A Wolf in Golf’s Clothing

By J.G. Pasterjak
Jun 18, 2015 | Volkswagen | Posted in Features | From the May 2015 issue | Never miss an article

It would seem that only one thing stands between the insane new Volkswagen Golf R and true automotive greatness. Just a single flaw in an otherwise exquisite jewel.

It’s not the 292-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. Even at 5000 feet above sea level, it makes the kind of smooth power that pushes you back in your deeply bolstered seat.

Nor is it the exceptional chassis, tuned with the considerable input of none other than Mr. Hans Stuck, who has gone fast in more types of cars than you’ve probably driven.

And you may have a hard time believing this, but the Golf R’s biggest problem isn’t even its price, which can skirt $40,000 in its most highly loaded form. One drive is enough to convince you that this VW is every bit as sophisticated and dynamically impressive as $40,000 offerings–and even more expensive ones–from other manufacturers, German and Japanese.

No, the Golf’s biggest problem isn’t any of those things. It’s the damn name. We just don’t know if America is ready for a car this good to be simply called a VW Golf. In the U.S., anyway, the Golf name–and VW in general to some extent–has been synonymous with frugality. Fun frugality, maybe, but frugality before frivolity.

Now here comes a car that can stand on its own with the likes of the Subaru STI and the BMW M235i (yes, really), but it still carries the name of a car that most Americans associate with a small economy hatchback.

Get Over It

Well, if those folks can’t remove the firmly wedged stick that prevents them from accepting what the Golf R truly is, screw ’em. That’s because the Golf R–regardless of the name badge that’s on it–is a true badass.

Let’s start with that 292-horsepower 2.0-liter.

It used to be that you’d just naturally expect a 292-horsepower 2.0-liter to be peaky as all hell. Those days are gone. VW could have told us this engine had pretty much any displacement numbers they wanted to and we’d have believed it. There’s a bit of softness off-idle–just enough to remind you it’s turbocharged–but once the boost comes up, there’s power and flexibility and thrust wherever and whenever you flex your right foot.

The Verdict

So what’s the downside?

Honestly, not much. The Golf R is a sophisticated, modern sport sedan that can easily hold its own against the best of BMW, Audi, Subaru and several other manufacturers. Stacked up against other $40,000 hypersedans, it gives no quarter.

We just wonder if the world is ready for a $40,000 VW Golf.

VW does, too, and is trying to keep the hype factor high as the new Golf R rolls out. The first batch will be limited to 500 examples–all of which are already spoken for–and it will be several months until the next wave of Golf Rs hits the U.S. Hopefully that’s enough time to show people that the Golf R transcends its economy-car roots and stands shoulder to shoulder with giants.

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View comments on the GRM forums
captdownshift SuperDork
6/18/15 9:33 a.m.

IMO it blows the STi away, and that's coming from a former STi owner. I may be crazy for thinking this, but I think the bonkers boy racer Focus RS coming will help the more mature, buttoned up, Golf R. AS the RS will destroy the notion of stereotypes based off of names.

Now VW needs to bring over the Polo, enter the B segment and drop the 1.8T turbo for the Polo GTi and a detuned 2.0T for the Polo R.

petegossett GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
6/18/15 11:29 a.m.

I wish I were in the market for a $30k+ car, because this one ticks all the right boxes for me. Bring on the depreciation!

docwyte Dork
6/19/15 12:01 a.m.

Not available in 6MT yet. Totally bogus.

tjbell Reader
6/19/15 6:38 a.m.
jj wrote: Is stability control fully defeatable?

on my 2009 GTI it is defeatable only with VAGCOM

tjbell Reader
6/19/15 7:10 a.m.
jj wrote:
tjbell wrote:
jj wrote: Is stability control fully defeatable?
on my 2009 GTI it is defeatable only with VAGCOM
I googled it after I posted and apparently it is 100% defeatable.

That makes me happy, and want one even more

KyAllroad Dork
6/19/15 8:01 a.m.

