Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review: 2016 Volkswagen Golf R ... In The Snow

2016 VW Golf R in the snow

Why is there a Golf R in the snow in August? Because this piece was originally written in spring ... in Canada. - Andy

By Spencer Whitney - SCC Editorial Staff

There are very few compact cars that tick every box on this writer's wish list. When shopping for a new ride you might start out with several must-haves, but ultimately there's a lot of compromises that happen between walking on to the lot and actually signing the papers. Fast cars aren't always well made (Lancer Evo, we're looking at you) and sporty cars aren't always fast.

But every once in a while a vehicle comes along that seems to offer something special and unexpected, almost as if it was a side project that rogue engineers somehow slipped past the bean counters. Germany has consistently created incredibly powerful cars, unfortunately at a price point far beyond the average consumer. What if there was something out there for the rest of us, with enough power and flair to blow away everything else in its class?

Volkswagen Golf R badge

Enter the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R. While this isn't the first vehicle to be emblazoned with Wolfsburg's go-fast logo in North America, this new seventh-generation hatchback is a leap ahead of anything else VW has offered in recent history. Sporting almost 50 horsepower over its poorly selling predecessor and loaded with a dozen new tech features, it's hard to justify having any interest in the GTI—and the unusually common sightings of R models out in the wild are a good indication that discerning Volkswagen enthusiasts won't settle for what was once the best Golf you could buy.

The Golf R is definitely a powerful beast. The 2.0 liter four-cylinder powerplant is equipped with Volkswagen's latest direct-injection fuel system (badged as TSI) and aspirated by a variable-geometry turbocharger (the kind once found only on very expensive Porsches). That means very little turbo lag when pushing the go pedal. It also means nearly 300 horsepower—a number I had to double check (and continue to check in various situations, such as stop lights, mountain roads, snow-covered parking lots ...)

Volkswagen Golf R snow

What good are 292 horses if you can't get the power down reliably? VW won't disappoint you with the inclusion of the very latest Haldex-based 4Motion drivetrain. (You might also know it as Quattro.) This rear-biased all-wheel-drive system is extremely useful even in dry conditions, but really shines in situations where traction control would stop you from having fun. Heavy rain and even wet snow were no match for this little ride. Even in the slippery stuff the throttle could be applied normally with very little loss of grip (it helped that our press vehicle was equipped with snow tires) and typical Pacific Northwest heavy rain was conquered easily. Adding to the performance of the 4Motion system is a tech feature that disconnects the rear axle during cruising or coasting, giving the R a leg up in the fuel efficiency category. AWD is definitely what makes the Golf R possible—no other vehicle in this category can offer power at all four wheels.

Golf R Interior

We won't fault you when mistaking the inside of this Volkswagen for an Audi. The interior is so well equipped and so nicely finished that it's hard to find anything that would suggest this isn't a luxury branded vehicle. Soft touch plastics and comfortable leather sport seats contribute to the overall feeling of quality. Competitors from Subaru, Ford and Mitsubishi won't be able to show anyone a nicer interior. Our test vehicle was fully equipped with the latest tech features: multimedia can be controlled by a convenient (if flawed) interface between the car and your smartphone (Apple CarPlay for iOS users, and Android Auto for Google fans). In the driver's seat you'll have access to features like adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights, a full-color LCD display in the instrument cluster, and many other fantastic options have that trickled down from Audi over the last few years. Build sheets will be short and sweet because the Golf R already comes with many features as standard. You won't find yourself adding to the sticker price to get options usually found on more expensive cars.

Between the seats you have an option of a six-speed manual transmission, or the fantastic DSG twin-clutch automatic. VW has long been regarded as a leader in this type of transmission, and the R has no problem selecting the right gear in any of the programmable driving modes (including a cheekily named Race mode). In fact, the DSG can shift up or down much faster than any human can clunk a manual gearbox. One thing I don't like about the DSG is that it won't let you top out a gear for very long before it finds the next one. If you're all about life at the redline, choose the manual option—either way we can safely say you'll be happy no matter what you choose.

Golf R on pavement

Overall the 2016 Golf R is an incredible package. The few issues we found with it are really just picky details—taller drivers (such as myself) might find it a bit cramped but not impossible to be comfortable in, and some owners might balk at the fuel economy. But that's not why we drive cars like this, is it? The R is definitely built to be driven, and you'll find it a perfect companion for your morning commute or a Sunday afternoon in the mountains—at the push of a button everything changes. We do wish VW would again offer a three-door version, but the styling cues of this latest generation of Golf make us feel like we would be happy to own this roomy five door for many years to come. Consider all the boxes ticked!

THE BASICS: 2016 Volkswagen Golf R
MSRP As Tested: $35,655 (USD)
Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC turbocharged 4 cyl.
Transmission: DSG (twin clutch)
Horsepower: 292
Torque:s 280 lb/ft
Curb Weight: 3,362 lbs.
Wheelbase: 103.5
Overall Length: 168.4"
Suspension: F: MacPherson Struts
R: Multilink 
Brakes: F: Disc w/ABS
R: Disc w/ABS
Wheels: 18" alloys
Tires: 225/40/18
Fuel Economy (MPG): 23 city, 25 combined, 30 highway
Fuel Type: Premium (92 octane)

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