By on February 22, 2015

2015-Volkswagen-Golf-R-39

The raindrops, small as #12 shot, plink against the glass, coating the pavement in a greasy film. Not ideal for a spirited drive in a nearly 300 horsepower hot hatch, even one with AWD, but Southern California needs the rain, even if it’s just a half-hearted attempt by the clouds. The ground is still parched, the trees half blackened by the wildfires of the summer, while the remaining bark is a soft ivory like the leather in this Euro market test car, one of four examples that Volkswagen brought over with a manual transmission.

In my rearview mirror, the black and white Expedition from the San Diego Country Sherrif’s office fades away over the crest, and the two point oh tee mill pulls the car closer to 100 mph, exhibiting the kind of top-end torque that’s absent from its front-drive GTI sibling. But the 6-speed manual gearbox is the same, and all I can think is how much I’d rather have the DSG.

Since the manual won’t be available until 2016, Volkswagen supplied us with Euro-spec Golf R models with the big 19″ wheel package and the three-pedal transmission. Both of those sound like great ideas, but you’ll want a Golf R with 18s for the sake of ride quality, and the DSG because it’s so superbly matched to the rest of the car, that shifting your own gears detracts from the experience.

For one thing, the Golf R is quicker with the DSG. You can hit 60 mph in just under five seconds if you let the transmission do its work, but the manual adds an additional half-second. Shifts are quick, quicker when the car is in “Race” mode, but in normal driving, its tough to believe that just two generations ago, this was the same gearbox that would roll back on hills if you took your foot off the brake, and let you feel the clutch take up when rolling away from a stop light in first.

The second is that the manual gearbox isn’t that great. Having only driven the 6-speed manual in both the GTI and the R, one would find it perfectly acceptable. The throws of the shifter are light but precise, the clutch easy to modulate. But driven back to back with the DSG, it weakens the argument that “three pedals good, two pedals bad”. The fact that the pedals are spaced too far apart to execute a heel-toe downshift doesn’t help either. The only real benefit of the 6-speed manual is the $1100 discount off the $37,415 MSRP that the DSG version commands.

The rest of the package holds up its end of the bargain. The steering is just as crisp and direct as the GTI, and the flat-bottomed steering wheel is a nice touch. Compared to the most recent BMW 2-Series we drove, it makes The Ultimate Driving Machine feel like something from Toyota. The brake pedal feels a touch grabby, but its hard to fault the competence of the brakes themselves, which are the same as the GTI Performance Pack. For all the hype about the Haldex AWD system, the biggest positive attribute is the lack of torque steer when accelerating out of a corner – an affliction that affects the driving experience of the front-drive GTI. Otherwise, it was fairly transparent in its operation, which is to say it was hardly noticed at all. Perhaps a brisk drive in somewhere other than Southern California would have shown of its capabilities in a more demonstrative manner. Here’s hoping for a longer review during a Canadian winter.

Performance aside, the rest of the Golf R has all of the positive attributes of the other MQB based Golfs. The cabin seems impossibly spacious for a C-segment car, with ample space both fore and aft. The interior materials wouldn’t seem out of place in an Audi, but the current infotainment system is in desperate need of replacement – it doesn’t even have a USB port for your smart phone. Apparently, this, along with Apple CarPlay and Android integration will be available for 2016 as part of a revised infotainment system.

While VW is positioning the Golf R against the Subaru WRX STI and the BMW M235i, the real competition for this car is on VW’s showroom. There’s approximately $10,000 between the base price of a Golf GTI and a Golf R. Granted, a GTI 5-door with the DSG and Performance pack will narrow the gap some, but the biggest point of contention is that the GTI is just so good, even with front-wheel drive, that it’s hard to imagine making a case for the Golf R unless you must satisfy one of two criteria; you’re living in a snowy state where the AWD would be a benefit in poor weather, or you’re a member of the VW faithful who must have the uber-Golf, if only for internet bragging rights. Anyone else could get a nicely equipped GTI and an aftermarket ECU re-flash without ever regretting it.

 

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55 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2015 Volkswagen Golf R...”


  • avatar

    This looks like a 10 year old Audi. How derivative. I like it.

