Let me confess that I have been nurturing a secret crush on the Volkswagen Golf R since high school.
I became a Volkswagen Golf fanboy back in 2004 when my Mom was in the market for a new car. I convinced her to test drive the brand new R32. This was the first hot Golf that Volkswagen brought to America with a shoehorned VR6 under the hood and all-wheel-drive. My Mom was looking at Audi’s, but she agreed to take the R32 for a spin. Thanks, Mom!
She pulled out of the dealership, parked and handed me the keys. Sweet Lord Baby Jesus. First two thoughts were: Do not crash this car and, wow, that exhaust sound could make Mozart jealous!
A couple weeks back at the Washington Automotive Press Association Rally, I had a brief 20 minutes behind the wheel of the 2016 Golf R. Just like my first ride in the R32, it was short and sweet. Can the new Golf R compete with my first love or will I need one to have for a full week’s testing—are you listening Volkswagen?
Since 2004, the automotive industry has drastically changed, and so has the Golf. Volkswagen has gone through three generations of Golf “R” models, each being different in some way. In 2004, the Golf R32 had a narrow-angle V-6 making 240-hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. Now the new Golf R has a 2.0-liter turbo making 292-hp. In 2004, the R32 weighed 3,400-lbs. The current Golf R weighs 3329-lbs. In 2004, the 0-60 time was 6.4 seconds. In 2016, the Golf R easily hits 60 in 5.2 seconds. In 11 years, we have a Golf R that is lighter, faster, and makes more horsepower, but is it better? Better? Yes. Cooler? No.
In 11 years, we have a Golf R that is lighter, faster, and makes more horsepower, but is it better?
The 2016 Golf R has 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine production 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Every Golf R comes with 4Motion All-Wheel-Drive, 19” alloy wheels with summer tires, and large vented disc brakes in the front and rear. My test car had the manual transmission, dynamic chassis control suspension (DCCS) and a hefty sticker price of $38,715.
Volkswagen has a history of not knowing which transmission to offer in the the highest model Golf: (2004) manual, (2008) DSG, (2012) manual, (2016) both manual and DSG. It reminds me of King Henry VIII, who couldn’t decide which wife he loved (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived). Luckily for me, the Golf R that I drove had a manual transmission. It was not Volkswagen’s best shifter—I found it too vague with not nearly enough feel.
Can it compete with my first love the R32? After my brief experience, I came away impressed. Similar to my high school test drive, my first thought was to not crash it. Then my second thought was, this is a comfortable place to be.
The Golf R was cool, calm and relaxed—it would be perfect for your morning slog through traffic. Although, when pushed hard it would hammer the back roads with tenacity.
But the Golf R is lacking the thought and care that went into the R32. When a Golf R drives by, most people won’t look twice. Enthusiasts will recognize it by its four exhaust pipes sticking out the back, but sadly the exhaust note isn’t even in the same ballpark as the R32’s. It is more of an all-wheel-drive GTI, with the intensity cranked up.
The Golf R was cool, calm and relaxed– it would be PERFECT for your morning slog through traffic. Although, when pushed hard it would hammer the back roads with tenacity.
Objectively, the new Golf R is a better and more capable car overall than the 2004 R32 ever was. Plus, if you want sophistication and class in your hot hatch, the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R is your mate. It’s no secret that Volkswagen is a hot mess right now. Which means it may be the time to get a bargain on a 2016 Golf R.
Honestly, I’d need to spend a week with the Golf R to give it a full and complete review. But since I spent equal time in both the 2004 R32 and the new Golf R, I can at least pick a winner. If I had to ask one to take out on a date, the 2004 R32 holds the keys to my heart.