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2016 Volkswagen Golf R First Drive

Some cars come along and are so well engineered from the way they look to the way they drive that an instant bond is made, a connection that just doesn’t happen with other vehicles occurs. We all know the love affair I’ve had with a certain brand of car (*cough*MINI*cough*), but there are other individual vehicles that get my heart pumping and just “fit” with me. 

The Volkswagen Golf R is just such a car. I drove my first R a few years ago -- in the winter. It was fabulous. I fell in love. I never wanted to get out. I wanted one. Badly. Then they disappeared. VW stopped production, and so the Golf R was no longer available to test drive. 

Well, they’ve brought it back. And it’s just as amazing as I remember. Only this time I had dry cement, sunshine, and a superb racetrack to throw the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R around on. Yup, life is good. 

Like a glove 
Sliding into the bolstered R sport seats, running my hands along the thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel and gripping the perfectly sized shift knob felt a bit like coming home. 

While obviously a Volkswagen interior, there are a few subtle differences that let you know you’re in something a bit special. First, the R encrusted steering wheel is a dead giveaway and then there are the blue gauge cluster dial arms (only seen on the Golf R), along with subtle blue accents throughout the car’s cabin.

Then there’s the brand new infotainment system. In the 2016 Golf R you get an 8” colour touchscreen (optional, standard size is 6.5”). It looks fantastic and is so much better to use than previous gen VW infotainment systems. There’s virtually no lag or delay between button press and action. Oh, and there’s finally a freestanding USB port so you can use your very own wire to hook up your phone! 

And on that note, Volkswagen now features CarPlay across all its vehicles. Basically, that means you can use ApplePlay, MirrorLink and Android Auto if you’ve got a smartphone that means you plug it into the bright new screen and it becomes your phone’s homepage complete with apps. If you’ve got an iPhone that means you can use Google Maps, Spotify, and even have the car read your text messages for you and send them via voice-recognition. 

In all, the interior of the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R is a fabulous place to be and is loaded with tech-y bits (which you do have to pay extra for… about $2,100 for the tech package that gets you CarPlay and the 8” screen). 

Fit to drive, too 
Now, on to the important stuff: How does the new 2016 Volkswagen Golf R drive? Like a dream, and just how I remember. 

With a turbocharged 2.0L direct-injected mill, the Golf R pumps out 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque (that kicks in at 1,900 rpm). Of course, one of the best features about the Golf R is its standard 4MOTION all-wheel drive. There are two transmissions available: a 6-speed manual (YES) and a 6-speed DSG (a very acceptable choice). 

I had the supreme pleasure of driving both transmissions on the track for a morning. While the manual is, of course, more involving the DSG is the better track option. The dual-clutch system is so quick and responsive; you can focus that much more on the perfect line and hitting those apexes and cornering faster each lap as your confidence grows. 

The 2016 Volkswagen Golf R is wonderfully planted round corners, holding firm to the tarmac thanks to 4MOTION and its dynamic chassis control system. The front independent and multilink rear suspension kept body roll to a minimum, no matter how hard I threw it around the track -- and trust me, I did. 

This hot hatch begs to be driven hard. The engine is eager, eggs you on even, and while there is a fabulous 2.0L burble heard from inside the cabin, it’s from the outside you’ll hear the spool and blow-off that every turbo lover yearns to hear. Windows down is the way to drive your Golf R for the entire experience. 

Golf Rs for everyone! 
So, previously Volkswagen limited production on the Golf R -- exclusivity and all that. With only 500 units initially made, and then a limited number released a year or so later, they sold like hot cakes and those who didn’t get one were left waiting and wanting (and probably ended up with a GTI, which isn’t a horrible consolation prize, let’s be honest). 

Well, this time around, Volks isn’t limiting Golf R production. That’s right: everyone and their brother can order a Golf R. And while they aren’t on sale yet, approximately 1,200 have been presold already. And interestingly enough, the split between DSG and manual transmissions is about 50/50. And I’ll advocate that regardless of transmission choice those owners will enjoy every moment behind the wheel of their Golf R. 

With a starting price of $39,995 (manual), the Golf R positions itself perfectly in the AWD performance-oriented segment alongside the Subaru STI and MINI Cooper S JCW (which lacks the AWD but is way up there with a “fun to drive” factor). 

Which would I take home? I’ll just plead the fifth on this one … 

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2016 Volkswagen Golf R
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