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2017 Volkswagen Golf R Overview
As the most powerful Golf in Volkswagen's stable, the Golf R sport hatchback continues to deliver a potent mix of performance, stability, and comfort, along with decent fuel economy and a high level of refinement. For 2017, the Golf R receives a few new standard safety features, including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and a forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking, all of which were previously available as options. In addition, VW equips the Golf R with new 19-inch Pretoria aluminum-alloy wheels for 2017. Finally, the optional Driver Assistance package now includes the automaker's Light Assist high-beam control system, which automatically dims the headlights when it detects oncoming traffic.
The Golf R debuted in 2012, as VW expanded the compact hatchback's lineup into high-performance territory, and it proved popular right out of the gate. Sales continue to remain strong, growing year over year despite the automaker's recent diesel emissions scandal. While the Golf GTI remains the most popular Golf variant offered by VW, selling four times as many units as the R, it's clear the Golf R continues to hold its own, having struck a chord with a certain segment of discerning auto buyers.
Although the Golf R and the GTI come from the same DNA and ride on the same MQB platform (along with the Audi A3/S3), the Golf R improves on the GTI in a number of ways, starting with its performance. While the two Golfs (and the Audis) are all powered by a similar 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged 4-cylinder powerplant, VW boosted the engine's output in the R by 82 hp over the GTI, to 292 hp, thanks in part to improved airflow and a performance exhaust system. Torque from the R's souped-up engine tops out at a hefty 280 lb-ft, compared to the GTI's 258 lb-ft. That's good enough to drive the Golf R from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds, compared to 5.8 seconds for the GTI. (The Audi S3, by the way, makes the same run in 4.7 seconds.)
Buyers can pair the engine with either a close-ratio short-throw 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed DSG automatic transmission, which shifts faster than the manual, according to the automaker. The automatic includes steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, so drivers can still shift manually to get into the true spirit of high-performance driving. With the automatic transmission, the Golf R manages fuel-economy numbers of 23 mpg city/30 highway/25 combined. While not stellar numbers overall, they're appropriate for a highway screamer that can jump out to 60 mph in under 5 seconds. VW recommends premium fuel to achieve optimal horsepower and performance.
The Golf R also improves on the GTI with its suspension and handling, thanks in part to its 4Motion all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, an upgrade over the Golf's typical front-wheel-drive setup. Since VW's 4Motion system shares some of its underpinnings with Audi's quattro system, some reviewers note the similarities in handling and stability between the Golf R and cars like the Audi TT and TT RS, especially in tight corners and when maneuvering at highway speeds. The AWD system favors the front wheels by default but sends torque to the rear wheels when needed for traction or stability.
The Golf R's sport suspension also includes independent front MacPherson struts, a fully independent 4-link configuration in the rear, and VW's XDS cross-differential system. The electromechanical progressive power steering feels nicely weighted with good feedback, while the performance brakes ensure good stopping power. All combined, the Golf R's platform and suspension provide optimal handling and allow drivers to push the sport hatchback hard in the corners, with little concern about oversteer (unless desired by switching off the monitoring systems).
For 2017, VW offers the Golf R in a single high-level trim, equipped with upgraded features like DCC, or Dynamic Chassis Control, and navigation. The DCC system enables drivers to choose from four suspension modes, which alter the R's driving characteristics by making adjustments to the steering, brakes, axles, and wheels, as well as to the shock absorbers and other suspension components. On the fly, drivers can switch between Normal, Comfort, Race (Sport on the GTI), and Individual modes.
Outside, the Golf R displays a number of upgrades that distinguish it from its stablemates, like its R design black-gloss grille, unique bumpers and side skirts, large lower air intakes, and integrated rear spoiler. Automatic HID headlights, LED daytime running lights, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, and quad exhaust pipes are among the standard exterior features.
Inside, the Golf R offers one of the most comfortable and spacious cabins in its class, with plenty of legroom and cargo space. R-specific features like aluminum pedals, brushed aluminum interior trim, an R-design shift knob, and a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with black-gloss spokes create a unique look. Leather upholstery with heated front seats, R-embossed seatbacks, and a 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat add an upscale touch. The infotainment system includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen, navigation, satellite radio, a rear-view camera, and an 8-speaker Fender premium audio system, as well as VW's new Car-Net connectivity system with Apple and Android smartphone app integration.
Like all Golfs, the R was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2016, which should apply to the 2017 version as well. All the regular safety features are present, including electronic stability control, hydraulic brake assist, and an electronic crash-response system.
The new Ford Focus RS sport hatchback, which makes the 0-60 sprint in 4.7 seconds, squares off directly against the Golf R. Other competitors include the Subaru Impreza WRX STI 5-door and the soon-to-be-discontinued Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR, as well as certain sport sedans from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and even Audi, though many reviewers and owners maintain that the Golf R occupies a class by itself, essentially unlike anything else on the road today.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in California.
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