- Helping you drive happy

2016 Volkswagen Golf R Review

We all tend to gravitate towards things we like or that make us jovial. In fact, isn’t the ultimate goal in life to be happy? I’ve recently discovered what it is to be truly content, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I will never go back to making myself think that I’m happy by lying to the man in the mirror.

Happiness is a state of mind that comes with being surrounded by people we love, in an environment where we feel comfortable and safe. And, well, in the 21st Century it also involves all the stuff we’ve accumulated over the years -- including our cars. The last point applies to those that like that sorta stuff. For some, cats or model trains do the trick. Where I’m concerned, it’s gotta have four wheels and an internal combustion engine.

I may be an extremist (as is my woman, so I’m allowed!) where I expect EVERYTHING from my cars or at least they must (without fail) fulfill my every whim so that it makes make me happy. Given that my cars are 20 years old, on average, I’m easier on them. However, if I was to drop a considerable sum on one automobile, it would have to be very special. Note that for $40k, I could and would purchase at least eight used cars.

40 large will get you lots
In 2016, we’re lucky as consumers and car enthusiasts to have access to such a vast array of product. For the aforementioned sum, we are faced with countless options, but very few would meet my standards.

It’s not that I’m impossible to please. Actually, I want what most car shoppers are looking for: namely fuel economy, safety, versatility, good looks, and a certain degree of pride in the car I own. Beyond that, I want performance, styling that says something (if only very little), handling, comfort, stopping power, and AWD. These are all normal criteria; so in the end, I’m an average car guy.

It’s not that simple however. A $40k Hyundai Tucson, despite how good it might be, won’t cut the mustard for me. I want emotion, a sense of purpose, an event, a street-legal and clothed track car that’ll double as a family truckster.

Thank you Volkswagen for the $39,995 Golf R.

Loud need not be…
Loud. And that’s one of my favourite aspects of the R. This Golf is subtle, wears an elegant suit, but you know it’s tailored thanks to the beefier front end, marginally flared out sides, chunkier backside, and quad tailpipes. Beyond that, it looks barely different from your typical businessman, aka, Golf.

There’s something to be said about being classy. The Golf R is unremarkable or at least it is to those who don’t know. This is ideal for drivers that, like I, prefer to fly below the radar. In a Subaru WRX STI, this is not possible. I’m a sucker for the spoiler and hood scoop, but it’s no longer about that.

Must be a daily
It’s about being able to live with the car and yourself. The first element to consider here is ride comfort. Miranda can call me old all day, but I don’t understand why I should be punished for wanting a car that’ll hold nearly 1g of lateral acceleration and effortlessly soak up road imperfections without shattering my spine. The Golf R does both flawlessly -- not the shattering part…

The Golf R’s front strut and rear multi-link suspension is calibrated for real life. Or for knocking back high-speed corners on a track, on any given Sunday. Despite the presence of large 19” wheels and relatively skinny tires, the car’s ride quality is beyond reproach. The household included a MINI Cooper JCW during the Golf’s stay, and in spite of my undying love for the JCW, it was downright horribly uncomfortable in identical driving situations. No thanks.

Same goes for steering. The electric power steering’s variable ratio (between 9.5:1 and 14.1:1) perfectly adapts itself to driving speeds and conditions. And low and behold, the R’s remains decently quiet even over 100 km/h, say 102…

The Golf R’s piece de resistance is its 2.0L TSI engine. This little mill produces magic to the tune of 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. These numbers are less impressive on paper than on pavement, and not at all at the same time. Explanation:

All of them torques tap in as of 1,900 rpm and hold the fort up to 5,300 rpm. Only 100 rpm later do all horsepower come on full stream, and they stick around until 6,200. Unlike many turbocharged engines that run out of breath at high rotational speeds, the R’s finds ludicrous speed right around 5,000 rpm -- think vtec but without the ensuing loss of control into the nearby bushes

