2016 Golf R Review

As the original owner of a 1999 Acura Integra Type R, I was highly intrigued when I heard the news that Volkswagen would release a Golf R. I must admit, however, that although the similarities between both of these “Rs” are numerous, my initial impression was likely similar what people were saying about my beloved Type R back in 1999 (something along the lines of “why pay so much for a Golf/Integra when you can get X car instead?”).

When I was purchasing the Type R back in 1999, I was told there was a plethora of other cars that could be had for the cost of the Type R but it didn’t sway me in the least. I knew what I wanted and I couldn’t have been happier with my decision. The mindset of the 19 year-old me was much different than that of the 36 year-old me.  When I was 19 I hung out in parking lots, drove for no reason other than pleasure and raced my buddies at Napierville every weekend. Shaving that extra 0.1 seconds off my quarter-mile time was very important. The 36-year-old me wants something a little more luxurious, a little more refined and I’m definitely not hanging out in parking lots or racing at the track every weekend. That 0.1 seconds on the quarter-mile is irrelevant. Obviously I still love the Type R because I’m attached to it but I was curious to find out how I’d feel about the modern-day equivalent with my current age and experience.

The 1999 Type R sticker price was $30,800 which equates to $42,818 in 2016 dollars. These types of calculations aren’t an exact science in real world buying power but it’s safe to say that with the Golf R costing $39,995 the vehicles cost roughly the same. Before this review, I couldn’t immediately envision myself shelling out $40K for a Golf when I could get a 2016 BMW 2-Series for $36,200 or a 2016 Audi A3 at $31,600. Heck even the barebones 2016 3-Series starts at $39,990!

All of that changed after about ten minutes behind the wheel of the Golf R. I felt like I was transported back in time to when I was 19 again. The 2.0-litre turbo inline four-cylinder producing 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque propels the vehicle to blisteringly fast speeds in the blink of an eye.  There is some noticeable turbo lag when you step on the accelerator and the redline of 6500 RPM was certainly lower than I’m used to. In fact on numerous occasions I was hindered by the cutoff which almost seemed to kick in a little early but this didn’t take away any of the thrill. I was going to have to exercise serious self-control behind the wheel or face the long arm of the law in no time – especially since this vehicle had the manual transmission. Not only does it accelerate fast but handling, traction, agility and braking are just incredible and combine for a seriously wild and confidence-boosting experience.  All-wheel drive means this fun can be had during winter as well. One factoid I found interesting that bears mentioning is that the four-door Golf GTI Performance has a sticker price at $38,095. The Golf R adds a hefty performance increase for just a $1900 difference.

The standard features list is impressive for the Golf R with 19” wheels, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED turn signals, keyless entry, push-button start, driving mode selection, leather sport seats and dual-zone climate control. VW’s infotainment system was among the best I’ve ever used and I I didn’t even get a chance to play around with the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Steering wheel-mounted controls are ergonomically perfect and just a joy to operate.

As far as options go, there’s only the $2015 technology package which adds adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitor and lane assist, Discover Pro radio, front Assist- automatic emergency braking, park distance control and Satellite Navigation.

I find the exterior of the Golf R to be slightly understated for what the car is and to the casual observer it’ll probably go unnoticed. Compared to the GTI the Golf R has a different front grille, bumpers and quad vs dual exhaust tips. The R badging is also an obvious giveaway as are the massive 19-inch wheels. If it were up to me I’d probably want a little more flair for my $40K but I imagine many buyers are quite happy flying under the radar a little. Despite being understated, the Golf R got more attention from friends and co-workers than any other car I’ve tested to date. Everyone I knew wanted a ride and their reactions were unanimous: The Golf R is simply awesome.

Volkswagen isn’t alone in offering screaming, all-wheel-drive, turbo four-cylinder monster. The Subaru Impreza WRX STI and the Ford Focus RS are the R’s chief competitors with the Honda Civic Type R set to join them next year.