Highs Sophisticated inside and out, effortless performance, class-leading livability. Lows Pricier than the already great Golf GTI, stick-shift model is significantly slower than the automatic, too subdued for some. Verdict The understated sport compact for adults in a hurry.
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The Golf R is the understated and underrated antithesis of its red-hot hatchback rivals such as the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI, and Honda Civic Type R. Its mixture of performance and practicality is expected, but its seamless blending of those two key attributes is unique. On top of that, the R outclasses everything in the category with the most sophisticated styling inside and out. Its place at the peak of the peerless Volkswagen Golf family has helped it win a spot on our 10Best list. However, the equally lovable and significantly less expensive Golf GTI represents a stronger performance value for those less concerned with maximum thrust. Likewise, the R-rated version lacks the literal and figurative wild side of the hardcore alternatives. Regardless, this sport compact is a dual threat, a winner on both the track and the cul-de-sac.
What”s New for 2019?
The 2019 Golf R is basically the same as last year. Volkswagen even adds a new special color program—called Spektrum—that unlocks 40 different exterior color options to paint your R. Most of these sweet paint choices were once worn by iconic VW models from history, in addition to the five standard colors. Buyers can further dress up the Golf R with the new Black Wheel package that adds unique 19-inch wheels. The next-generation Golf R will debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the United Kingdom in July.
Volkswagen Golf R Pricing and Which One to Buy
We can”t hide our affection for the Golf R”s more affordable sibling, the near-perfect GTI. But for buyers who want the ultimate Golf, the R-rated version—with standard all-wheel drive and a bunch more horses under the hood—is it. Purists will be pleased with the standard six-speed manual transmission, but the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is both quicker and a better alternative for commuting.
Our ideal pick would pair the automatic transmission with the upscale DCC and Navigation trim level, which features as standard a 6.5-inch touchscreen interface with navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, heated front sport seats with 12-way power-adjustable driver”s seat, and adaptive xenon headlights.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
Likes: Brilliant blend of power and agility, two excellent transmissions, communicative brake pedal. Dislikes: Traces of turbo lag at low speeds, exhaust note is partially synthesized through the car”s audio system.
The all-wheel-drive Golf R is motivated by a potent turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four—making 288 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque—mated to either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Despite being less powerful than its direct rivals, the Golf R has plenty of pep, particularly when equipped with its optional automatic transmission, which is unique to this class. The VW can rocket away from stoplights with the auto”s easy-to-engage launch-control system, while snappy kickdowns let the R pull off quick passing maneuvers on back roads. The manual version is the purist”s alternative and is endlessly satisfying to row through its gears. But it is impossible to ignore the dual-clutch”s quicker actions and stronger performance.
The R has a dexterous chassis that is equal parts comfortable and composed. As with the Golf GTI, it makes daily commutes enjoyable and diving into corners exhilarating. The R has a firmer suspension setup compared with its lesser sibling, and its standard adaptive dampers (Dynamic Chassis Control) add to its flexibility. The sportiest Golf fluidly transitions from submissive to aggressive. Its electronically assisted power steering is direct, precise, and imbued with feedback. Aided by brake-based traction control that works to emulate a limited-slip differential, the R corners neatly and surprisingly flat at its limits. The Golf R is fitted with beefy brakes as standard. The powerful binders actuate via a progressive and firm brake pedal to halt the automatic-equipped R we tested from 70 mph in a solid 157 feet.