Adjusted for inflation it's a smoking deal.

Back in 2001 my Allroad stickered for just over $50K, the Golf R is 10 grand less 14 years later. Not bad at all.

pinchvalve GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
6/19/15 8:44 a.m.

I think we can all agree that they are all available in blue. And that they are all based on economy cars. And we would rock any of them gladly.

NGTD UltraDork
6/19/15 8:50 a.m.

In reply to pinchvalve:

I will take one of each please.

docwyte Dork
6/19/15 2:59 p.m.

I'd be far more interested in the STI if it was available in a 5 door and if they'd dropped the old 2.5 liter engine. People with the new STI's are still having issues with the motor spontaneously blowing apart in completely stock form.

NGTD UltraDork
6/19/15 6:28 p.m.

In reply to docwyte:

Just buy a WRX then. It's 95% of the STi without the EJ motor.

Feedyurhed SuperDork
6/19/15 7:02 p.m.
pinchvalve wrote: I think we can all agree that they are all available in blue. And that they are all based on economy cars. And we would rock any of them gladly.

Exactly. Right now the Golf R appears to be on top. When the RS comes out next year, it will take the crown. The next STi will grab it back. And so it goes. We should all be thankful we have all these great choices to choose from.

singleslammer GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
6/19/15 10:54 p.m.
docwyte wrote: Not available in 6MT yet. Totally bogus.

This is one of the few cars where the auto option is worth considering or in this case not ruling the car out due to a lack of three pedals. I have only driven one modern VW (11 jetta diesel) and not for that long. However, it was long enough for me to want a dsg for my garage. It was epic. Outside of a tow rig, I haven't had an automatic car for almost 10 years and 15 cars so yeah... I am a self proclaimed auto hater. The Dsg gives me funny feelings in strange places.

docwyte Dork
6/20/15 12:06 a.m.

Drove my friends B8.5 S4 with DSG. It's not for me, while it's a very good automatic, it drives just like an automatic. No passion. No involvement. No feel. No thanks.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
6/20/15 7:35 a.m.
singleslammer wrote: The Dsg gives me funny feelings in strange places.

Having been in the VW world for the last 13 years or so and since the DSG was new, you could not GIVE me a car with a DSG transmission. No berking way, no berking how. I don't care how well it works. The idea of having to do transmission services every effing year (40K service interval) gives me funny feelings in strange places as well - none of them good. And even then there is still no guarantee the damn thing won't fail in a spectacular and expensive manner. Just after the POS is out of warranty...

In a nutshell, I've know a lot of guys/gals who have bought VAG cars with a DSG. Every one of them has had transmission problems. EVERY BERKING ONE.

espz28 New Reader
6/20/15 11:08 a.m.

I think my honda trans service is every 60k miles? What were the types of tranamiasion problems you speak of?

bigdaddylee82 Dork
6/20/15 11:14 a.m.

Our '09's DSG never gave us any issues, over 101K miles before the car was totaled, or we'd still be driving it today. I expect our current DSG to preform as well or better, almost 12K miles on it since we bought it last Dec. The 40K service is a minor inconvenience, but really having your trans serviced ever 2 or 3 years isn't a big deal. It is for sure an expense to consider when purchasing though.

ShadowSix Dork
6/20/15 12:13 p.m.

So are VAGs still ticking time bombs mechanically? I hear from time to time that they turned a corner, but I don't have any experience with anything after 2005 or so to back that up.

I had a MkII Golf that I LOVED, and VW/Audi make the nicest interiors in the business, but if they're as terribly put together as they were 10-15 years ago there's no way I'd drop $40k on one, no matter how great it is new.

EDIT: Well, not that I'd drop >$40k on anything that doesn't have a street address, but you get the idea.

Mr_Clutch42 SuperDork
6/20/15 1:43 p.m.

In reply to JG Pasterjak: I don't know, if regular people rave to their friends about how good the new Golf R is, they may sell more.

