down, there’s 52.7 cubic feet of cargo volume in the back, which was enough to hold two side tables, camping chairs, a cooler, a few suitcases, board games, and a myriad of other things during a recent moving day. It’s also smooth and quiet over most roads, has a spacious back seat, and it even gets 30 mpg on the highway. In the city, the number drops to 23 mpg, averaging out to 26 mpg combined.

I do have a couple gripes though: There are no USB ports (seriously?), the center console doesn’t open (seriously??), and the front cup holders are too small for larger water bottles and such — first world problems, I know. The capable Fender audio system helps make up for these quibbles, however.

Lagging behind

Unfortunately, the Golf’s drawbacks extend past the tiny drink holder, because the infotainment offerings are average at best.

Let’s start with the touchscreen. The 5.8-inch display is a tad small by today’s standards, but that’s not really the issue. The processor behind the unit is simply too slow, which results in a lag between driver input and navigation response. The resolution is also noticeably pixelated, though the basic functions seem solid.

2015 VW Golf

The navigation is another low point, especially compared with the Google Maps application on any smartphone. While Google will say things like, “In 500 feet, use the right two lanes to turn right onto Jefferson Street,” the Golf’s nav will simply state, “Turn right in 500 feet,” or something similar. It’s a small difference, but it’s noticeable, and the robotic voice didn’t always choose the best route. More often than not, I found myself Bluetooth pairing my iPhone to the car and using that instead.

There is good news though, because for the 2017 model year, the Golf R will get a new “MIB II” infotainment platform with gesture control, Apple CarPlay, and a high-definition screen. Oh, and a manual transmission.

Conclusion

The Golf R first landed in the United States in 2003 as the R32, a V6-powered dynamo that has maintained its legend to this day. Over the past 13 years, the R nameplate has grown in every conceivable way, culminating with the silver bomber I’ve had the pleasure of driving over the last few weeks.

I now know exactly how many clicks it takes to switch from fuel range to current speed on the digital Multi-Function Display — it’s five, by the way. I know exactly how many gallons the fuel tank holds and how many turns there are lock to lock, and I know the right rear tire pressure monitor can be finicky. I have a few complaints — the infotainment being the major one — but overall this is an easy car to fall for.

If you have a lot of spare cash lying around, an easy recommendation would be to buy a high-performance sports car for the weekends and practical people-carrier for weekday commuting. With the Golf R, you get both.

Highs

  • Gobs of mid-range torque
  • Sharp suspension and tons of grip from 4Motion AWD system
  • Four driving modes make for a tailorable experience behind the wheel
  • Responsive DSG gearbox
  • Comfortable cabin

Lows

  • Infotainment is average at best
  • Some turbo lag
  • No manual until 2016
Product Review

In the 2019 Porsche Macan S, life starts after the "curves ahead" sign

The roster of models challenging the Porsche Macan grows annually. The German firm updated its smallest, most affordable SUV with a new engine, more tech features, and subtle design tweaks to keep it looking fresh.
Product Review

Audi built an electric SUV for buyers who want gasoline-free to mean stress-free

We finally got to spend time behind the wheel of the electric 2019 Audi E-Tron bustling cities and arid desert of the United Arab Emirates to see how it compares with Jaguar and Tesla's competitors.
Cars

Nissan and Italdesign’s GT-R50 concept will become a $1.1 million reality

The Nissan GT-R50 is a customized sports car built to celebrate the 50th anniversaries of both the GT-R and design firm Italdesign. Underneath the sleek bodywork sits a 710-horsepower engine fortified with race car components.
Cars

Volkswagen may be planning a tougher challenge for its all-electric I.D. R

The Volkswagen I.D. R electric race car may head to the Nürburgring in 2019 for a lap-record attempt, according to a new report. Volkswagen will reportedly aim to set the quickest lap time ever by an electric car.
Cars

600-hp, $155K Polestar 1 is the alluring Volvo coupe you’ve been waiting for

Volvo's return to the coupe segment just took an interesting turn: the model will join the Polestar lineup, and it will get a 600-hp plug-in hybrid powertrain. The Polestar 1 will be built in China starting in 2019.
Cars

The Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake is the sexiest wagon ever

Aston Martin has revealed new photos of the limited-production Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake. The Vanquish Zagato line now includes the Shooting Brake, Coupe, Volante, and Speedster, each with bespoke styling.
Mobile

Car-branded phones need to make a U-turn if they ever want to impress

Your car and your smartphone are becoming one, yet smartphones branded or co-created by car companies are a problem. We look at the history, some examples of the best and worst, then share hopes for the future.
Cars

Ford’s new Shelby GT500 Mustang will have 3D-printed brake parts

Ford's new $45 million Advanced Manufacturing Center will focus on emerging technologies, including 3D printing. One of the staff's first jobs is to print parts for the 700-horsepower Shelby GT500 Mustang.
News

World’s fastest electric race car to display at Petersen Museum

The Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak race car smashed the all-time record at the hill climb for which it was named. The all-electric VW record-holder will be on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles until February 1, 2019.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Cars

This freewheeling Army truck-turned-tiny home is a labor of love

Most tiny homes are models of efficiency but one British metal worker has redefined the idea, converting an old Army truck into a mobile tiny home that comes with a bed, a sofa, a shower, and a beer garden.
Cars

Take a friend stargazing at 202 mph in the 2019 McLaren 720S Spider

McLaren has introduced the 2019 720S Spider. As its name implies, it's a convertible variant of the 720S coupe. The company promises the Spider retains the coupe's dynamism and agility thanks in part to the widespread use of carbon fiber.
Cars

Gateway’s born-again Ford Bronco boasts classic style, 2018 muscle car power

Illinois-based Gateway Bronco has received a license from Ford to make brand-new examples of the first-generation Bronco. Every build starts with a Ford VIN and a donor vehicle, but Gateway upgrades every part of the car.
Cars

Bloodhound’s plan to build a 1,000-mph car has run out of gas

The Bloodhound supersonic car (SSC) project has officially shut down. The upside is you can now buy a 135,000-horsepower car powered by a jet engine and a cluster of rockets for $319,000.