Review: 2016 Volkswagen Golf R

Written by: Calvin Chan

Photography by: Calvin Chan / Don Cheng


Click here for the Chinese (中文) review.


What is the Golf R? Well you’ve got to be 19+ to find out. Essentially an Audi S3 dressed in R-rated Volkswagen clothing, the Golf R is a GTI with all-wheel drive and a few engine tweaks. In hindsight of 2015, the R was probably one of the most exciting and eye-gouging experiences we had all year.

This peppy little Volkswagen falls into a few automotive categories such as family car, economy car, but I think sports car does it the most justice. But if you weren’t in the know-how, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the R apart from any one of its TSI or TDI siblings - a stark contrast to the GTI and its boy racer stripes, plaid seats and red brake calipers. The R on the other hand takes the stealthier approach with a conservative front grille, black brake calipers, black side mirror caps, a unique rear diffuser and slightly larger front intakes.

Oh and not to mention, the R gets those stellar 19-inch wheels, Bi-Xenon headlights, and quad exhausts. Four exhaust tips on a Volkswagen? That’s hardly subtle, but are your parents really going to notice when they sign the lease papers?


Built on the new and lighter MQB platform, the R is only available in 5-door guise. However it has been lowered 5 mm over the GTI for a lower center of gravity that pays small tributes to the overall handling of the car.

Now, the R doesn’t just sit above the GTI because the letter comes later in the alphabet, but because it’s accompanied by a reworked 2.0-litre four-cylinder with a bigger turbo, new cylinder heads and new high-pressure injection systems. Yes, it’s the same one used in the venerable Audi S3.

After all the magic is said and done, 292 hp and 280 lb-ft are the official numbers, 72 hp and 22 lb-ft more than the GTI. For further reference, the R with a manual transmission gets from 0-100 km/h in 5.1 seconds, which is 1.4 seconds quicker than a GTI loaded up with its infamous dual-clutch DSG transmission. That’s a huge delta.


They’ve done some wizardry with that engine - the abundance of low-end torque cannot be understated. It is mind blowing to think that there’s a turbocharger under the hood with this kind of instant power delivery. The R also hits max torque from as low as 1,900 rpm, so you can pretty much just leave it in third gear and tackle curvy roads without ever tapping the clutch pedal.

For 2016, buyers will have the choice between a 6-speed DSG automatic ($1,400) and a standard 6-speed manual, the latter of which our tester came equipped with. And here comes the age-long debate of manual versus automatic, but just be happy that there are options. The S3 doesn’t even come with a stick-shift.

Yes, the DSG will shift in less than 4/100ths of a second. Even a toddler can read a brochure, but a real driver realizes that that only matters if you’re racing for lap times or shaving milliseconds off your drag strip record. Personally, I’d take the three pedals any day of the week. Well, maybe except Monday, because I hate Monday morning bumper-to-bumper traffic.


I’m not just praising the R’s manual for the sake of #savethemanuals. The R’s clutch behaves incredibly well and operating it is like pushing your foot onto a soft bed of whipped cream. The uptake point is forgiving and it doesn’t take a pro to nail a good launch.

The gear shifter on the other hand is too notchy and feels like a less linear Porsche gearbox. There’s too much wiggle room when slotted in a gate – half the time I don’t even know what gear I’m in. However, squeezing too much lubricant isn’t always a bad thing and in this case, it pays off.

Sliding the shifter through downshifts has got to be one of the best feelings since Krispy Kreme told us to microwave their donuts for 8 seconds. Whereas other manuals have sharp gates and lurchy downshifts, the R’s shifter will glide precisely into gear like a tightly choreographed Wushu exercise.

It’s odd have an electric parking brake lever on a manual car though, and I’ll admit that there were a few times the car had to beep and remind me to turn it off. The R does have an auto-hold function though for uphill red light battles.


With all the engine tuning, Volkswagen has made the R sound very good, but that’s also because most of the noise is piped into the cabin artificially. Luckily it can be turned off through the settings. I’ll describe it this way: without interior sound amplification, the R sounds like a GTI with it. With interior sound amplification, the R hits a higher aural note with a thrashier and more vocal soundtrack coming from all sides of the cabin.

It’s convincing to my ears nevertheless and most passengers will enjoy it too. We get brainwashed every day by media, advertisements, propaganda, so why not let this one slide too?

Now we get to the meat of the R, the filet mignon if you will. The most notable feature is that it comes with Volkswagen’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system, which is essentially a Haldex that uses torque vectoring and can send up to 50% of its power to the rear axle.

