Volkswagen's legendary GTI is the car credited with introducing America to the hot hatchback phenomenon, and the Golf R is a hot-rodded version of it. The Golf R has an even more powerful engine, all-wheel drive and a suspension tuned for maximum grip and response. This is a serious performance car that will get your pulse racing, yet it has all the comfort and practicality associated with the Golf, which — though not terribly popular in America — is one of the world's best-selling cars.
At the heart of the Golf R is Volkswagen's venerable 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but not in the same form to which you may be accustomed. The Golf R's version is hypertuned for 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Both a six-speed manual and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission are offered. The dual-clutch is the quicker of the two, and we've clocked it to 60 mph in a very impressive 4.6 seconds — just over 1.5 seconds quicker than we've seen in the GTI (and when talking about 0-60 mph times, 1.5 seconds is akin to 1.5 hours). EPA fuel economy estimates are 25 mpg combined for both transmissions, with the manual rated at 22 city/31 highway and the automatic at 22 city/30 highway.
The Golf R has the suspension to back up that engine. With all-wheel drive to boost the grip, the Golf R is incredibly quick and responsive through the turns, and driving it fast is relatively easy and a lot of fun. The optional DCC adaptive suspension ups the ante significantly, and though the steering is a bit lightly weighted for our tastes, switching to Race mode improves the feel significantly. Braking is excellent, although the standard-fit summer tires will need to be changed out for winter driving.
Most cars with the Golf R's abilities are unsuitable for day-to-day driving, but the Golf R is the exception to the rule. The no-nonsense dashboard is smartly trimmed and easy to use, leather upholstery comes standard, and there's plenty of headroom so you can sit up properly. The Golf R has a perfectly usable backseat and plenty of cargo space, and for 2017 it adds optional driver aids, including adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning with automatic braking. The Golf R comes exclusively as a four-door, making it a great choice for family duty. You can't say that about a Corvette.
If there's one drawback to the Golf R, it's the price — the bump over the GTI is significant, and many potential buyers will have to ask themselves if so much performance is really necessary. Volkswagen sells the Golf R as a four-door hatchback in a single trim level. An optional package adds the DCC suspension, navigation and advanced driving aids, and Volkswagen is expected to limit availability of Golf Rs without this package for the 2017 model year. Edmunds can help find the perfect 2017 Volkswagen Golf R for you.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.