2015 Volkswagen Golf R Review

Arvidsjaur, Sweden - Test drives on a lake generally don’t reveal much about a new car. In the case of the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R, a spin on ice more than thirty inches thick—stable enough to land an airplane on—tells you the first thing you want to know about how different the seventh-generation Golf’s supersporty R flagship is from the Golf VI version.

Can you completely shut off the new Golf R’s electronic stability control (ESC) and escape any artificial intervention?

Yes, you can.

In the previous Golf R, the stability control automatically reengaged at the first tap of the brakes. That didn’t sit well with old-fashioned enthusiasts who prefer to save a car from a slide themselves, even though it surely saved the bacon of many a kid racer.

To give us a taste of the 2015 Golf R’s newfound capabilities, VW let a motley crew of automotive journalists slide and drift the cars on the lake. We also got to follow a rally instructor and pretend to be rally drivers ourselves as winter temperatures hovered between zero and 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Granted, the tires fitted to our test cars are not even legal in most states (studded rubber from Lappi Winter Tyres).

What we learned was this: The steering is quick, making it easy to snap the R into a drift. There is sufficient steering feedback and seat-of-the-pants feel to warn about all the different surfaces and levels of adhesion. The perfectly bolstered driver’s seat holds you in place but doesn’t hinder ingress and egress. The Audi-designed, 290-hp, 2.0-liter EA888 turbo four-cylinder, coupled to a smooth-shifting six-speed manual, puts down much more power than you need through the car’s standard Haldex all-wheel-drive system. The Haldex clutch sends torque front to back, and the brakes control the flow side to side. Stability control is superfluous, even in the lightly intervening ESC Sport mode. It’s a blast. At least, it is if you love driving on ice and snow.

Even with stability control on, the system allows some oversteer, and ESC Sport mode, which intervened once or twice on a couple of tight turns, is even better. But in the end, you, too, would have given in to the delights of a slick track and gone naked, turning off every possible stability control measure. The worst that could happen is that a Touareg would have to pull you out of a snowbank (didn’t happen). That’s how you go skinny-dipping on a frozen lake.

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R will also be available with a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission. It shaves 0.2 second off the six-speed manual’s 5.1-second 0-to-62-mph sprint, VW says, but it also drops the highway estimate by 3 mpg. While the automaker is proud of its automatic and says it will continue to account for at least half of U.S. Golf R sales, all of the test cars on the lake were, tellingly, manuals. Both two- and four-door hatchback models were on hand, but only the latter will be available stateside, at least at launch. Weight is down by about 90 pounds versus the previous model, to a little more than 3000 pounds (closer to 3300 with the dual-clutch transmission). VW’s R GmbH, a subsidiary like Audi’s Quattro GmbH, designed and engineered the car.

We won’t get the Euro-spec Golf R's Eco mode for the driver select system, but we will get Normal, Individual (like Audi’s system), and Race modes. All operate separately from the ESC on/off/Sport system, and the Race setting stiffens the chassis, speeds up the DSG-equipped cars’ shift points, and permanently opens the intake/exhaust resonators. Only the last of these lack subtlety. Although the rally exercise prompted us to mostly use the Race mode, Normal would be good enough for this setting. We’ll have a choice of two levels of leather interiors, both with the same seat design, and will likely have more standard equipment than in Europe, such as the keyless start system.

We won’t get the Euro-spec car’s Eco mode, but we will get Normal, Individual (customizable), and Race modes. All operate separately from the stability control. The Race setting stiffens the chassis, speeds up the DSG’s shift points, and permanently opens the intake/exhaust resonators. Although the rally exercise prompted us to mostly use Race mode, Normal would be good enough for everyday situations.

With the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R, the Subaru WRX STI will once again have a true competitor, even as the Mitsubishi Evo rides into the sunset. The Volkswagen Golf R, which just a couple of generations ago was an overengined German muscle car, has evolved into an attractive hatchback that balances power with handling finesse. At least, as far as a drive on a frozen lake can reveal.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R

