|Positives: Remarkable performance for the money, truly usable interior space and tech, great manual transmission option, organic driving experience, four-seasons traction.
|Negatives: Still seems pricey for a VW hatchback.
|Bottom Line: Though it's not as thrilling as the Ford Focus RS, it's far more comfortable and everyday livable. The Golf R seems civilized most of the time until you drive it hard, and even then it's more than manageable. It's the hot hatch you can live with every day and still outgun most sports cars.
The R proves that a hot hatch doesn't have to punish you every day. In fact, it's so good at daily driving, you almost forget it can mess with the big boys when it comes to power and performance.
Ride Quality: The R's ride quality thanks to the adaptive chassis control is excellent for a performance hatchback, providing good shock absorption but the right amount of firmness for a sporty car.
Acceleration: The manual is a few tenths of a second slower than the automatic, but 0-60 still comes in the low fives. The manual tranny shifts precisely and quickly.
Braking: The brakes are some of the best in the segment. Only the Honda Civic Type R and the GTI are better.
Steering: The R's steering is excellent, providing plenty of feedback and the right amount of effort.
Handling: The handling is taut and also forgiving thanks to the adaptive chassis control. Taking this thing hard into a turn is very, very rewarding.
VW's system is better than last year, and the small changes make for a much-improved experience. The aesthetics aren't much different (no color), but it makes its way into the 21st century here.
Infotainment System: The 6.5-inch touchscreen is on the small-ish side for us, but it's very easy to read and use. The proximity sensor picks up your hand before it touches, and the menus rise in response.
Controls: Good physical knobs for climate control and audio, but they are a bit on the small side. The system would be better with larger knobs.
The Golf R might not be edgy enough for some folks, but that's the reason we like it. It's kind of a wolf in sheep's clothing. That being said, it could use a little bit more to separate it from its less powerful, less expensive GTI brother. It does get mild changes
Front: The fascia has been tweaked since last year and includes R-specific headlights. The thin grille is actually a bit more subdued than the honeycomb version on the GTI.
Rear: The R gets LED taillights, but our favorite part is the quad round tailpipes that show the R means business.
Profile: The most noticeable aspect is the newly designed 19" R-specific 10-spoke wheels. They look great on this otherwise subdued body.
Cabin: In typical dark-hued VW fashion, at least the R gets real leather seats with contrasting piping. The interior is low-key but sporty and very Germanic in its cleanliness.
The Golf overall is a comfortable hatchback that's great for two people. Most hatchbacks aren't very big in the second row, so keep those expectations low.
Front Seats: Though the Golf R has the least amount of legroom amongst its hot hatch competitors, there's still ample room for 6-footers. The leather sport seats are very good with solid bolstering and the right balance of cushion and firmness.
Rear Seats: Though the seats themselves are good (outboard positions, only), the legroom is a bit cramped. Shorter adults and kids will manage for short periods of time.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The thrum of the turbo 4-cylinder is really the only sound you can hear in the cabin. It's pretty quite for a sporty hatchback and very well built.
Visibility: The big glass and great seating position means solid visibility out the front and sides. The thick C-pillar inhibits some rearward sightlines.
Climate: VW's climate system is very good, blowing cold air quickly and providing easy automatic control.
Buyers can rest assured that the Golf R is a safe car. It gets very good marks after crash testing, and the R provides a healthy set of safety features not found on the lesser trim Golfs.
IIHS Rating: It misses the Top Safety Pick score because of an "acceptable" rating in the passenger small front overlap crash. It attains "good" in all of the other crash test scores.
NHTSA Rating: The Golf nabs the top 5-star crash safety rating.
Standard Tech: The R comes standard with a ton, including a rear view camera, Park Distance Control w/ Maneuver Braking (Park Pilot), Forward Collision Warning & Autonomous Emergency Braking w/ Pedestrian Monitoring (Front Assist), Blind Spot Monitor w/ Rear Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Control, and an Adaptive Cruise Control, which worked very well on our commutes.
Optional Tech: None.
The Golf has truly usable space. Weekend trips with gear and luggage should be no problem, especially with the second row folded flat. The cabin could use more areas for storage, but it's more than sufficient.
Storage Space: The retractable door cubby in the center stack is good but lacks depth for larger smartphones. The armrest is deep, but it's a bit short for larger items.
Cargo Room: There's ample hatchback space in the Golf with 22.8 cubic feet behind the second row and a large 52.7 with the seats folded flat.
The R does remarkably well for a performance hatchback thanks to a refined turbo four that's both potent and efficient.
Observed: 23.8 mpg
Distance Driven: 131 miles
Driving Factors: With the excellent 6-speed manual transmission, we drove the R fairly hard on local roads and on the highway. The automatic gets better fuel economy, but we'd rather rope our own gears. The Golf R actually does better than most hot hatches when it comes to saving fuel costs. It easily outdid our Ford Focus RS tester, which only came in at 16.3 mpg.
This is a great system for this car. The Fender Premium audio system comes standard on the R, which is a great deal that you don't have to pony up for above the base price. It's loud, clear, and there's a solid amount of bass. We thoroughly enjoyed cranking it up on our highway drives.