  • avatar
    carguy

    I prefer this interior to its Audi S3 MBQ relative. To me, however, the exterior styling (or lack thereof) is a deal breaker. At $37K this hot Golf has no more visual appeal than a Toyota Yaris.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “Anyone else could get a nicely equipped GTI and an aftermarket ECU re-flash without ever regretting it.”

    Getting warranty work done on engine components would probably be enjoyable though.

    • 0 avatar
      Turbo Is Black Magic

      A couple of companies now make tunes that just plug in and don’t actually reflash the ECU, it’s a simple 5 min. affair the leaves no fingerprints behind unlike the other VW tuners out there. As long as you remember to remove it there is no way to tell…

      • 0 avatar
        cackalacka

        MKVI requires the tuner to break/soldier the CPU in order to load the codes.

        Not a particularly dangerous or invasive operation 1) If it is done right and 2) will leave a telltale trace even if the tunee reverts to stock.

        In my humble subset of N=1, situation ‘1’ above was not done right. Tuner botched the tune and then played stupid and sent me to dealership services. Had to go to their tune franchise to get the car functional again. Several weeks of bumming rides from my wife and thousands of dollars in repairs later, my MKVI is now back to stage zero. GoAPR if you have money to burn, or a spouse that is willing to lend you her ride.

  • avatar

    To me, DSG in lieu of manual is too high a price to pay simply to shave half a second off of a five second 0-60 time. The marginal value of that half second, to me, is tiny.

    • 0 avatar
      RyleyinSTL

      Indeed. Rowing your own isn’t about 1/4 mile times.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Yeah I’m sure the 6-speed would be much more engaging to hustle in, plus you actually have to engage your brain and think about the right gear for what you are about to do.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Waingrow

      Agree. And having tested the DSG first, I can say without hesitation that the response around town is a bit on the dead side. Press the gas, then press some more, and finally a big burst. That’s why I went with the stick. As for torque steer mentioned by Derrick, in normal driving, it doesn’t really exist. Maybe if you race it, it’s otherwise.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Yes, the primary reason for selecting the stick is not for scratching out that extra half second. Everybody knows that the stick will cost you that half second. Who cares? The sheer joy of row-your-own is why you choose to shift yourself. Why this is lost on so many manufacturers is beyond me.

        • 0 avatar
          Jimal

          6%

          That is the estimated take rate on manual transmissions in the U.S. in 2014. It isn’t lost on the manufacturers.

          • 0 avatar
            Power6

            Performance cars have a much higher take rate typically, WRX is over half manual I believe, wonder how the GTI shakes out there…

          • 0 avatar
            smartascii

            The manual take rate overall may be 6%, but they sold every last-generation Golf R they could make, and those were only available in manual, at least in the US market. My point is, there are definitely people who want a stick. The reason that the general take rate is so low is partly that the only way you can get a stick in most cars is if you get the the vinyl-lined stripper special.

    • 0 avatar
      hf_auto

      Last summer, I drove my wife’s manual GTI back-to-back with my dad’s DSG GTI. Oddly enough, the experience was 180-degree opposite what I expected. The manual was the better transmission around town because I could drive more smoothly than with the DSG. Once we hit the twisties along the Columbia River basin, the DSG was a far more engaging drive.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    It looks more like the Mark IV Golf’s than any other since the Mark IV. Not sure if that’s good or bad, but it’s quite noticeable.

  • avatar
    patrick-bateman

    Hi Derek, as someone who owned a MK6 GTI with DSG, and who currently owns a MY15 Audi S3 with 6MT ( a special order – 98% of S3s in Australia are DSG), I have to disagree.

    From a driver perspective, I can see the allure of the DSG. But as an owner, the mechatronic issues killed me. My car had only done 37,000 kms when I got fed up with the DSG and the mechatronic problems incured from the 20,000 km mark. Despite 2 mechatronic replacements, it still had clunks in 2nd to 1st gear downshifts, and I was told, “they all do it”. This is of course code for we can’t fix it, you need a new gearbox. Funny I heard a Mk7 Golf R outside my house last week, make exactly the same clunk, thus reaffirming my choice of 6MT.