On sale: Late 2015
Base price: $34,000 (est)
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged I-4, 290 hp@5500-6200 rpm (est.), 280 lb-ft@1800-5300 rpm
Fuel economy (est): 22/31 mpg (City/Highway); 22/28 mpg (automatic)
Drive: Four-wheel
Hillboy
Subaru need to look at this car they are way behind the times.
Nubsauce
$34k starting is cheaper than the 2012-2013 R. They started at around $35.4. If you work at a VW dealer, you can probably pick it up for invoice and save a grand or two. Volkswagen knows better not to make the car too pricey for the US, I mean look what happened with the Phaeton, I'm pretty sure they will stick to $34-35K for the base. With the WRX STI sitting at 305HP and 290TQ, the R isn't far off from price or power, and the R will have a much better ride and better interior than the STI. The 2015 STI will most likely be starting around 35 and reach 38k for fully loaded. With Mitsubishi Motors going in a different direction, the R will most likely be the direct competitor to the STI. At this point, whomever's ECU and AWD system is better, will be the victor and so far, the R looks like it will give the STI a run for it's money.
Kyle MacDermaid
Adam Axell Neujahr It's not that bad as long as you are off the hand brake before you are on the gas hard. That being said you can't ever use the hand brake to set your angle on corner entry with a car like this. It's a bummer.
Angus MacKenzie
Is it $50,000? I bet it's $50,000... and chock full of lemony goodness
Saikumar Kali
https://www.facebook.com/pages/ROYAL-mechanical-Ignition/1374285662835884
Jeff Christopherson
Yes, please!
Adam Axell Neujahr
Except in an AWD that isn't exactly good for the drivetrain in the least...
Jon Kithcart
That's it's too expensive?
Jay.C
Nice car but I'm waiting for the GTR
Robert Benjamin
Id also suggest that the mid 30k price tag will make it very impractical for most.
Robert Benjamin
So yes. Lame.
Robert Benjamin
G37x coupe and a C5 Vette
Lee Klein
Lame? I wonder what you drive. This car will likely be a lot of fun, and is so damn practical.
Yuval Ariav
One more lemons from VW
Robert Benjamin
That it's still a lame mid 30 something IT person's wet dream?
Kyle MacDermaid
That it needs a hand brake to have more fun on that lake? Save the Handbrakes
VON ERICC
I CAN A TEST TO TO THE ESC , I WAS UNAWARE OF THE CAPABILITY OF MY VOLKSWAGEN PRODUCT, It handled perfectly, IT was far better than that of any American car I had owned, except for my Grand Marquis , I love my Volks vagon, except it like's to drink gas like its step brother R10..
Zack Kibler
Anyone have a napkin I could use to clean to drool off my chin? Unless you have a large family or a boat, I cannot think of a better way to spend $34K on a car. Assuming it's your only car.
VW-TX
@Nubsauce  VW said this MK7 was going to be slightly cheaper than the previous version. So 34k sounds right.
unixfool
I think you're definitely wrong in that regard.  There are several Golf R competitors that fall within the price range (Subaru STI and Mitsubishi Evo, off the top of my head).  Mid $30k is about right.  High $30k to $40k is definitely pushing it, though.

You're really not offering much to this conversation, either...and that's lame.  Sure, you own a G37x coupe and a C5 Vette...that just tells me that you don't understand why this VW is practical.  It's understood that this isn't a car that interests you, but why even troll the comments of a car article that you don't care about?
Mr_EMan
A G37x? That’s an automatic. A Vette? 55% chance it’s an automatic. Yes, so lame. With two little kids, I’d rather have my wife’s Subaru Legacy Wagon GT with a 5-speed or my STI hatchback than either of those two. Coupes are way too impractical with kids.The Golf R is a great candidate for my wife’s next car—awd, good horsepower, hatchback/station. And it’s about the same price as my Subarus.
Brian Spicer
you're here comparing G37x / C5 Vettes to a mid 30's priced Hatchback … the only thing Lame is your statements, and I'm pretty sure the last G37x coupe that was tested was only rated at about 5.2, so that make this Lame 5 door hatchback faster, than your more expensive coupe
Nubsauce
As of late, there has not been a lot of lemons from VW. They have gotten their act together, and never have I heard of an R/R32 getting a lemon.
Nubsauce
@unixfool It's ok, the only thing Chevrolet has going for them is the corvette. Their Camaro gets smoked by STIs and EVOs, and Chevrolet transmissions tend to die anywhere between 20,000 and 40,000 miles, so there is some jealousy. The funny thing about domestic companies, like Ford and Chevy, is even though their MSRP says $40,000, it really costs around $30,000 and even less to make. 
VW-TX
@Nubsauce  Yep.  I have owned more Nissans than any other car, but I have owned a few VWs lately and they have been more solid cars than my Nissan/Toyotas have been.  When the commercial says they have more cars on the road with 100k I believe it.

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