If You Love Driving, This is the Only Car You’ll Ever Need

One of the world’s best daily drivers gets a monster turbo engine and all-wheel-drive.

Editor’s Note: Volkswagen loaned me a Golf R for a weekend with a full tank of gas. I ended up using all of it.

You want to bomb through some grade A, backwoods B-roads at full throttle. You want to take a stress-free, fuel-efficient highway cruise. You want to transport two other adults, some groceries, some iced coffees and one of those boxed, rolled-up web-ordered mattresses halfway across Chicago — despite traffic caused by a sold-out Cubs game — then swiftly and easily parallel park. You want to do it all in one afternoon in one car. You can do it in the Volkswagen Golf R — I did.

The Golf R is a city car. A family hatchback. It’s a rocket that does the 0-60 jaunt in 5.2 seconds. A track car and back road barnstormer that can fit four full-grown adults and their duffel bags. It’s the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. It is, in essence, a deluxe version of the Golf GTi, the car that invented the hot hatch segment back in the late ’70s and continues to be one of the best all-rounder cars ever made.

Except the Golf R has more. It gets a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger good for 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. That power is then delivered to all four wheels via Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. It sits 0.2 inches lower to the ground than the GTi and boasts larger standard brakes and an adaptive suspension with Dynamic Chassis Control (which allows drivers to chose between comfort, normal, sport, race and custom drive settings).

2017 Volkswagen Golf R Specs


Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 6-speed dual clutch automatic
Horsepower: 292 hp @ 5,400 rpm
Torque: 280 lb-ft @ 1,800
0-60: 5.2 sec (manual); 4.5 sec (auto)
MSRP:$39,375

This is all, as you’d expect, a recipe for a fantastic driving experience. The Golf’s inherent small size means it’s incredibly nimble when you fling it into tight corners, and the all-wheel-drive system provides copious amounts of grip — there’s no doubt it would make a good track car but it feels incredibly at home on twisty back roads. The full brunt of the R’s torque comes in low at about 1,800 rpm, so you’re pinned back from the onset of acceleration, and thanks to its relatively flat torque curve it continues to pull until it’s time to shift gears.

Needless to say, just the fact that you get to shift and clutch on your own in the R is a delight (an admittedly quicker DCT is available), though I found the feeling of the shifter itself a little flimsy. Similarly, the Golf R’s electric steering felt loose in non-race mode settings and in general lacked feedback. Thankfully, the DCC system lets you fiddle with steering and suspension settings individually so you can configure the perfect drive feeling for you.

Which brings us to what really makes the Golf R shine: When you’re done goofing off, it turns into a practical, civilized everyday car. With the suspension setting at its most comfortable, the car feels incredibly refined, smoothing over road imperfections. And assuming you don’t aggressively stab at the brakes and throttle, the Golf R drives and feels like a regular Golf — it even gets decent gas mileage despite its performance bona fides. Visibility is great and cargo space is ample, given the upright rear pillars (you can’t really say that about contemporaries like the Focus RS and Civic Type R) and since it is, at the end of the day a Golf, maneuvering through traffic and parking is about as easy as you’d hope.

Save for large families or the rare few of us who actually need the utility or off-roading chops of a large truck, the Golf R seems to more than adequately meet every possible requirement of a good daily driver. Partially, that’s thanks to the incredible, deeply practical platform its built on — the current generation (Mk 7) Golf was called “All the Car You’ll Ever Need” by Top Gear in 2012 and won the World Car of the Year Award a year later. But now, thank God, if you want to do 60 miles per hour in half of the time it takes you to read this sentence and attack your local back roads and/or racetrack it will do that, too.

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