The clever bit with the Haldex is that while most other AWD systems only share power when slip is detected in the rear wheels, the R will monitor vehicle speed, acceleration, lateral torque and yaw to actually predict when it will be needed and adjust the systems beforehand. The end result is a neutral feeling hatchback that feels tapered to the tarmac with only the slightest hints of understeer under challenging conditions.


You can tailor your driving experience with three driving modes, or you can even customize your own. You have the ability to alter the throttle response, steering response, interior engine noise, and adaptive front lighting to your preferences.

Furthermore, we got the opportunity to test the Golf R during Toronto’s first snowfall last week, and I’m happy to report that it handled brilliantly. Despite the tendency to understeer, traction was good and the R put power down like nothing else on the road. Those grippy ContiWinterContact tires helped to seal the deal. Snow is no obstacle for the R, and in regards to those large 19-inch wheels, the R rides fairly comfortably and delivers good on-road manners.

Ah, the interior. We’re not going to talk too much about it because we’ve already covered it in-depth in our GTI article. Not much has changed between the two, but I must say that despite the R being an economy-based sports car, it never forgets about interior comfort and refinement.


The entire cabin exudes a sense of German craftsmanship, durability, and solidarity. I call it a functionally luxurious interior – it doesn’t ooze opulence but is beautiful from a pragmatic perspective. And it is surely more pleasing to the eye than the innards of a WRX STI.

Blue accenting follows the interior theme along with snug leather seats with “R” logo embroidery. They’ve got good side bolstering and support and will keep your body planted as you tear up those corners. And thanks to the Golf’s compact design, the R has a capacious interior with 60/40 folding rear seats and an abundance of headroom and cargo room.

The 2016 Golf R is reasonably loaded straight out of the box. There’s only one optional package to choose from: the Technology Package ($2,015) that adds safety systems like adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, lane assist, park distance control, and a larger 8-inch touchscreen. I’d opt out, as the R has very good visibility and blind spots never pose as a problem.


The GTI was built to move people in a stunningly quick fashion, but the R was built to go faster in a stealthier suit. The R enters a small market, competing against a limited run of sub-$40k turbo-four 300-hp AWD beasts of winter. The Subaru WRX STI used to play a solo game, but the Golf R and now the Ford Focus RS are firing incoming missiles. The S3 doesn’t pose as a real threat because its base price is $5,405 more than the R and when similarly loaded, it will set you back around $50,000. They use the same engine but whereas the Golf R feels like an expensive VW, the S3 feels like a cheap Audi. The same goes for the overpriced M235i. In fact, the biggest competitor that the R faces comes in-house from the GTI itself.

You can get a well-loaded 2016 GTI for $6,000 less than the R and have just as much fun. Slap on some decent winter tires and you’ve got a good amount of playful traction despite being front-wheel drive only. The GTI is more car than you would ever need and certainly brings just as many smiles. But if you’re looking for a wolf in sheep’s clothing with a bit of unadulterated fun, then Golf R with its clever all-wheel drive system and extraordinary turbocharged engine might just hit the sweet spot.


Photo Gallery:


golf r lapiz blue mk7 golf r lapiz blue 2016 mk7 golf r


2016 golf r 2016 golf r canada golf r blue badge


volkswagen golf r canada golf r fender grille badge golf r 19-inch winter tires


2016 golf r interior 2016 golf r manual canada golf r haldex 4motion awd system


golf r steering wheel mk7 golf r leather seats golf r gauges


2016 golf r dcc golf r individual mode golf r s3 motor tsi



型号 Model: 2016 Volkswagen Golf R

顏色 Paint Type: Lapiz Blue Metallic
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $39,995

試車售價 Price as Tested: $42,010
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,630
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,276 / 1,790 / 1,436

車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,489
引擎 Engine: 2.0L TSI turbocharged four-cylinder
最大馬力 Horsepower: 292 hp @ 5,400 - 6,200 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 280 lb-ft @ 1,900 - 5,300 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed manual
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4MOTION AWD
前懸 Suspension-Front: Independent
後懸 Suspension-Rear: Multi-link

油耗 Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway ) L/100km: 10.9 / 7.7
油耗 Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 13.0 (due to third gear shenanigans)

輪胎尺碼 Tires: Continental ContiWinterContact; P255/35R19





search for cars:






    2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI


    2016 Subaru WRX STI


    2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI