We often think that all-wheel drive eliminates torque steer, but there's still plenty of energy flowing through your palms when you boot the Golf R's throttle - even if this car is much better at putting the power down than the front-wheel-drive GTI. Despite sitting about an inch lower than the GTI and benefiting from the optional adaptive chassis control system (which firms the dampers in Sport mode), the sportiest VW can least conceal its age on undulating and twisty roller-coaster terrain. (After all, the Mark 6 Golf is essentially an updated Mark 5.) When pushed hard, the R displays plenty of roll, yaw, and pitch, the yellow stability control warning light flashing rhythmically. The Golf R's movements aren't as Teutonically disciplined as expected, although, to be fair, roadholding and handling were compromised to a certain extent by the soft winter tires fitted on our test car.
Those tires were mounted on standard, R-specific eighteen-inch wheels. In no way a stripped-out race car, the R is actually stuffed full of extra features. Outside, it's distinguishable by a ground-hugging front air dam, a roof spoiler, and a rear diffuser framing two center-mounted exhaust outlets. Swiveling bixenon headlamps and LED taillights are standard. Inside, there are special touches such as R-specific instrument faces, aluminum trim, power-adjustable sport seats, standard navigation and automatic climate control, and a fat-rimmed steering wheel with the inevitable squared-off bottom.
Still, this four-wheel-drive, dual-clutch, turbocharged, pricey hatchback has stepped into the arena of masters like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Subaru Impreza WRX STI. And in that world, the Golf R is probably more of a relaxed cruiser than a high-strung bruiser. The mix of DSG and AWD is tuned for maximum refinement instead of no-holds-barred sportiness. The whole R concept is very much based on offering a higher equipment level rather than being a bare-bones racer. To compete with the likes of the Evo and the STI, VW would need to consider a spicier variant - a bit lighter, a little more powerful, and more focused. Until then, however, Volkswagen has given us a very capable gran turismo dressed in a hatchback body.
On sale: Now (Europe only)
Price: $52,000 (base, in Germany, est.)
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged I-4, 267 hp, 258 lb-ft