2015 Volkswagen Golf R Review - Let's Get Serious

Aaron Cole
by Aaron Cole
2015 volkswagen golf r review let s get serious

2015 Volkswagen Golf R

2-liter DOHC I-4, turbocharged, variable intake and exhaust timing, variable

exhaust-valve lift (292 horsepower @ 5,400 rpm; 280 pounds-feet of torque @ 1,800 rpm)

6-speed DSG automatic transmission

23 city/30 highway/26 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

24 mpg on the 60/40 city/hwy, 45 percent boot-full of throttle everywhere (Observed, MPG)

Tested Options: Reflex Silver Metallic paint, Titan Black Leather interior; 6-speed DSG automatic transmission.

Base Price (Golf R):


As Tested Price:


* All prices include $820 destination fee.

Like walking in on your parents on a Saturday night, let’s take a minute to get this situation up to comfortable.

Volkswagen is in dire straits; there are no other words for it. For abusing consumer confidence and lying to the federal government, the German automaker will have to pay billions — and lose tens of billions more in repairs, buybacks, lawsuit payouts and expensive public mea culpas — before they can sniff legitimacy.

For lying and cheating their way through emissions standards with their diesel cars, anyone who has gone for a run in a metro area north of the Mason Dixon line in December for the last 10 years has a legitimate gripe against Volkswagen.

I won’t bury the lede here either: The 2015 Golf R isn’t the type of car that could forgive and forget all indiscretions, either. It’s too hard, too narrow and too expensive to be fit for mass-market consumption. It’s not the car that VW can ride through the rough stuff, mostly because it feels on the inside like it’s riding in a paint shaker.

But every atomic cloud has a silver lining.

For all that we’ve heard and read about Volkswagen over the last week, the larger picture remains: 4 out of 5 Volkswagen cars sold aren’t diesels, and as the world’s second-largest automaker (for now) there are a lot of cars that Volkswagen could talk about.

And we’re talking about the Golf R, and talk we shall.


The seventh-generation Golf isn’t sneaking up on anyone, anymore. The compact exterior manages to give way to a spacious interior (they can’t cheat that) and the five-door Golf manages to be efficient like minute rice and just as interesting.

The R in Golf R may stand for “Reserved” and it shows. The 18-inch wheels, 0.8-inch lower stance and quad tailpipes are all that really give it away from its GTI brother. Admittedly, that’s quite a bit for Volkswagen, but if you’re looking for WRX STI-high spoilers off the deck and massive hood scoops, you’ve got the wrong car company, partner.

The Golf R integrates a unique front fascia and rear diffuser, black side mirror caps and side skirts, for the Golf R. It’s best contributions are U-shaped LED daytime running lamps and those fantastic wheels that are understated, but expressive. The badging and larger intakes are all fine and well, but it’s the wheels that make the Golf R interesting.

It’s possible to get the Golf R with 19-inch alloys but that wouldn’t be smart for two reasons. First, the 18-inch rubbers fill the wheel wells perfectly, and second, the 18-inchers still deliver a spine shattering ride. Any thinner rubber and you’d better have the chiro on speed-dial.


For starters, the Golf R is not a small car. The Golf R, based on a seventh-generation Golf, is impossibly big inside and roomy enough for four adults — I can’t believe I just said that. Recently out of a four-door Mini Cooper S, I can report that the Golf R feels like the Taj Mahal inside comparatively — even though its tech is a little Bombay. Its 35.6 inches of rear legroom is more than an Infiniti QX50 — even after that car stretched its wheelbase 3.2 inches for 4 more inches of legroom.

The Golf R’s 22.8 cubes of cargo room is enormous considering many of its VW platform mates stuff much less in their trunks — ahem, Jetta.

Inside, the Golf’s black hides and blue accents are subtly different than the rest of the Volkswagen lineup; only the R gets the blue treatment — and no plaid. The feeling inside the Golf R is much more premium than a base Golf, and somehow more aesthetically pleasing in a functional way than a comparable Audi TT or S3. Both those cars suffer from economy of scale, while the Golf R doesn’t necessarily run from its budget roots — rather it improves upon them.


That is, until you fumble with the Golf R’s infotainment system. Admittedly, it’s going away, and the proprietary connector cable is gone for 2016 — but eeek, it’s not friendly. Pairing a phone is simple enough, but the display and connectivity features are woefully outdated.

