Although the GTI might be the quintessential performance version of the Volkswagen Golf, it's no longer the most powerful. Two generations of the Volkswagen R32, followed by today's Golf R, easily outstrip the GTI's horsepower ratings and add all-wheel traction to the mix. With an all-new Volkswagen GTI already on sale in Europe, it only stood to reason that the Germans would once again up the hot-hatch standings with another iteration of the Volkswagen Golf R. The new R is based on the seventh-generation Golf/GTI chassis and commands a healthy €9650 premium ($13,000) over a GTI in Germany.
Crank Up The PowerThe basic formula remains the same as in today's Golf R, with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four engine delivering power to all four wheels. This time, that engine is a modified version of the EA888 found in the GTI, but thanks to changes to the cylinder head, valves, pistons, turbocharger, and fuel injectors, it produces 296 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. That represents a jump of 30 hp and 37 lb-ft versus the outgoing Golf R, and an even larger gain compared to the 210/220 hp and 258 lb-ft ratings of the new GTI's EA888 mill. Volkswagen predicts the Golf R will hit 62 mph in 4.9 seconds with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission or 5.3 seconds with a six speed manual. Both versions are electronically limited to 155 mph. At the same time as gaining power, Volkswagen says the new car is 18 percent more fuel efficient, at up to 34 mpg in European testing; the 2013 Golf R is rated at 19/27 mpg (city/highway) in the U.S.
To transmit that power to the road, the Volkswagen Golf R uses an updated Haldex all-wheel-drive system. The company claims the system's control computer can shuffle power fore and aft before the wheels slip. In gentle driving, the rear wheels are disconnected to save fuel, but hard acceleration can force almost 100 percent of engine torque to the rear axle. To further optimize grip, the Golf R selectively applies the brakes if one of the wheels slips. The XDS+ system, for cross differential lock, can also brake either the left or right wheels to reduce understeer and encourage the car to rotate through turns. The stability control has three modes: standard, Sport, and full-off.
The options list includes adaptive suspension, which ties into the standard Driving Profile Selector to offer Comfort, Normal, Eco, and Race modes. The latter firms up the chassis and results in the most aggressive throttle response and dual-clutch transmission shifts. Owners can also use the Individual mode to tailor the car settings -- for instance combining the Comfort suspension with Race powertrain mode -- to suit their driving style.
Looking The PartThe Volkswagen Golf R's visual transformation begins with a sport suspension, dropping the car 0.2 inch lower than a GTI and 0.8 inch lower than a standard Golf. The brake calipers (the same enlarged units from the GTI Performance Edition) are painted black and bear R logos. Surrounding them, new 18-inch "Cadiz" wheels are standard, while 19-inch Cadiz or "Pretoria" wheel designs are an option.
Familiar Golf R cues include a quartet of round exhaust tips, smoked LED taillights, and a more aggressive body kit. The front and rear fascias, deep side skirts, and front grille are all unique compared to the Volkswagen GTI. The xenon headlights have unique U-shaped LED running lights, and R badges adorn both the grille and liftgate. In addition to seven other colors, a new paint option called Lapis Blue Metallic is exclusive to the Golf R.
The interior likewise adopts racy touches, starting with a leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, faux carbon-fiber trim, stainless-steel pedals, and light-blue instrument needles. The standard sports seats have black fabric in the center and Alcantara for the bolsters, while checking the Nappa-carbon options box results in Nappa leather for the headrests and seat bolsters, and either anthracite or gray Nappa leather for the centers.
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R goes on sale in Europe in both two- and four-door hatchback configurations from the fourth quarter of this year. Although Volkswagen has yet to confirm it, we expect the Golf R will make its way to the U.S. market some time after the 2015 GTI launches here in mid-2014. Based on what we know so far, we can't wait to sample the most powerful Volkswagen Golf to date.