    In terms of reflashing a GTI vs R internet bragging rights, I like the traction of the AWD. Here in Australia, any wheelspin ( and there was plenty in my old unflashed Mk6 from a standing start or in wet conditions) risks a “hoon charge” by the local constabulary, and seizure of the car for 48 hours.

    That is something I don’t want to brag about!

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      You’re a good sport for staying with VAG after an unresolved transmission issue.

      • 0 avatar
        patrick-bateman

        I guess so, but I have found Audi dealers really great to deal with ( nothing is too much trouble), whilst VW dealers are utterly horrible. I tried to buy a A45 AMG, but the 7 speed DCT, lack of any warranty extension, and dealers quoting $5k over MSRP meant it was a scratching.

        I also mitigated risk with 6MT, and purchasing the 4 year warranty extension to cover the car out for 7 years.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’d prefer 6mt as well, we have a DSG eos, fine for an automatic, but my commute isn’t a time attack , I prefer more involvement. Can’t wait to compare this with upcoming Focus RS for USDM. I’m sure the R will be more luxurious,but with the RS may be the better drive if it gets torque vectoring AWD. I’d pay the premium for awd ,no car costing more than 25k should have torque steer.
    If I were in the market , I’d have to consider an ecoboost mustang if space wasn’t a consideration.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    “its tough to believe that just two generations ago, this was the same gearbox that would roll back on hills if you took your foot off the brake”

    Isn’t this a good thing? Does the new one use the brakes to hold it still on hills, or does the DSG simulate the creep common in torque converter automatics? I can’t stand the creep.

    Also, it might not be snow and ice, but the start of a rain storm after weeks of dry can create very slick conditions, and could have been a decent test for the AWD.

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      The DSG cars have the same hill hold assist as the manual cars, I believe. It applies the brakes for a few seconds after you get off the brake pedal giving you time to hop on the gas without rolling backwards.

      Acura is the only manufacturer that I know of that produces a DCT w/torque converter. And I still don’t really understand why they do.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        For Acura, I suppose the proof will be in whether or not their DCTs produce the rough shifting, excessive maintenance requirements, and premature clutch services generated by everyone else’s.

        • 0 avatar
          wmba

          Having driven the Acura I4 with DCT and the Audi A3 2.0T DSG, there’s really no comparison.

          The A3 wins by a country mile, it’s not even close. The Acura holds onto gears too long as you come to a stop going uphill, dragging rpm down so low, the car shudders just as if a novice driver had forgotten to depress the clutch pedal. Also, at trickling speed in traffic, the DCT is indecisive as to which gear to pick, leaving it effectively in neutral with nothing happening. I was reduced to pumping the gas pedal, wondering if the engine had quit, while the salesman braced and yelled as traffic bore down on us as I attempted to turn left into the dealer’s.

          Said it before, the car is underdeveloped, so whether the DCT lasts longer than the DSG is of little import if you have to put up with that kind of behavior for years to find out.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    I have no idea how much torque steer a GTI actually has based on reviews. It varies from none at all to very noticeable.

    Derek has been consistent in stating the interior space feels huge, yet some other reviews claim it is cramped. How tall are you Derek?

    I guess everyone has a different perspective, but it is amazing how different authors can make you wonder if they reviewed the same car.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The amount of torque steer is directly correlated to the love a reviewer has for the SWAG at a VW media event.

      For what it is worth, my 5’2″ mother was impressed by the roominess of my uncle’s MK VII GTI Autobahn 5-door without receiving any bribes.

      • 0 avatar
        Turbo Is Black Magic

        The GTI has basically zero torque steer. As for the room inside, I’m 6’5″ and 225lbs and I have a good amount of room in my MKVII, although no one with legs can sit behind me. For Comparison sake I also have a 2013 Civic Si sedan and it feels cramped as hell and I can’t fit inside with a helmet on, I can in the GTI.

    • 0 avatar
      bk_moto

      I would go closer to none at all. If you really jump on the throttle you may notice a very slight tendency for the car to begin to track to the right as the torque comes on, but it’s barely there. Not what one would typically think of as “torque steer” where the steering wheel wants to twist out of your hands when you mash the throttle.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I think I’ll buy a WRX instead.