I’m only partly kidding. The R’s powerband is top to bottom, period. It’s that simple. The bonus shows up at 5k when hp and torque are both peaking -- it’s a delicious place to be. Yet. Yet, it’s all kinda bland. I know, I’m full of it, but because the power’s always on, there isn’t a truly special “holy sh*t” moment when boost kicks in and this makes the car feel far slower than it is. This is a common issue, and it leads me to my first um, correction, should I ever buy one: I’d head to Unitronic’s nearby HQ and lock down a Stage 1+ upgrade. Yes, it costs a few $$ and I’d forgo my warranty. But hey, what can go wrong? ;)

This would make a very fast car even faster. Fast as in 0-100 km/h in 5.1 seconds on the way to a limited top speed of 250 km/h. Part of the exercise in exploiting the R is through Dynamic Chassis Control settings. The Drive Mode button toggles between race, normal or comfort, where suspension, throttle and steering responsiveness is modified. Thankfully, there’s also an “individual” function, which allowed me to set everything just right. Specifically, the suspension is left in normal, as is the infinitely annoying and utterly useless engine noise amplifier bull-crap.

Putting power to the ground
Volkswagen uses their 4MOTION permanent all-wheel-drive system with Haldex centre differential in this car. The electronically controlled multi-plate clutch sends power for or aft or both, depending on how hard I stomped on the throttle.

When the snow finally arrived, I was privy to the system’s efficiency. Although it works in conjunction with the stability and traction control, I occasionally found it a little slow to pick up. Mind you, I drove the car hard so minute delays turn into no delays in normal driving. The happy part is that once engaged, the system brilliantly worked its magic, giving me forward momentum whenever it was possible.

By the graces of the automotive gods in Wolfsburg (some are in trouble or without a job at the moment…), the R’s electronic stability nannies can be fully sent packing when I allow my finger to linger on the button long enough. Joy.

Always in control
Even when driving slideways. The Golf R’s ability (matched with the driver’s of course) to keep it all within reach is impressive. Even when in a slide, or through a hard corner where grip is present, the VW’s honed and precise chassis never got out of hand -- it displayed composure under pressure.

As well, the ease with which I could send it one way or another (with only a mild dose of lift-off oversteer) pleased me to no end. On that note, know that the R is stuck with an electronic e-brake so yanking on a “bar” is not possible to send the car sideways. Nonetheless, a more friendly, stress- and resistance-free car to hoon around in is hard to find. And at the same time, it’ll be the tamest pussycat around town when taking grandma to church on Sunday morning.

The pleasure was all mine
I had the choice: 6M or DSG. It also came with another “choice:” Lapiz or Tornado. I went with the 6M and the blue. Truthfully, if I were to buy a Golf R, I’d opt for a DSG if only to clip the 100 km/h mark in just under 5 seconds, and to avoid shifting in downtown traffic.

Be that as it may, I still loved every minute I spent rowing through the R’s gate. The clutch and shifter travels are easy, graceful even. Heel and toe-ing are child’s play thanks to the larger pedals -- I’d shift repeatedly only because I could.

Time spent
In the Golf R’s quarters are, well, all Golf save for a few bits. The flat-bottomed steering wheel’s lovely, but I’m not liking some of the controls, namely the audio volume and channel selectors.

The seats are supportive and comfy but they’re covered in hide. Some European (blah, blah, blah…) cars come with “race” cloth and Alcantara perches, and I want them.

With 2016, Volkswagen has added niceties such as Apple’s CarPlay to go along with a larger display screen. I like. I also like the amount of interior room that is inherent with a Golf. An impromptu shopping activity had us loading up the car to capacity -- a capacity that, with the rear bench folded flat, cannot be matched by an Impreza sedan…

R we there yet?
Yes, this is the conclusion and it’s quite simple: I love and want this car. The STI’s fun and all, but drive an R and you’ll likely come to the same conclusion: Buy it. Do it now before the Ford Focus RS becomes available, and I rant on about that car for another bazillion words.



Road Tests and Reviews

2016 Volkswagen Golf R
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Space and Access
Driving Dynamics
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Photos:M. St-Pierre
2016 Volkswagen Golf R