2017 Volkswagen Golf R

Test Drive : 2017 Volkswagen Golf R

Volkswagen doesn’t target the Golf R at semi-retired 58-year olds, but they should. I worship this car.

Unfortunately, entry into VW’s house of worship is pegged at $40,695 before freight and taxes. Watch the price balloon to $44,020 by inking the Technology Package and replacing the manual 6-speed gearbox (and I don’t know why you would) with the optional 6-speed automatic dual-clutch DSG transmission.

That kind of pricing overlaps with some serious entry-level BMW muscle, such as the 230i xDrive Coupe. Throw in another couple of grand and the smoking hot M240i Coupe can be secured. Despite the blending of German brands in the lower $40K bracket, the Golf R stands on its own merits as something pretty special.

That “specialism” is rooted in nearly 50-years of production in which the “fun to drive” factor is, and always has been, an over-arching principle. In the case of the Golf R, that principle is enacted with 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque delivered to the road by Volkswagen’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive technology.

The immensity of punch is generated by VW’s much lauded 2.0L TSI turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Thanks to its exceptionally flat torque curve and deep well of twist, the Golf R is propelled with real-world, usable power.

This is the sort of power that begs to be exploited but doesn’t destroy tires and lead to the snap of cuffs in the way that the 707 horsepower of the Challenger Hellcat may, or even the 435 horsepower Mustang GT.

Yet those unfamiliar with the Golf R will be blown away by the performance of the somewhat plebeian-looking highly practical hatchback. My brother certainly was.

Now on the wrong side of 60, Dave’s an old MOPAR muscle-car guy, but he soon discovered the visceral stimulation found in 2.0 turbocharged litres and a six-speed dual-clutch transmission feeding thrust to all four corners.

Some highway driving provided the opportunity to engage Race mode, which morphs VW’s 5-door hatch into something akin to a junior Formula-1 wannabe. Acceleration on the highway is remarkably strong and un-abating as the DSG slots cogs with lightning reflexes accompanied by a quick brmmp from the pair of twin pipes at the rear.

Race mode is best saved for the track, but it’s one of the most effective track-intended modes out there. It holds the revs at 3,000 RPM or greater, keeping the engine locked and loaded for the next burst of acceleration. No turbo-lag at the apex.

Other driving modes include Normal, Comfort, and Custom. When not emulating a boy-racer, I chose the Comfort mode. It delivered a smooth ride consistent with that of a typical late-model Golf. A little more engine growl was emitted from under the hood, but it was one sweet sound, which was nothing short of intoxicating in Race mode.

As I reflect back on my week with the Golf R, I continue to feel excited by its dual personality and outstanding handling characteristics. This is – in my mind – a unique car, which blends many driver-related attributes with style and practicality better than anything that comes to mind at the moment in its price-range.

Why settle for a small CUV, such as the Mercedes-Benz GLA or Infiniti Q30 when the Golf R with 4MOTION all-wheel-drive and a long list of comfort and safety features can be owned for similar, if not less, money.

The Golf R is finished nicely, and exhibits similar build quality to the premium CUVs mentioned but that’s where the similarities stop. The Golf R offers more human and cargo room along with more power, better visibility, superior handling, and frankly way more soul.

My first experience behind the wheel of a Golf R took place on the sunny shores of France’s Côte d’Azur in 2009. It stole my heart then, and hasn’t given it back since. Being reunited with Volkswagen’s hot hatch this week has further solidified my appreciation of this vehicle.

I don’t often rave about any car, let alone 5-door hatchbacks, but the Golf R has earned my praise. If there’s a knock to be mentioned, it would be the price. It’s not unrealistic given the performance thresholds and fun quotient, but it’s still a Volkswagen not a BMW or other brand with premium pedigree.

But as mentioned early on in this review, the Golf R stands on its own merits, and is no less a true, refined performer than anything else in the sub $50K category. And the fact that it looks pretty much the same as the entry-level Golf 1.8 isn’t a bad thing either.

There’s nothing like a sleeper to avoid the red and blue strobes that precede an unwanted fine, or the potential of metal against wrist.

2017 Volkswagen Golf R 5-door
Base price (before taxes): $40,695 (manual gearbox)
Price as tested (before taxes): $44,020
Freight: $1,625
Configuration: front engine, all-wheel-drive
Engine/transmission: 2.0L TSI turbocharged I-4 / 6-speed DSG automatic
Power/torque: 292 hp / 280 lb-ft
Fuel-economy ratings (L/100km): city 10.9, highway 7.7
Observed fuel-economy (L/100km): The best was 11.3 but driven hard
Warranty (basic): 4 years / 80,000 km
Competitors: Ford Focus RS, Infiniti Q30, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Subaru WRX STI (no longer a hatchback)

Related links:
Volkswagen Canada
Canadian Auto Review
Motor1 Canada
Double Clutch

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