    • 0 avatar
      mr breeze

      I looked at the GTI briefly before buying a WRX. No AWD was a deal breaker, and another 10k to shell out for that in the Golf R was too much. I am not convinced on VW reliability either. Still have nightmares after owning an 88 Jetta.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        If AWD is a deal breaker, then why look at the GTI at all? Good thing looks weren’t a deal breaker, or you wouldn’t have bought the Subaru either.

        • 0 avatar
          mr breeze

          Because the GTI is a very nice car for the money, but where I live right now I prefer having AWD. That being said, I still considered it. You are not much for nuance, so I won’t even address your snide remark about the looks.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    The M235i is about $10k more, so I’m not sure how much of a competitor it is. A 228i is more likely. Which 2 series did you drive that made you compare it to a Toyota?

    The Golf R is also priced in line with V8 Mustangs, Camaros, and Challengers. Certainly apples and oranges, but I bet more will cross shop the two than you would think.

    • 0 avatar
      charlieo

      I’m also a bit surprised about the 2 series comment, comparing it to a Toyota.

      I drive a 2015 228i/x drive/m sport, and based on my impressions, and those of other reviewers, it’s typically considered to be a fun/tossable/fine-handling car.

      Before settling on the BMW, I test drove an Accord coupe, A3, and GTI. While I was most impressed by the GTI, I don’t think it has anything on the BMW. I know that the steering feel in the BMW is not considered the greatest, but I’m not sure that this would justify comparing the 2 series to a Toyota (unless maybe an MR2?).

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    I think with the current 6MT they also cut the throttle when a brake is applied, so heel-toe wouldn’t work even if they spaced the pedals correctly.

    The clutch also meets too high for my personal preference, and the feel is okay for a transverse FF car, but nothing to write home about.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Having owned VW cars with drive-by-wire and manual transmissions and done heel-toe downshifts many times … They’re fine. The programming is smart enough to recognize this.

      The throttle-cut only happens if the brake application happens *after* the throttle application. In a normal heel-toe downshift situation, you are already on the brake first (and completely off the throttle as you decelerate), and it allows the throttle-blip during the downshift.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        My brother has a Golf R – heel/toe is no problem. With a stage 1+ APR tune (ECU flash plus intake) its a lethal track weapon. The pedal placement is better then my Z because the accelerator is floor mounted and very wide at the base. The stock brakes are downright amazing (14″ front rotors = massive) and the AWD is the real deal. That Golf R causes Camaro owners to come into our garage on track days and ask what’s up with “GTI”. Its the same car that he takes his daughters to tennis practice every day in. The only problem – its VeeDub. His hasn’t seen much time in the service bay, but based on my last VW experience I wouldn’t want one after the warranty expires. Until then… its a blast. As the review mentions no matter how damp the track surface is the AWD + computer figures it out and offers maximum thrust. It really is an amazing machine in family friendly hatch shape.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    U can just upgrade to the Golf R’s turbo. That’s the only major difference. These things are boosted to all hell. 17-18 psi stock for the GTI. When you look at it from that point of view, these things should be putting down at least 300lb-ft of torque. The motors are not very efficient. But they get good gas mileage and perform well so that doesn’t really matter.

    • 0 avatar
      dantes_inferno

      > The motors are not very efficient. But they get good gas mileage and perform well so that doesn’t really matter.

      So bad gas mileage and poor performance represent a very efficient motor in your mind, eh?

      If this is what passes for logic these days, we’re all screwed.

      (smh)

  • avatar
    tedward

    I’m going to have to also disagree on the transmission comments. Having driven a number of GTI’s and previous generation R’s I find the DSG to be boring and clinical. I’d take it for a track car (that I was racing not just lapping) but basically for no other reason. But then, I wouldn’t get one of these as a track car in the first place. I respect people’s decision to get the auto, as it’s a GT car not a sports car, but the only reasons I ever hear for the decision are traffic, bad knees, or shared use with a non stick driver.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Wonder how the Focus will roll in on price? No DSG there.

    @Toronto they had white GTI carefully with leather – no plaid on show there.