Thankfully, you could do without the radio if you’re willing to pipe in the (somewhat manufactured) engine noises from the Golf R. As the revs swell to 6,000 rpm, the interior cabin is filled with raspy notes from the busy four. It’s not unnerving, but the car’s serious horsepower is equally matched with a serious call: pay attention.


The only all-wheel drive Golf, stuffed with a 2-liter turbocharged four cylinder that swells to 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, is a feat of automotive engineering — with honesty. The specs are impressive: nearly 300 horsepower, shifted through a competent 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, is planted to four corners and results in a run up to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. (For 2015, the Golf R is a DSG-only affair. If you want to row your own, buy a 2016.)

The Golf R competes in rarified air for enthusiasts in upper tax income brackets starting at just over $35,000 — same as the Subaru WRX STI and the incoming Ford Focus RS — and can nudge nearly $40,000 out the door in top trim. That’s a lot of money to ask — especially considering the Golf GTI is $10,000 less — but loyalty and logic rarely intersect.

For what its worth, Volkswagen does its best to rationalize the purchase. The Golf R’s Haldex all-wheel drive package is exclusive to that car alone. And the Golf R is nearly an inch lower to maximize a lower center of gravity in full-load cornering. And even the most potent GTI falls 72 horsepower short of the Golf R’s mood-altering 292 ponies underneath its square hood. For many people, spending that much on a “small” car would be heresy; for VW diehards, owning the pinnacle of Golfs is an affirmation of faith.

The Golf R can be fitted with an optional Dynamic Chassis Control system that adds electronically variable settings to the four corners for additional grip. The whole system adds more than $2,500 to the bottom line and is largely for track day warriors only. It comes with those aforementioned 19-inch rubber donuts that would be murderous on regular pavement.


In reality, the Golf R is serious enough without DCC. Driving the Golf R is a demanding, challenging experience. Overcoming the car’s bias to understeer in hard cornering is a feat in itself, and VW engineers made great strides to keep the chassis compliant and neutral despite planting more than 60 percent of its weight over the front axle.

Understeer can be induced, naturally, but the brake management’s software kicks in to tap its inside brakes to rotate the car into the corner. The effect is mind blowing — a small Golf pulling nearly 1g of lateral grip is devilishly fun.

But the revelation found in the Golf R is one concerning the Golf GTI instead. The Golf R’s might and stiff ride underscore how good the Golf GTI can be in normal circumstances. The Golf R turns up the wick on seriousness, and the GTI just feels fun.

And “fun” at VW right now is more awkward than meeting your father’s mistress for the first time. I hope it doesn’t stay like that for long.

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3 of 87 comments
  • Svoboda123 Svoboda123 on Dec 12, 2015

    Another way the Golf R would probably get cross-shopped is for people who want hatch/wagon utility, AWD (snow country) and sporting nature (which clearly excludes the hateful Utes). The models left in the U.S. that have that short list of 3 common needs is pathetically short: -BMW 3 wagon with sport package -Volvo V60 T6 R -Focus R (not yet) And, um,um, that's it! Nice list. Of course there are the plastic-clad "look how super outdoorsy I am" crossovers: - Allroad - Volvo XC60 - Golf Lifted Wagon (soon, maybe) - Mini Countryman -Outback And the recently deceased soldiers: -WRX/STI -Audi wagon/A3 Hatch -Cadillac And the luxury ones that never were sporty: -Merc E-Class -Acura It does seem nuts to buy a loaded GTI with the R only a small step up in cost. Factoring in resale it's hard to imagine it would end up costing much if anything more. But a lesser GTI is a good $8-10k cheaper. And while a true mechanical LSD and FWD cannot beat AWD, for street driving, even in snow, it comes damn close. So I bought the GTI S with cloth (first non-leather I've had since Scirocco S Recaros 25 years ago. Love them, actually), PP, lighting and adjustable dampers for $28k out the door. Love the car. If I had close to $40k to burn sure the R is neat. But I think a CPO 328i Wagon with sport would get my money first, even if you can't get a manual trans.

  • PaulD PaulD on Aug 08, 2016

    As far as the ride, either the transport blocks were left in the suspension by whoever prepped the car, or the reviewer is a soft little flower. The ride isn't stiff.

    • Old Man Pants Old Man Pants on Aug 08, 2016

      "or the reviewer is a soft little flower." Heh... ass-macho enters the online car community. The influence of general gay ascendancy, I should think.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