R You Ready For The Golf R?
Volkswagen has announced that its 256 HP, AWD Golf R is coming to the US market just like the R32 and other über-Golfs before it. And though switching the enthusiast’s Golf from a V6 to a turbo-four was the right decision, there’s just one minor problem: this Golf has competition. Subaru’s WRX may not be the prettiest car out there, but it offers 265 turbocharged horsepower to the Golf R’s 256, and it starts at a budget-basement $25,500. Previous R-badged Golfs have cost upwards of $30k, or approaching the $34k, 305 HP WRX STI. Of course the Golf R does have some advantages: an optional dual-clutch transmission, a cleaner look, a European badge… but in addition to having less horsepower than a WRX, it weighs a good 100 pounds more. In short, the Golf R may be manna from heaven for Volkswagen fans who are disappointed in the new Jetta, but it’s not exactly going to turn America’s performance market upside down.
That video makes me miss the sound of my recently sold 2007 MKV GTI. The stock exhaust subtly filled the cabin with a great rumble. As it is though, buying a VW was a trial I'll likely not repeat. The car just let me down too often. Brilliant car with suspect design.
The realities are, with the exception of the CC and the European Sirocco, I don’t get VW styling. Both the garden variety Golf and the Impreza are, charitably speaking, repulsive. For many decades I had Rabbits and GLI Jettas and thought them all ugly…but they were era-appropriate fun to drive and that outweighed my aversion to their looks. I still believe that fun trumps looks. And of course they were also relatively unreliable as opposed to my original early 60’s bug which was virtually un-killable. Ancient history, I know, but modern reliability compared to my last 4 Subarus suffers also. I just drive the Subies... and drive them hard…and they never complain. In these Adirondack hills I live in, AWD is impressive and tenacious, even on dry roads. I did look at the R32 and like most smaller VWs, for me, it had an awkward driving position. The steering wheel to pedal position is just wrong, similar to my old Acura GSR. The R32 also has VERY narrow lat support, much like the Honda S2000, which is fine for women and more diminutive men than myself. I’m also not crazy about the ‘third-gear-is somewhere-up-there-by-the-dashboard’ shifter on every German car except some M vehicles or the Cayman…and the DSG was the kiss of death. So the R32 was a very real reject for me on numerous levels despite its fun nature and one of the best sounds of any car…at any price. I very much like the looks of my 09 STi even if at my advanced age I don’t fit into the boy racer crowd. Of course, at my age, I’m not really interested in what anyone else thinks anyway…and that includes the flames I’ll get from these comments. The STi rides better than my friends BMW 135i but admittedly that isn’t saying much. The WRX and STi are both brutally quick but the STi is the real road carver and I suspect that’s where the VW will outshine the Subies. I have high hopes for this new R…and perhaps it will bring me back into the VW fold. If it has R32 handling, a nice seating position, a comfortable seat, and a snick-snick shifter…it will be my next car.
As a WRX 5 door fan, the Golf R is of interest to me. If might be a bit slower than the cheaper WRX, but the design and material quality is much higher and worth the cost. The one major problem is that it is coming with a stick only. That might be wonderful for racing around on the weekend, but for real people who commute in real traffic, the DSG is the only way to go. Trust me, after 150 clutches to creep a couple of miles, you will start daydreaming of an automatic or a DSG.
I remember scrutinizing the R32's specs carefully when it was first released in the U.S., and came to the conclusion that it's just a pseudo-enthusiast's car. Perhaps, to me, performance-oriented models without any recent racing history just don't stir my car passion that much. I find it very hard to believe Golf R shoppers will cross shop other non-German brands such as the WRX. Once you get into a WRX, you tend to want to upgrade to a STI/Evo, then GTR. Sans family obligations. :) If I bought my first AWD performance compact car with a VW moniker, an Audi S4, S6, and S8 seems more logical as the next step(s) up.