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Review of the 2016 VW Golf R: Respect.

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On: Fri, Apr 1, 2016 at 3:43PM | By: Lou Ruggieri


Review of the 2016 VW Golf R:  Respect.

Much like some cars themselves, some car companies elicit a gut reaction at just the sound of their name. Where this comes from in people is some amalgamation of marketing, personal experience with the car or drivers of the car, fondness or disdain for the country of the company's origin, and, more than likely, a host of other factors that operate on an almost subconscious level. These things all make us love or hate car companies.

Yours truly has had an issue with Volkswagen as a company for the better part of two decades. I have tried to pinpoint the genesis of the discord, and it started with my father's dislike for the VW Beetle. They were hippie cars that he had a problem respecting for not only their hedonistic occupants, it was because they were the same car the Nazis used plenty of during WWII. He didn't have many positive thoughts associated with the Beetle, and, consequently, nor did I. But even as I got older, I beganexperiencing VW drivers in a way that also influenced my opinion of the brand.

There was an a fellow student in high school who swore up and down his his VW Scirocco was insanely fast. At 16 years old, I thought it looked like a piece of junk; the primer paint job didn't help much, and it didn't sound as though it was any kind of world beater. Later on in college, after I had solidly settled my camp in the realm of American Muscle, I measured every car against my 2001 TransAm WS6. I had a friend who had a VW Passat VR6 and swore up and down it would smoke my paltry Pontiac on any road, at any time. Well, after two races that barely needed to get past the highway speed limit, I was sorely unimpressed with all the hype fading in my rear view mirror. A few years later, another friend purchased what I can admit was a very impressive sounding Golf R32. This pseudo hot rod make VW at least seem like it had the potential to hold its own on twisty back roads, or through the quarter mile. And while that friend was put to shame too, it was at least a race that needed to be played out past second gear to determine a winner. But for 2016, VW may have finally come up with a hot rod that can hold its own against some serious American Muscle, and may even be impressive enough to overcome a few personal biases along the way.

Thanks to the VW Group being big enough to acquire Audi (and later Lamborghini) some years ago, there have been as many shared bloodlines and DNA as… Enter generic West Virginia joke here. Audis share parts with Volkswagens, Lamborghinis share parts with Audis, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria! So all of that is to say that the rising tide raises all ships, and, with VW's continued success with all of its subsidiaries, cars like the new Golf R become essentially a boxier-looking Audi S3. Blasphemy you say? Maybe not…

For starters, the Golf R employs the exact same engine as the S3: the EA888 2.0-liter turbo four cylinder that produces a serious 292 horsepower and impressive 280 pound-feet of torque. The Golf also uses the exact same drivetrain as its Audi cousin: a Haldex four-wheel drive system that utilizes a brake-based traction control to help right-to-left and left-to-right torque distribution as well as an electronically controlled coupler to distribute torque from the front to the rear wheels. The transmission choices may also look familiar to the Audi faithful. Either a DSG dual-clutch auto or an $1100-cheaper six-speed manual (as if we need any more reasons to go with the stick) backs up the impressive powertrain.

The understated style of the Golf R may be almost too subtle. To most, it will look like just another descendent of the Rabbit or the Cabriolet, but little things like 19-inch wheels, a few stitched R logos, quad exhaust, little body extensions on the front and side panels, as well as some white stitching on the interior to compliment a few carbon trim pieces all serve to give a little away of what kind of car might be lining up next to you at a stop light. But, don't look for any indicators, like its competitor the Subaru STI has, there are no wings, no excessive body cladding, no flash at all. But just because it doesn't scream "I'm fast, look at me," doesn't mean it isn't.

In terms of performance, the Golf R flat out moves. Thanks to that wonderful 17.4 pounds of boost and a very efficient all-wheel drive system, the R rockets to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, to 100 mph in 11.7 seconds, through the quarter mile in 13.2 seconds @ 106 mph, on its way to an electronically limited top speed of 153 mph. Around the slalom, the R posts a very nice 0.94 g and brakes from 70 mph in 157 feet. To put that in perspective, the VW accelerates faster than the STI, equals it in lateral acceleration, but loses when it comes to brakes to its Subaru rival. The Golf even gets very respectable EPA numbers: 23/30 city/highway mpg, which is very good considering its 3,400+ pounds and all-wheel drive set-up.

While driving the Golf R, there are a couple things to know. First is you should get the manual trans. Second is that if you don't, you may find that the DSG can sometimes get caught in the wrong gear at the wrong time and make you sit around and wait for it to find the right combination of gear and RPM to execute the command you gave it a second or two earlier. The other is that if you push the Golf to its limits, you will become victim to the newest German car-craze: Pseudo engine sounds!

BMW has admitted that they pipe engine noise through its speakers, and now VW has jumped on the bandwagon, and uses something called Soundaktor. It is essentially a similar system to BMW's, but broadcasts from a speaker near the throttle body of the motor to presumably make the sounds origination sound more natural. But it's hard to think of it as a more "natural" sound when you know that the sound is actually an audio file the car has been programmed to play during hard acceleration. It's kind of like the sounds you used to make when you were pushing your Hot Wheels cars around the floor as a kid… And much like those childhood days, there are ways to stop doing it if you get bored, or grow up. The Golfs are just a little more technically savvy.

Much like its prettier cousin from Audi, the Golf R is an impressive performance car, but a bit mundane when it comes to looks. Sure, the sleeper look is fun to surprise people with, but it's also not much fun when you're driving something that might be confused with a Kia Soul at some point. With a base price of $37,415, the Golf R might make some cringe. And that price doesn't include the optional Dynamic Chassis Control and navigation package that can be added for another $2,500. So with a nigh 40-grand sticker, the R can be looked at in one of two ways: 1) It is an overpriced Volkswagen, or 2) It is a very cheap S3. How you feel about it is a matter of personal opinion. Admittedly, while the Golf R has not completely changed your author's opinion of Volkswagens, it has blazed a brand new trail—respect! While I may not like them, it is nice to know VW has finally put together a performance car that might just give my 14-year-old Pontiac a run for its money… Finally!


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