    Keen on th R. Lets hope it comes in more than GTI’s two shades of black or red & white.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Another argument in favor of the manual transmission is life expectancy and maintenance cost. Provided VW has designed a reliable transmission and you know how to drive, the clutch and transmission can be expected to survive out to at least 250,000 miles which is longer than most original owners keep their vehicles. I doubt a DSG transmission would last that long and I wouldn’t want to pay the repair bills.

  • avatar
    bludragon

    Deal breaker for me in the GTI DSG is the fact that in M mode you pull back to shift down. That and the fact that I drove a manual mazda3 afterwards and was able to exectue a perfect heel and toe downshift by my 2nd attempt as I turned into a freeway onramp so I was in the torque peak as soon as I rolled on the throttle, while at the same spot in the gti I was rolling on, and then on a bit more as it was 2k lower rpm than I wanted, and then suddenly 2k higher rpm than I wanted.

    In full on race mode I expect the dsg would rock, but it’s the driving around at a smooth and quick pace, engaging, but not redlining the motor, that autos generally don’t do well for me.

    On the plus side, I believe that dsg does hide the turbo lag quite well.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      Why wouldn’t you just use the paddle shifters instead of the gear selector to shift down?

      BMW configures their automatic shifters in the way you prefer: forward to downshift and rearwards to upshot. I’ve always thought that was counter-intuitive as most manufacturers (including VW) do it the opposite way.

      But really, the paddle shifter in every DSG equipped GTI is the easiest way of all to up and down shift.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I read somewhere that up to downshift and down to upshift was meant to match the momentum of the car during aggressive driving. For example, if you want to downshift you are probably on the brakes, so the weight of the car is already moving forward. I’ve never been on a track, so I’m not sure how much sense that makes.

        As someone used to manuals, down to upshift makes sense to me because of the motion of the 1-2 and 3-4 upshifts (don’t ask why I’m ignoring the 2-3 and 4-5 shifts).

        It is worth noting that BMW doesn’t use that pattern in all their cars. For example, the E39 5 series uses up for down and vice versa, where on the X5 of the same era (less sporty) up is actually up. Maybe they figured X5s were less likely to see the track, or the market for them was less likely to have experience with manuals (unlikely since they briefly offered a manual on the X5) ?

        More likely we are all over thinking it; there are only two ways to do it, and everyone has their preference.

      • 0 avatar
        bludragon

        I used to have a BMW and found it hard to keep track of the gear using the paddles in normal driving, while using the shift lever came naturally. Now that I think of it though, part of that difficulty may have been that those paddles did not work in what I thought was an intuitive way – the paddle on either side could change up or down depending on the way you pushed it.

        I’m sure I could get there with practice in the GTI, but manual shift selection just did not come easily in the short test drive I had and then I feel like I would need to retrain myself when using a more normal car.

  • avatar
    ra_pro

    McAleer writes at http://www.autos.ca/car-comparisons/comparison-test-2015-subaru-wrx-cvt-vs-2015-volkswagen-gti-dsg/ that the performance package makes the GTI a lot better, is that the case? Is it worth waiting for if indeed it’s coming to NA?

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      You can build one with performance package (pp) on vw.com, so it is definitely coming to NA. I’m also interested in more information about the adjustable suspension (Dynamic Chassis Control, or DCC in VW parlance. It’s only available on performance package cars in SE or higher trim, basically making it a $3,800 option if you aren’t interested in the rest of the SE trim additions.

      I think VW has extremely frustrating options bundling with the GTI.

      • 0 avatar
        bludragon

        It’s coming in the next couple of months. I would pay for the bigger brakes and locking diff in the PP, as I at least like the idea of the track (and snow) potential but I’m not sure the DCC is worth it. I’m sure the user select-able modes are not, but the improvement the adaptive-ness brings in normal mode might be.

  • avatar
    kurtamaxxguy

    R seems like a drivers car for good roads! Nice to know it can be had without the huge wheels and rubber band tires on the review versions (CA an OR roads will eat 30’s and their wheels for lunch, dinner, whenever). Pity the all black coal bin interior, though (then again, all other “boy racers” force the same on their drivers).


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