First Drive: The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R Stretches the Hot Hatch Boundaries

Feb 17, 2015 11:00 AM EST | Jeff Jablansky

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When does a hot hatchback become a true performance car? That's the question posed by the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R, the even faster complement to the dynamically flawless GTI hatchback, but is it too good—or too pricey—to be true?

Read on for our first drive of the 2015 Golf R!

What is it?

The quickest, hottest variant of the seventh-generation Golf family. This Golf R has some impressive shoes to fill, given its much-loved predecessor, as well as Volkswagen's fantastic stable that includes a sublime GTI and a very competent diesel option. It retains the GTI's 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine, but a bump in power means it's even faster. The Golf R is much like any other Golf, which is to say an exemplary hatchback, but this one is pushed to the extreme limits of power and refinement.

How does it drive?

If you like the way that a GTI handles—flat through the corners, quick off the line, dulcet through the rev range, and smooth in between gears—the Golf R will nearly stretch the grin to the edges of your face. Off the line, the Golf R behaves much like a GTI would, with plenty of power available but not pushing its way out. The key differences emerge when you mash the Golf R's gas pedal, and the all-wheel drive system does a phenomenal job of keeping the wheels from spinning.

A 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox is retained from the GTI, and it's a great match for the power. Shifts pop off just so, with a satisfying overrun grunt from the exhaust when timed properly and at the right RPM. We had the chance to drive a manual-transmission version, but preferred the preciseness of the DSG at the end of the day on the road. A drive mode selector is available for settings like engine noise, and adaptive suspension is capable of adjusting for different driving scenarios, but we preferred the Golf R in its standard tune.

That's the magic of cars like the Golf R: The engineers nailed the adjustments and specification so that it doesn't require any tuning. A certain intangible pleasure surrounds you when you drive the Golf R—and the GTI, for that matter—that straddles perfection and sports-car evangelism.

What's it like inside?

One of the best-built interiors in the business. Seriously—we're not kidding. In the hatchback class, the Golf is clearly the leader, but its interior shames those costing nearly double. The Golf R retains the same basic layout as lesser Golfs and adds standard leather and climate control; the navigation system, which is optional, is unfortunately not one of the best in the business. The tartan plaid seats that are our favorite element of the GTI's interior are not available on the Golf R.

What's its specialty?

Sending five people laughing simultaneously through a hairpin.

How's the competition?

Foreign and pricey. Volkswagen targets the Subaru WRX STi as the Golf R's toughest competition, although we imagine challenges emerging from all corners—including within the Volkswagen dealership. The Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG and BMW M235i are both more expensive, as is the Audi S3. A new competitor will also emrege in the form of the upcoming all-wheel-drive Ford Focus RS hatchback.

Overall:

It's a power authority.

Highs:

Quick steering, near-perfect interior ergonomics, high feature content, never wants for power.

Lows:

Suspension can be unforgiving over rough surfaces, the price tag, lack of plaid seats.

The ideal setup:

If you're going to spend the extra cash for a Golf R, you might as well opt for the one that comes fully loaded. The Golf R with the selectable DCC adaptive suspension, bundled with a navigation system and Fender premium audio, is about $2500 more than the base model. Purists who want to shift the Golf R for themselves can wait for the official debut of the manual transmission model in the U.S., which is expected by 2016—but we're unabashedly in favor of the excellent dual-clutch transmission.

By the numbers: 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

MSRP: $37,415 (includes $820 destination charge)

Power / drive wheels: 2.0-liter, 292-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine / all-wheel drive

Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch transmission

EPA fuel economy: 23 city / 30 highway

In showrooms: Now 

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