2015 Volkswagen Golf R first drive review: “Most” and “powerful” gets our attention

2015 Volkswagen Golf R

2015 Volkswagen Golf R

Putting “most” and “powerful” in the same sentence has a way of getting our attention. So when Volkswagen announced that the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R would be the most powerful VW Golf ever, we were all ears. Which is a visual not easily forgotten, but when one has a good cliché, one goes with it.

Which segues into going with the Golf R. Because going is what the 2015 Golf R does. Based on the latest generation of VW Golf, the Golf R has its EA888 four-cylinder turbocharged and direct-injection TSI 2.0-liter engine tuned to produce 292 horsepower, a whopping 72 horses more than the current Volkswagen GTI. That’s forty percent more. Close to half again more.

It’s also a boost over the previous Golf R, sold in 2012 and 2013, which itself was the “most powerful sports performance vehicle ever sold in the U.S. ,“ per Volkswagen (although the Subaru WRX STI and Mitsubishi Evo might contest that). That Golf R was rated at a mere 256 horsepower. And that was over its predecessor with the lusty VR6 engine, rated at 250 horses.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R logo grille badge

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R logo grille badge is one way to identify the Golf R from the base Golf or Golf GTI. (click to enlarge)

The new 2015 Volkswagen Golf R, however, is more than just motor. It’s built around the standard Volkswagen Golf, itself based on the Volkswagen Group’s new Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) platform. It has all the same body panels, no gaudy flared fenders or such, as the standard Golf. So like the standard Golf, it’s a smidge bigger than its predecessor, an inch and a half wider than the 2013 (adding a like amount on the inside) and a half an inch longer. Curb weight increases by 15 pounds over the 2013 Golf R…or about what your carry-on rollerbag weighs. The body differs from the standard front-drive Golf by the floorpan reshaped for the driveshaft to the rear axle.

The suspension is calibrated specifically for 2015 Golf R, lower by 0.8 inches than the standard Golf, or 0.2 inches lower than the 2015 GTI. It’s not just shorter springs, however. The strut-type front suspension has a new lower control arm and in the rear, getting techie, the multi-link suspension has different tuning of the toe-link bearings. Eighteen-inch aluminum-alloy wheels are standard, along with summer-compound 225/40R18 performance tires. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R with DCC and Navigation (that’s its official name) of our first drive adds not only DCC and navigation but also 19-inch wheels with 235/35 R19 tires.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R engine

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R engine is the most powerful in a VW sport model. (click to enlarge)

“DCC” is Volkswagen’s adaptive shock absorber system, which includes settings for three driving modes, “Comfort”, “Normal”, and “Race.” Comfort, as might be expected, softens up the shock absorbers for a smoother ride than Normal. Race mode sets the shocks stiffer to sharpen handling in performance driving situations. Here’s how it works, per VW: “The DCC system adaptively controls the damper valves via a further developed and refined control algorithm. DCC takes input signals from wheel displacement sensors and accelerometers as well as vehicle information from the Chassis-CAN bus to compute these values and adaptively adjust the optimal damping force. Moreover, damping forces are selectively applied to the four wheels individually. With the new generation of DCC, it is now possible to independently vary rebound and compression damping while cornering.” Whew.

DCC also sets assist to the electric power steering, decreasing it in Race for better feel through the steering system.

In operation, the shock absorbers vary individually, and within the driving mode selected, readjusts the damping rate 1,000 times per second at each wheel, based on data from the steering, braking, engine, transmission and driving assistance systems.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R steering wheel

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R steering wheel has a flat bottom with an “R” logo. (click to enlarge)

Drivers can also set individual elements of the DCC individually by using the Individual mode selection on the center console touchscreen as part of the “Driving Mode Selection.”

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R will be available only with the DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission with steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters. The gearbox has a launch control feature that we didn’t get to try on our first-drive experience. But as we’ve experienced with other VW applications, the transmission was flawless in operation, and despite our save-the-manual predilections we’re actually finding ourselves preferring the autobox, particularly if speed is involved. Sorry, John Henry, you may be a steel drivin’ man, but you’re not going to beat DSG with a stick, literally or figuratively. If you’re not convinced, or you just don’t care, a six-speed manual will be available in the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R in late summer.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R interior

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R interior looks like that of a $40 thousand car. (click to enlarge)

Volkswagen’s 4Motion, or all-wheel drive in VW-speak, is upgraded for 2015 to a Haldex 5 center coupling. To save fuel, under light throttle or coasting, the 2015 Golf R runs on front-drive only. It doesn’t engage the center differential until it’s needed. But rather than wait for slip, the rear wheels engage in a split second when needed, the Haldex coupling activated by an electro-hydraulic oil pump. The all-wheel drive system also includes electronic differential locks (EDS) at the front and rear axles integrated into the electronic stability control system.