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2015 Volkswagen Golf R review: VW's hottest hatch looks like a Golf GTI, runs like a Subie STI

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The Good With 292 horsepower, a lightning-fast dual-clutch transmission, and 4Motion all-wheel drive, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R is an incredibly potent hot hatchback. The optional DCC suspension improves grip and responsiveness without compromising comfort. The standard Fender audio is punchy and powerful.

The Bad The optional navigation system crams onto a small, low-resolution screen. No manual transmission option is available in the US market.

The Bottom Line It's a pricey upgrade over the already excellent GTI, but the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R packs the power and all-wheel drive performance to rival Subaru's WRX STI.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.1 Overall
  • Performance 9.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Design 9.0
  • Media 7.0

Review Sections

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R is the fastest, most powerful, and most agile variant of the Golf platform that you can buy today. It's also the most expensive. The R builds on the success of the Golf GTI, a vehicle that I loved so much that I called it "one of the best hot hatches ever." So is the Golf R better than the best? Well, that depends on what you mean by "better."

Like the Golf GTI, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R is powered by the automaker's turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine codenamed EA888. However, the R get a significant retune and a 72-horsepower boost over its stablemate. Total output sits now at 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.

Power and torque flow through VW's six-speed DSG semi-automatic transmission. The R has no available manual transmission option, so those who love clutching will have to step down to a GTI model.

VW manages to wring an extra 72 horsepower out of the 2.0-liter engine. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

After the gearbox, torque is split and shared between all four wheels via the automaker's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. This setup uses an electronically controlled Haldex center differential to send up to 50-percent of available torque to the rear axle on demand. The R is also able to torque vector power laterally across each axle, thanks to its XDS+ brake differential system.

On paper, the Golf R nips at the heels of the new 305-horsepower Subaru WRX STI. However, the Golf's slightly lower curb weight and launch control mean that, in practice, the R is slightly faster getting to 60 mph (4.5 seconds versus 5.1. On a twisty road or racing course, these two all-wheel-drive sport compacts would be particularly well-matched and fierce competitors.

Speaking of twisty roads, the Golf R grips the pavement with 235-width tires wrapped around 19-inch wheels. Changes direction via variable ratio electric power steering with two modes: sport and normal. The Golf R features three preset drive modes that tweak the various aspects of the vehicle's performance with Sport, Normal and Comfort. A fourth Individual preset is customizable, allowing the driver to mix and match settings for the steering, engine and front lighting. (That's right, even the headlights have a Sport setting on the Golf R.)

In addition to the three drive modes, there's also a three-mode stability control system that progressively reduces the amount of computer intervention at the handling limits from full to moderate to nearly none at all.

Adding to the settings mix is our example's optional DCC -- or Dynamic Chassis Control -- adaptive suspension which electronically adjusts the firmness of the ride with comfort, normal and sport settings. These modes are automatically chosen by the drive-mode selector. Personally, I thought that all three settings were fairly sporty, but did notice a bit more of an edge to the bumps in the road and a bit less roll in the firmer settings.

It was apparent before I even reached my favorite backroads that the Golf R is head and shoulders a much more potent performer than the GTI. The acceleration is much more immediate, but also less dramatic. With the 4Motion system splitting torque between all four corners, a launch-controlled hard start wastes no energy squealing the tires. The hatchback simply takes off like a turbocharged bullet, swinging both the speedometer and tachometer with ease.

All four 19-inch wheels and 235-width tires get a workout, thanks to the R's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Gear changes from the dual-clutch gearbox are ridiculously quick and almost seamlessly smooth. Upshifts happen within the span of a blink and downshifts are met with computer-precise blips of the throttle that don't upset the chassis.

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