Volkswagen Golf R

The popular Volkswagen Golf heads into its seventh generation for 2016. Available in 2-door and 4-door hatches as well as a 4-door "sportwagen". The Golf 1.8T is powered by a 170-horsepower turbocharged 1.8L 4-cylinder. This is mated to either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission.

The Golf GTI, available with either two or four doors, comes with a potent turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder that produces 210 horsepower and 258 lb-feet of torque. It's offered with a choice of 6-speed conventional manual or DSG dual-clutch transmission.

The Sportwagen, based on the 4-door Golf hatch, features 30 cubic-feet of rear cargo space, expandable to an impressive 66 cubic-feet with the rear seats down. It comes with the 1.8L engine and the same choice of transmission options.

At the top of the range is the Golf R. With 4 doors, a very impressive engine and all-wheel drive, it is the ultimate European "hot-hatch." The Golf R comes with a highly tuned version of the GTI's 2.0L turbocharged engine that makes almost 300 horsepower. It comes with only the 6-speed DSG transmission, but is packed with premium standard features that include a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, HID headlamps, heated power-adjustable leather seats and dual-zone climate control.

Two-door 1.8T models are offered in base and S trims. The base trim includes 15-inch alloy wheels, power-adjustable and heated side mirrors, Bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free connectivity, an 8-speaker stereo with iPod hookup, 5.8-inch touchscreen and HD radio, as well as cloth seating with a 60/40 split folding rear seat. The S trim adds an upgraded radio with a 6.5" touchscreen and satellite radio, steering wheel audio controls, smartphone-integration, remote keyless entry and a leather shift knob.

For the 4-door and Sportwagens, three trims are offered: S, SE and SEL. In the SE, buyers will find 17-inch wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers, halogen fog lights, a power panoramic sunroof and a rearview camera. Inside, amenities include a Fender premium audio system with eight speakers and a subwoofer and heated front seats. The top-of-the-line SEL trim includes 18-inch wheels, touchscreen navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control and front sport seats with 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat.

Available packages include a Lighting Package, with adaptive bi-Xenon headlights, which turn in conjunction with the car's movements down the road. The Driver Assistance Package features Park Distance Control with front and rear proximity sensors, as well as a Forward Collision Warning that alerts you when there's trouble ahead.

All Golfs come with standard safety features that include anti-lock brakes, traction control and engine braking assist, plus a host of airbags to protect the cabin.

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Editors' First Take

Last year I took a McLaren 570GT  almost 2,000 miles on a road trip around Europe. It was a trip that you'd think would be every car lover's dream -- a beautiful, powerful car cruising through stunning surroundings.

But while the trip was great and the McLaren was unquestionably superb, I felt the experience would have been better in a slightly more toned-down car. It's not that the McLaren isn't amazing -- it really is -- but it's a lot to handle, particularly in difficult conditions and for parts of the trip I felt my stress levels spiking as I worried about whether I had the skills to keep it under control.

So when it came time to do the same 2,500-mile trip this year, I chose the Volkswagen Golf R. Capable of accelerating to 60 miles per hour in just 4.6 seconds and sounding like a spitting banshee in the process, the Golf R is one of the most ferocious hatchbacks money can buy. But even so, it's more manageable than a McLaren supercar.

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