2015 Volkswagen Golf R first drive review

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If you asked the average enthusiast if they’d like a 292-horsepower hot hatch with a manual transmission and all-wheel drive, you’d probably be greeted by a big smile and a variation of “Hell yes!”

That’s exactly how we feel about the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R.

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Due in early 2015, the Golf R will, at first, only be available with a DSG dual-clutch gearbox. That’s nothing to sniff at, and for the driver looking for either the most high-tech way to go fast or a great combination of daily comfort and weekend fun, it’s the way to go. But as the Golf R transitions into 2016 model-year sales around August of 2015, it will gain the option of a manual transmission—and that’s where the three-pedal purist will find a magical combination in the Golf R.

And no, my slavering wagonophilic friends, the Variant isn't coming to America.

Driven normally on the street, the Golf R is as civil and friendly as any other Golf. In fact, if you don’t wind the car well up into the upper-middle of the tach, you may not notice any big upgrade from the GTI. But wrap the needle up to 6,500 rpm or so (it runs out of breath beyond that, though the redline doesn’t come until just over 7,000) and the Golf R wakes up. Change the mode to Race, turn off the traction and stability control, and the Golf R more than wakes up—it transforms.

Being able to fully turn off the traction and stability controls will be a welcome feature for North American buyers, who were plagued by a not-quite-fully-disengaged set of electronic nannies in the Mark VI Golf R. Now, with the Mark VII, Volkswagen has decided we can decide for ourselves how lairy we wish to be. That’s a beautiful thing, as the Golf R does lairy very well.

Aiding the German hot hatch’s 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque in the pursuit of performance is a Haldex-based 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system that can transfer up to 100 percent of torque to the rear wheels on demand. The result is a Golf R that can scramble to 60 mph in under 5.0 seconds.

The Golf R can turn, too, of course. And it turns very well indeed when outfitted with the Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive damping suspension, which firms up body control without compromising daily comfort. With the electro-nannies out of the way, the Golf R’s chassis demonstrates a very well-balanced nature, rotating into and through corners with ease, provided the driver takes into account the rather large chunk of the car’s curb weight sitting over the front axle. Electronic differential locks contribute to this neutral, rotation-willing behavior, using the brakes to help distribute power not just for acceleration, but for managing cornering loads, too, taking away much of the understeer that would otherwise be present.

All of this technology is wrapped in a shell that’s just slightly larger than the Mark VI Golf R, including another 2.1 inches of wheelbase, 2.6 inches of overall length, 0.2 inches of width, and, most importantly more interior space—at least horizontally. Shoulder room is up 2.9 inches in the front row and 3.9 inches in the rear, though leg room remains essentially identical. Along with the increased size and comfort comes a range of features more commonly found in the entry-luxury segment, such as heated front seats, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, a power driver’s seat, and LED daytime running lights. Despite all the equipment, the Golf R tips the scales at just 3,283 pounds in manual form (at least in Euro specifications--U.S. manual model weight hasn't been disclosed yet). With the DSG, the Golf R weighs 3,340 pounds.


 
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