UNBIASED AUTOMOTIVE JOURNALISM SINCE 2001

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First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

DSC01696 Story and photos by John LeBlanc MUNICH, Germany — After a couple of days embedded in the annual GTI Wörthersee fan festival in Austria, it seemed all-too-appropriate to make my half-day return drive to my awaiting flight in Germany in what is known as the ultimate Volkswagen Golf, the R. As you may know, the Golf compact hatchback is an important car for Germany’s largest automaker. It annually competes for the “best-selling car in the world” title. And the new, seventh-generation model has been slowly going on sale around the world since the fall of 2012. The new 2015 Golf and Golf GTI hatchbacks are just hitting Canadian showrooms now. But in Europe, the range-topping Golf R is already available. About one year ahead of its debut back home, I had a chance to see how the new Golf R stacked up, and find out if it still deserves to be called “the ultimate Golf.” DSC01668 A little bit of Golf R history is in order. Following up from the previous fourth-and fifth-generation Golf R32s that were never sold in Canada, Volkswagen imported a limited number of sixth-generation Golf Rs for the 2012 and 2013 model years. For $39,650, you got the four-door hatchback body style only (not the two-door available in other markets), a six-speed manual transmission (no automatic) and a Haldex all-wheel-drive system — plus just about every option in the front-drive Golf GTI’s option catalog, including a sliding glass sunroof, leather sport seats and a touchscreen navigation system as standard kit. The new, seventh-generation, European-spec 2014 Volkswagen Golf R I got to drive from southern Austria to southern Bavaria was similarly loaded, including an optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission supplanting the standard manual with the same number of gears. Like the last Golf R, my white, four-door, five-passenger 2014 tester gets a few external and interior tweaks, all very subtle, to distinguish it from lesser Golfs. Bixenon headlamps, unique grille and front bumper with larger air inlets, side skirts, and a rear diffuser (housing quad exhausts for the first time) let the cognoscenti know you’re rocking the top Golf. Plus the GTI’s signature red horizontal line that cuts though its grille and headlights is chrome on the R. Inside, the Golf R’s three-spoke wheel (sporting a chrome “R” logo), aluminum-finished pedals and Alcantara and leather sports seats are also bespoke, along with a bit of fake carbon fibre trim. And like all new seventh-gen Golfs, the R is slightly longer, a bit lower, lighter, and roomier inside. DSC01689 While R32s were powered by six-cylinder engines – a leftover from the front-drive VR6 GTI days — the Golf Rs get a hi-po version of the current GTI’s turbocharged, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, making 290 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque – pretty much the same mill that’s going into the forthcoming Audi S3 compact sedan. And, not surprisingly, the new Golf R is the highest performing Golf available. With the autobox, the Golf R will scoot from zero to 100 kilometres an hour in a scant 4.9 seconds – or just 0.1 seconds slower than a $100,000 Porsche 911 Carrera. Although I “only” managed to get the super Golf to 220 km/h on an open stretch of German autobahn, VW says the Golf R will top out at 250, and is 15 seconds quicker around the famed Nürburgring race track than the last Golf R. VW also says the new R is better at sipping fuel, up to 30% better, with a 6.9 L/100 km combined city and highway estimate on the European cycle. DSC01676 Although the majority of my all-too-brief driving time in the new Golf R was spent on Austrian and German highways, I did manage to try the VW super hot hatch on some twisty Alpine mountain roads. And overall, the experience is like a hyper-GTI. The Golf R’s electrically assisted steering system is light in parking lot manoeuvres, but adds weight when at speed. Like many high-performance cars these days, the R comes with an optional driving mode system that can tweak the shocks, engine response and steering accordingly. DSC01662 In its sportiest setting, the Golf R is more responsive than the front-drive GTI, and quite nimble despite the extra weight it has to carry round with the AWD bits. Its seats and driving position allow the driver to get on with the business at hand, and the car feels solid and well-built at any speeds. Better still, during the 95% of the time when you’re not playing boy racer, the Golf R acts like a well-composed sports-luxury sedan. At cruising speeds, its supple suspension and low wind noise means its easy to pile on the kilometres at triple-digit speeds that would get you arrested in Canada without tiring the driver out. Volkswagen says the new-gen Golf R should arrive in Canada about one year from now. I expect it to be priced similar to the last model, starting around $40,000 — right in line with its biggest rival, the Subaru WRX STI. DSC01700

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