There was a figurative and literal dark cloud that floated over us as I was on the plane to Ottawa. A choice of newspapers were offered to me, both of which had front page news, as well as many different angled stories inside that covered what many are calling “diesel gate” (#dieselgate if you’re hip). It just so happened I was flying to Ottawa to drive some of Volkswagen’s newest offerings. Awkward.
If you somehow missed it, here’s a summation: a bad guy (or multiple villains) designed emissions software to cheat the EPA’s testing systems, which made all of Volkswagen’s diesel vehicles seem to make amazing fuel efficiency with little environmental impact. This, of course, was not true. Outrage and overprotective mothers covering the faces of their children as TDIs passed on the street followed.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that it wasn’t the work of the whole company; it was the work of one, or of a small few. Truth is, the rest of the company has a genuine love for what they do and the vehicles they produce. This passion was unhindered by recent events when we arrived to drive the new Golf R.
The Golf R is pretty legendary in the VW community. From 2002 to 2008, the Golf was offered in a pumped up version called “R32.” From 2009 and on, the Golf would drop the two numbers on the end, but keep all the performance. From 2002 to 2015, the Golf R(32) has been a fairly limited release, with all examples being snatched up to either be stored or ripped around a track. The 2016 Golf R separates itself from its predecessors by the fact that it will be available by demand. You can go to a dealer right now, order one and have it delivered after a bit of a wait.
The striking thing about the 2016 Golf R is actually its lack of striking-ness. The Golf R isn’t more or less flashy than a regular Golf. There isn’t a huge “R” decal on it anywhere, or some gaudy “race me” skirt kit bolted on. There are some small body restylings here and there with a subtle, red “R” on the right side of the rear hatch. One wouldn’t think that there are 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque inside this seemingly civilian body, and it’s perfect – an unsuspecting grocery-getter with rocket-like power.
Part of that rocket-like launching is thanks to its delivery system, VW’s 4motion all-wheel-drive. The other part is parcel to the all-new MQB platform, which is the lightest and most rigid yet to underpin the Golf. Taking the R to Calabogie Motorsports Park really put this combination to the test, with spooky results. This car wants to stay planted. And it will stay planted. You want grip? The Golf R will give you all of the grip. All of it. With almost 300 horses in the stable and a car that sticks to asphalt like Velcro, I could really take the R to its limits, which resulted in maximum smileage (not yet rated by NRCan).
Coming off the track, the Golf R proves that it’s a car that can be taken anywhere. Its adjustable chassis control allows you to choose from three modes (Comfort, Sport and Race) to dial in your desired suspension damping and steering response. Switching from “Race” to “Comfort” is entirely noticeable and dials the Golf into a more relaxed state.
Almost all of VW’s 2016 line will feature multimedia units in the dash that feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so you can entertain yourself with a tailored entertainment experience via your smartphone preference. And while banging through the six-speed manual gearbox will never get old, I found myself wishing I had snatched a DSG model as we hit some traffi c on our way back home. The DSG is also no slouch on the track, providing some serious and instant power delivery. The R could help reduce your lap times and make your grocery trips or afterschool pickups a little more fun, and the switch between the two is instant.
As I see it, the Golf R is a hero car for VW right now. It’s an everything car for anyone, and although its release didn’t coincide with the emissions scandal, it came along at the right time. The new R blows through the black smoke and negativity to show (past a couple of bad apples) VW for who they are – a group of enthusiasts that can build some pretty wicked cars.
BY THE NUMBERS
$136.97 /HP (CALCULATED W/ BASE MSRP) 1
2016 Volkswagen Golf R
BASE PRICE: $39,995
AS TESTED: $42,010
ENGINE: 2.0L TSI I-4
HORSEPOWER: 292 hp @ 5,400-6,200 rpm
TORQUE: 280 lb-ft @ 1,900-5,300 rpm
DRY WEIGHT: 1,499 kg
CONFIGURATION: Front engine / all-wheel-drive
TRANSMISSION(S): 6-speed manual, 6-speed DSG automatic
FUEL ECONOMY (CITY / HWY.): 10.9 / 7.7 L/100 km
WARRANTY (MOS / KM): 48 / 80,000 km
ALTERNATIVES: Audi A3, Ford Focus ST, Hyundai Veloster Rallye, Mazda3 GT, Mini Cooper / JCW
TECHNOLOGY PACKAGE ($2,015) Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection, Discover Pro infotainment system (8-in. touchscreen radio with proximity sensor, CD player, satellite navigation, and 2 SD card slots), Front Assist: Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring with City Emergency Brake, Lane Assist, Park Distance Control (PDC).