DAVEG New Reader
7/9/15 4:55 p.m.

I like to new GTI...no sunroof 2dr version. The R is more power but the question will be can you get a lighter Golf that has almost 300 HP without the turbo by massaging the GTI? At $23000 the GTI is a good buy and can be a fast car. Most VWs had great potential to be even better and that is why I have the original GTI with 150HP at 1900 lbs.

einy New Reader
7/9/15 5:53 p.m.

Are VAG cars ticking time bombs? Great question ...

My 39k mile 2011 GTI / 6mt has been ok so far, "only" requiring a new intake manifold once so far. Turns out this is a common failure to the point that VW extended the warranty on the intake manifold to 110k miles. Oh, and the fuel injectors also. When intake manifold was replaced the dealer service manager actually said "see you again in 35,000 miles". Great... Looking forward to it.

Parting shot from service manager was "you better think about getting your intake valves cleaned soon". What ?!?! Man, direct injection - on VW/Audi products at least - is a wonderful thing (at least for business at service facilities)! But I digress ...

All that said, I LOVE to drive this car. It absolutely does everything I want it to. Interior is awesome. Styling is a great blend of subtle yet sporty enough to make this late 40's owner happy. Driving dynamics work perfect to my tastes / intended use. But reliability .... Hmmmm. I keep hoping it doesn't wake up one day and realize it is a VW, as I'd love to get another 6 plus financially viable years out of this car. We will see ...

flatlander937 Reader
7/9/15 7:38 p.m.

How does their AWD system compare to an STI? Evo?

fornetti14 GRM+ Memberand Dork
7/10/15 9:53 a.m.

I recently rode in a buddy's Golf R and I came away totally impressed. He lives downtown Chicago and the car is easy to park since its a bit on the small side.
Is it a track car?? IDK, I'd rather have an STI for track day duty. The Golf R would be more suited for my wife since she likes turbo/AWD but doesn't like to stand out in a crowd.

Valleyfootball89 New Reader
7/23/15 9:17 a.m.

We jus sold two Golf R s at our VW/Audi dealer and they are awesome cars. The R is pretty much an Audi S3 with a Golf Body on it. Also the biggest difference I find between the Golf R or a even GTI compared to a STI is that when your in the car, you feel as if your in a 30k to 40k car. When I ve been in STI s or a wrx I feel like im surrounded by cheap plastic. but either way both brands perform

Jaynen Dork
7/23/15 5:09 p.m.

The GTI with performance pack is pretty impressive as well. The LSD is huge.

84FSP Reader
7/24/15 2:44 p.m.

In reply to Valleyfootball89:

So what did the Golf R's leave the lot for $$$?

berettaman New Reader
8/12/19 3:43 p.m.

In reply to 84FSP : Yes, I am also curious to hear what they are going for in the real world. Also how has their reliability been?  Any known pain points, like water pumps?


Duke MegaDork
8/13/19 8:22 a.m.

On my recommendation (based on the 6 yr / 72k warranty), the boss's wife just traded in her red 2009 GTI (110k miles) on a 2019 Golf R in that same red.

They gave her something ridiculous like $2500 for the GTI.  A/C compressor was shot and it was dripping a variety of fluids.  She had been quoted some equally ridiculous number to fix it all up, by a different dealer.  I hope she has better luck with the R.


Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
8/13/19 8:35 a.m.

In reply to Duke :

Dealers typically don't want 10 year old cars. Especially ones with "needs" so the low-ball trade-in isn't surprising. Chances are it'll go straight to the auction house. Or maybe one of their techs will buy it as a side project to flip.

Duke MegaDork
8/13/19 9:30 a.m.
Ian F said:

In reply to Duke :

[M]aybe one of their techs will buy it as a side project to flip.

If I was a tech, I definitely would.  Though she is not easy on her cars, so maybe not.  I haven't seen the GTI in 5 years or so.


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