Used 2016 Volkswagen Golf R Review

How does 292 horsepower sound? In a car as small as the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R, it should sound pretty good. The Golf R commands a costly premium over the regular GTI, but you get all-wheel drive and a lot more power in the deal. Read on to learn what else might make the Golf R the performance-minded hot hatch for you.




what's new

For 2016, the Volkswagen Golf R gets a standard six-speed manual transmission (DSG is optional) and an updated touchscreen infotainment system with a larger display, a USB port and enhanced smartphone integration thanks to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. Joining the options list is a Driver Assistance package that adds adaptive cruise control and a handful of electronic driving aids (including parking sensors, which are no longer standard with the DCC and Navigation package).

vehicle overview

Given how good the VW GTI is for thousands less, it's easy to question the value of the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R. After all, both have turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, and the average person would have a hard time telling the cars apart at a glance. But let's play devil's advocate for a minute. What if the Golf R is less of a tarted-up GTI than a cheaper, more practical version of the all-wheel-drive Audi S3 sedan? When you consider that the Golf R has essentially the same engine and chassis as the far pricier S3, plus the convenience of a hatchback trunk, Volkswagen's hottest "hot hatch" suddenly starts to look like a downright bargain.

The subtle 2016 Golf R keeps its high-performance credentials under wraps. Larger lower bumper air intakes are one giveaway.

OK, "bargain" might be pushing it. Any embellished economy car that starts in the mid-$30,000s when new has got some explaining to do. But the Golf R's standard AWD layout and 292-horsepower engine (72 hp more than the GTI can manage) quickly bring things into focus. If you opt for the DSG automated manual transmission (a traditional manual is also available for 2016), Volkswagen says you'll scoot to 60 mph in a sizzling 4.5 seconds, whereas the best time we've ever recorded for a standard GTI is 5.9 seconds.

Still, there will always be those who feel the Golf R is just too pricey for its own good. They'll tell you the Ford Mustang GT has a lower entry price, as well as rear-wheel drive and a pulse-pounding V8. They'll mention the Chevrolet Camaro SS for the same reasons, and if that pair seems a bit uncouth, they'll counter with the impeccably refined BMW 2 Series Coupe or the character-rich Mini Cooper Hardtop John Cooper Works. If you insist on four doors, they'll point you to the VW's new direct rival, the all-wheel-drive Ford Focus RS. But if you must have sophisticated manners, too, even the skeptics might concede there's nothing else quite like the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R.

trim levels & features

The 2016 Volkswagen Golf R is a four-door hatchback that can seat up to five passengers.

Standard features include 18-inch wheels with summer tires, automatic adaptive xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, automatic wipers, heated mirrors, a rear spoiler, quad tailpipes, keyless ignition and entry, cruise control, selectable drive modes, dual-zone automatic climate control, ambient lighting, R-specific interior styling flourishes, leather upholstery, heated front sport seats, a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat (with power lumbar), a partial power passenger seat with power recline, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a color trip computer, split-folding rear seats with a center pass-through, a rearview camera, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and an eight-speaker audio system with a CD player, satellite radio, a USB port, an SD card reader and voice controls.

Like the rest of the 2016 Golf family, the Golf R gets an updated 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and USB connectivity.

Adding the optional DCC and Navigation package will get you 19-inch wheels, adaptive suspension dampers with four selectable modes, a navigation system and a Fender audio system. The Driver Assistance package adds adaptive cruise control, a forward collision mitigation system with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and front and rear parking sensors.

Note that the Driver Assistance package's adaptive cruise control system includes full stop-and-go capability with the automated manual transmission (DSG), but ceases to operate below 19 mph with the conventional manual transmission.

performance & mpg

Motivation for the all-wheel-drive 2016 Volkswagen Golf R comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 292 hp and 280 pound-feet of torque. A traditional six-speed manual transmission is the default option, with a six-speed automated manual (VW's DSG) available at extra cost.

According to Volkswagen, the Golf R zips to 60 mph in an estimated 4.5 seconds with DSG, a very quick time for a hatchback in this price range. The stick shift drops to 5.3 seconds, but that's still nearly a full second quicker than the manual-transmission Mini Cooper John Cooper Works two-door hatchback.

The EPA estimates fuel economy at 25 mpg combined (22 city/31 highway) with the manual and a comparable 25 mpg combined (23 city/30 highway) with DSG.

safety

Standard safety features for the 2016 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. The standard post-crash braking system 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).

Optional safety features are contained within the Driver Assistance package discussed above.

In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the regular 2016 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

The Golf R's major advantage over the regular GTI is its standard all-wheel-drive system. Acceleration is smooth and precise, with none of the 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, no exhaust drone makes its way into the respectably quiet cabin.

The standard quad tailpipes are one of the few telltale signs that this is the ultimate Golf.

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, the VW makes no such compromises. There's enough suspension compliance to absorb rough pavement, and the optional adaptive suspension broadens the Golf R's capabilities with softer Comfort and stiffer Race modes.

interior

The 2016 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 adds unique touches like "R" logos embossed on the seats, carbon-fiber-look dashboard and door inlays and blue gauge needles, though some shoppers may find these changes too subtle given the substantial price difference between the Golf R and GTI.

The Golf R's interior will never be called exuberant, but if you like understated yet upscale furnishings, it hits the spot.

Replacing last year's subpar infotainment system is a new setup with a slightly larger 6.5-inch touchscreen and advanced smartphone integration in the form of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink functionality. The graphics still aren't up to the standard set by the Mini Cooper John Cooper Works' optional 8.8-inch infotainment display, but in general this is a more satisfying system that improves the user experience for Golf R owners. Happily, VW has also discarded its unloved proprietary music interface, replacing it with a conventional USB port that complements the more permanent digital music storage provided by the SD card reader. 

In terms of comfort, the Golf R gets high marks. The standard sport seats offer suitable lateral support for aggressive driving, yet they're also comfortable on longer road trips. There's a wealth of front-seat space, even for larger drivers and passengers. Compared to other compact hatchbacks, the Golf R's rear seats are also quite generous, providing adult-size head- and legroom. The rear seat cushions are mounted a bit low, however, making them better suited to smaller occupants over long distances.

With the rear seatbacks folded, the Golf R offers cargo capacity on par with some compact SUVs.

Behind the rear seats, up to 22.8 cubic feet of luggage space is available, and there's certainly more than enough space here for day-to-day duties. Fold those seatbacks down flat and you've got up to 52.7 cubic feet, making the Golf R 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.