Used 2015 Volkswagen Golf R Hatchback Review

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R is the hottest hatchback today, but it comes at a costly premium. Fortunately, once past the price of admission, would-be owners don't need to sacrifice much more, as the R requires very few compromises in the name of performance.




what's new

The Volkswagen Golf R is all-new for 2015.

vehicle overview

High atop the Golf lineup, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R enjoys its position as the ultimate performer in the hot hatchback category. More capable than even the Volkswagen GTI, the R boasts a turbocharged 292-hp engine and all-wheel drive. With some of its traditional competitors now absent, there simply isn't another hatchback to challenge it. When it comes to value, however, the Golf R doesn't make much of an argument for itself.

From outward appearances, there's not a lot to distinguish the Golf R from the already fun-to-drive GTI. Besides quad exhaust pipes and some minor badging and trim pieces, these cars will look identical to the casual observer. The big differences lie beneath the surface and, ultimately, in performance. Volkswagen took the existing 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine from the GTI and managed to extract an additional 82 hp out of it for a total of 292 hp. That also constitutes a 15 percent increase over the previous Golf R, which was last seen in 2013. In addition to the boost in output, the Golf R sends power to all four wheels instead of just the front ones, and also gains suspension and brake upgrades. These all contribute to superior handling and grip.

Unfortunately, these significant differences drive the price skyward as quickly as the Golf R leaves the line under hard acceleration. With the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R's price nearing the $40,000 mark when new, we question its value, as even higher-performing American muscle cars are more affordable. In the absence of its historical hot hatchback foes, however, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R is currently in a class of its own. The Subaru WRX STI is now only sold as a sedan, and a new Mazdaspeed 3 is nowhere to be found. For drivers seeking hatchback thrills on more modest budgets, the Ford Focus ST, Mini Cooper S and VW's own GTI are still wildly entertaining. But if you want the ultimate all-wheel-drive sport compact hatchback that's also upscale and comfortable to drive every day, the Golf R is your car.

trim levels & features

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R is a four-door hatchback that can seat up to five passengers. Standard features on the Golf R include 18-inch wheels with performance tires, automatic and adaptive xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, heated mirrors, a rear spoiler, keyless ignition and entry, automatic wipers, cruise control, selectable drive modes, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated front sport seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat, a two-way power-adjustable passenger seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, split-folding rear seats with a center pass-through, a rearview camera, a 5.8-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and an eight-speaker CD player with satellite radio and a media device input.

Adding the optional DCC and Navigation package will get you 19-inch wheels, front and rear parking sensors, a driver-selectable adaptive suspension, a navigation system and a Fender premium audio system.

performance & mpg

Power for the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder that produces 292 hp and 280 pound-feet of torque. For now, the only transmission available is a six-speed automated manual (VW's DSG), but a traditional six-speed manual is expected to debut later on for 2016. Power is sent to all four wheels, helping to launch the Golf R to 60 mph in a mere 4.9 seconds by VW's estimate.

The EPA estimates fuel economy at 26 mpg combined (23 city/30 highway), which is quite good for a performance-focused vehicle. By comparison, the considerably less powerful Golf GTI is rated at 28 mpg combined.

safety

Standard safety features for the 2015 VW Golf R include antilock disc brakes, automatic hill hold, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. A post-crash braking system is also standard and automatically applies the brakes after an impact to reduce the likelihood of a secondary crash.

Also standard is VW's Car-Net emergency telematics system with features that include automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, remote vehicle access, stolen vehicle location and geo-fencing (which allows parents to set boundaries for teenage drivers).

In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the related 2015 VW Golf earned the highest score of "Good" in the moderate-overlap and small-overlap frontal-offset impact tests. It also earned a "Good" rating in the side-impact, roof-strength and seats/head restraints (whiplash protection) tests.

driving

With all four wheels being driven, the Golf R benefits from an exceptional amount of traction. Acceleration is brisk, with none of the front wheelspin or torque steer normally associated with front-drive performance hatchbacks. As speed gathers and revs climb, the exhaust note grows from a low burble to a soaring baritone. Fortunately, at cruising speed on the highway, there's no drone.

Driven quickly around turns, the Golf R is predictable and remarkably balanced. This isn't a totally focused track-day weapon like the WRX STI, but, on public roads, the Golf R excels. Where many performance-focused vehicles sacrifice comfort and ride quality (like the STI), the VW makes no such compromises. There's enough suspension compliance to absorb rough pavement, and adding the optional adaptive suspension further widens capabilities with softer Comfort and stiffer Race modes.

interior

The 2015 VW Golf R's interior is very similar to that of the GTI. It's characterized by a conservative design that makes use of high-quality materials and thoughtful placement of controls. The Golf R only adds a few unique flourishes in the way of trim elements and badging, though, and some shoppers may find these changes too subtle to justify the substantial price difference between the Golf R and GTI.

Just as in the Golf and GTI, the R's infotainment system is underwhelming. The 5.8-inch touchscreen is smaller and lacks the crisp graphics some rival systems offer, and traffic information can't be overlaid on the navigation system's map. Another issue (but still not a deal-breaker) is VW's proprietary cable for mobile devices. Instead of using a widely accepted USB port, a specific cable must be used to connect, and that cable tends to require removing a phone from its protective case in order to plug in.

In terms of comfort, the Golf R gets high marks. The standard sport seats offer suitable lateral support for aggressive driving, yet are well shaped and cushioned for longer road trips. There's a wealth of front-seat space for larger drivers and passengers and, at least compared to other hatchbacks, the rear seats feature adult-sized head- and legroom. The rear seat cushions are mounted a bit low, however, making them better suited to smaller occupants over long distances.

Behind the rear seats, up to 22.8 cubic feet of luggage space is available, if stacked to the roof. You'll probably only pile stuff half that high, but that space is certainly adequate for day-to-day duties. Fold those seats down flat, however, and up to 52.7 cubic feet are available, making it a cargo-carrying leader in the class.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.