Ottawa, ON – I’ve been doing a lot of running around lately, but it has all been worth it. After a track test of the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R, nothing else seemed to matter. In the midst of all the controversy around the Volkswagen brand, this car really is the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Canada received the previous-generation Golf R, but only 750 examples were allocated for the Canadian market between 2012 and 2013. This new car is mass-production, meaning everybody with a wallet and a heartbeat can have one. Is it worth your heard-earned dollar? I was invited to Calabogie Motorsports Park near our nation’s capital to find out.
When I drove the previous Golf R, I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. Gutsy as all hell, elegant, and practical, this was the quintessential hot hatch that every other brand should respect as a segment leader. Let’s fast-forward to last fall though, with my first drive of the 2015 Audi S3. Based on Volkswagen/Audi’s new MQB platform (that also underpins the new Golf), the S3 went on to be my “author’s choice” award winner last year. This new Golf R though, it’s something else – it’s probably the most engaging car I’ve driven in months.
The turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0L TFSI four-cylinder is a signature motor in the Volkswagen and Audi lineup. It’s incredibly versatile and versions of it have been used in everything from the Tiguan compact crossover to the luxurious Audi A6. The Golf R is probably my favourite application of this engine, because of how well it’s suited to the chassis of the car. The 2.0L is good for 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque peaking between 1900 and 5300rpm. Simply put, the car hustles like no other hot hatch I’ve ever driven.
It’s not the power numbers that make the super-Golf so special; it’s the way the car transforms its personality depending on your driving style. There’s a tiny bit of turbo lag in certain situations, but as soon as boost kicks in, the car is a bit of a rocket. The DSG dual-clutch gearbox would be my choice for the track, because the instantaneous shifts mean you can have power exactly where you need it when you need it. Volkswagen’s MQB platform is one of the most advanced and best chassis’ out there right now, and the car dances happily with such impeccable road manners it’s unbelievable.
With standard 4Motion all-wheel-drive, there is just so much grip at your fingertips. The factory tires are Continental ContiSportContacts on 19” wheels, so a solid rubber upgrade would help the car shine even more. Even on the OEM tires though, the R is spectacular. Steering response is as sharp as it gets, with a meaty, flat-bottomed wheel that makes changing direction a pleasure. Out on the track when being pushed hard, the Golf R only showed a hint of understeer right at the limit. This car is still one of the most precise driving tools available for the price.
Pricing for the Golf R starts at $39,995 for the manual transmission and $41,395 for the DSG. All Canadian Golf R models come with heated leather upholstery, sunroof, quad exhaust tips, 19” wheels, Dynamic Chassis Control, bi-xenon headlights, all-wheel-drive, and Discover Media infotainment with App Connect, navigation and Fender audio. The only available option is a $2100 Technology Package, which adds adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection (with rear cross traffic alert), a Discover Pro 8.0” touchscreen system, front collision assist, lane assist, and Park Distance Control. This package is available on both transmissions.
Our drive route to and from the track (about 100km each way from our accommodations in Ottawa) involved twisty rural roads with plenty of elevation changes. The Dynamic Chassis Control got a workout in both “Normal” and “Race” mode. Ride quality is very good, and the dampers absorb road imperfections nicely without giving the driver the feeling of being isolated on a cloud. The Golf feels firm and planted, and the bolstered sport seats do an excellent job of hugging you just the right amount around fast corners.
Naturally, being enthusiasts and tech geeks, my driving partner and I had the Golf R in its sharpest settings the entire time with traction and stability assists turned off. Yes, Volkswagen has finally made it possible to disengage all nannies for the purest driving experience the car has to offer. Still offered in its purest form, the six-speed manual transmission is also a joy to use. Shifter throws are a bit long, but clutch feel is on point and the car is very easy to drive quickly.
Armchair readers across the Internet have been waiting for the Golf R as this means the Subaru WRX STi finally has a worthy competitor. Though close in numbers, the two cars couldn’t be any more different. Though the STi is a very capable car on its own, it’s extremely hardcore for the street and packs a very stiff ride. Pricing puts the two in a very close race; the loaded STi Sport-Tech is $45,395, and the Golf R with the manual (only comparable option since the STi can’t be had with a DSG) and Technology Package comes in at just under $43,500.
Though this was just a brief first drive, it’s pretty easy to predict that the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R will be at least up for a nomination in our Annual Awards this year. Whether or not it’s better than an STi; that’s really up to the buyer. Personally, I like to fly under the radar and not stand out, and the STi’s huge spoiler and loud exhaust would be too much for me. Plus, the ride quality of the Golf R is far superior to me. The 2016 Volkswagen Golf R really is the best hot hatch money can buy in Canada right now – it packs the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel, the comfort of a finely-tailored suit, and the heart of a cheetah on an empty stomach.
First Drive: 2016 Volkswagen Golf R Gallery