2010 Volkswagen Golf R Review
Volkswagen sure knows how to please. The new, sixth-generation Golf is one of the better compact cars, a great-handling hatchback that’s comfortable, too. And we think the sportiest Golf, the 200-hp GTI, is even better—witness its inclusion on our 2010 10Best Cars list. (The previous GTI, based on the Golf V, made the 10Best roster the three years before that.) Now Wolfsburg is adding the Golf R, an all-wheel-drive variant that is the fastest, most powerful, and most expensive Golf ever.
If you follow the logic of previous über-Golf naming schemes, this Golf R should be called the R20; its predecessors were both called R32 on account of their 3.2-liter V-6 powerplants. But Volkswagen has recently announced that it will be starting a special R performance division, akin to Audi’s Quattro subsidiary and BMW’s M division, so expect all super-VWs to carry the single-letter badge going forward.
More from Less
Compared with the two R32 models, the new car loses two cylinders but is up 30 hp, being powered by a 270-horse, 2.0-liter turbocharged four, with maximum boost cranked up to 17 psi. In the new Golf R, all 270 hp arrives at 6000 rpm; maximum torque is 258 lb-ft, available from 2500 to 5000 rpm. Two gearboxes are available in Europe, including a slick-shifting six-speed manual and the six-speed dual-clutch automated manual, or DSG. The last R32 offered in the U.S. was DSG-only, and there’s no word from VW as to whether that strategy would change.
In real-world driving, the Golf R is supremely competent. Okay, that’s an understatement, as acceleration in the lower three gears is vicious: the 0-to-62-mph sprint is conquered in a claimed 5.7 seconds, 0.6 second quicker than the time posted by a 2010 GTI in a recent comparo. The R’s DSG, with its seamless shifts, shaves another 0.2 second, despite its additional 50-ish pounds and parasitic power losses from the hydraulic clutches. At higher and admittedly superlegal velocities, the R bites a bit less but pulls well up to its 155-mph governor—a symbolic sign of modesty, since the car theoretically could squeeze out an additional 5 mph. So the Golf R is a quick car, but if you are acquainted with real sports cars, you won’t be overwhelmed. More specifically, it definitely feels quicker than the front-drive, 200-hp GTI, but it’s not in another league.
You might expect that the R and GTI would share an engine, only differing in tune, but you’d be mistaken. The GTI’s Audi-developed EA888 2.0-liter turbo four is not yet sturdy enough to handle the power and torque required for the Golf R, so the burlier model keeps the older, VW-developed EA113 engine. It’s the same as that found in the Audi S3, the Golf R’s twin brother, which is fine with us—the EA113 does everything right. Fuel consumption drops sharply compared with that of the old Golf R32. It is rated at 28 mpg in the European cycle, and to see mileage drop below 20 mpg, you’ll need to become pretty, uh, conspicuous to local constabulary. We saw 19 mpg from the most recent R32 in a comparison test of performance compacts.
Although the Golf R’s drinking habits are far more mature than we expected, the sound of the Golf R is decidedly adolescent. This engine makes the right noises at the right time. We liked the silky 3.2-liter VR6 in the R32, but this four is so sweet we didn’t miss those couple of pistons for a minute.
Very Capable, but No Club Racer
The Golf R’s handling is more neutral than the GTI’s, but just slightly, as the GTI’s XDS electronic differential does a fairly good job of minimizing the handicap of front-wheel drive. But even the Golf R can’t entirely mask the front-drive roots of its chassis. If you want to drift it, you need to be aware that 100 percent of the power goes to the front wheels under normal driving, and the shift of power to the rear wheels takes a moment. Yes, VW has upgraded the all-wheel-drive system versus that used by the R32. It now works with an electrical pump and can shift almost 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels. The system reacts electronically to changing conditions, and it is quicker than the old setup. Despite that, we found it necessary several times to use the vehicle’s inertia to initiate a drift.
What’s more, the stability-control system can’t be switched off entirely. There is an off position that lets you hang out the tail considerably, but you will inevitably reach a point where the system kicks in, even if you don’t touch the brakes. VW disabled the system completely on some cars for our benefit, but the customer won’t be able to do so. The Golf R thus isn’t a pure sports machine; for further evidence, consider that the DSG upshifts automatically at redline in manual mode. We think it would be more appropriate to let the engine hit the rev limiter instead of second-guessing the driver’s shifting strategy.
Upscale and Well Mannered
The Golf R’s dual personality is again emphasized by the optional DCC electronic chassis. The DCC’s comfort setting softens the chassis and lightens the electromechanical power steering. The normal setting is middle of the road, neither harsh nor soft. Sport is what enthusiasts crave, delivering stiffer damping and sharper steering reflexes. VW says it anticipates that Golf R buyers will be far more mature than GTI buyers, desiring a comfortable long-distance cruiser that they can still take to the track every once in a while. For them, the DCC makes sense. But we’ll take it hard-core, thanks.
At a claimed 3350 to 3400 pounds, the Golf R is a heavy compact; the last six-speed-manual GTI we weighed rang in at 3180 pounds. Given that, we find the lighter, front-drive GTI and the 265-hp Scirocco R to be more tossable. Lightweight components, such as aluminum or carbon-fiber panels, were considered for the Golf R but were ultimately dismissed to keep costs under control.
Instead of exotic materials, customers get R-exclusive styling elements, including twin central exhaust tips and lots of glossy black trim inside and out. The 18- or 19-inch Talladega-design wheels are one of the R’s trademarks; they look a lot like the rollers used on the Audi RS 6. The taillights are now dual L-shaped LED units, a styling element that has already trickled down to the European-market GTI and will become standard on all Golfs. There are no fog lights; VW says it needed the room to fulfill the cooling needs of the engine and transmission. (Do we sense a trend? The same reason was given for the omission of fog lamps on the 2011 BMW 335is.)
At €36,400 (the equivalent of $50,790) in Germany, the Golf R is nearly $14,000 more expensive than the GTI. If it came to the U.S., the premium would likely be about ten grand above the GTI’s $24,215 base price. But will it make the transatlantic voyage? It was basically a done deal last year, but VW remains undecided at this point. Although we crave the Golf R’s presence on U.S. shores, and we have to say that the car is damn good, its superiority may come at a price that few will be willing to pay. So we understand VW’s hesitation—wait, what are we saying? Bring the Golf R here now.