Lyra almost bought a Volkswagen GTI a few years ago — black with a sunroof. The combination of sporty performance and versatility of a four-door hatchback was a big draw, but she ended up with an SUV instead. If VW only had the Golf R back then, her choice would have been much different.
Appearance: Nothing screams performance when you see the Golf R. It shares characteristics of the regular and somewhat boxy hatchback Golf. But if you look closely, you'll notice the subtle "R" badge, sporty exterior trim, quad exhaust tips in chrome, rear spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels that set it apart. The Lapiz Blue Metallic paint is a classy hue. Seems Volkswagen decided less is more, and it works.
Performance: Under the hood, it's all about performance: 292 exhilarating horses and 280 pound-foot of low-end torque from a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. Yes, a 4-cylinder that gets 23 miles to the gallon in the city and 30 on the highway. The Golf R came with a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that was near flawless as it clicked through gears quickly and precisely. (A 6-speed manual is also available, but the automatic is so good, Lyra didn't miss it.) The car's permanent all-wheel drive helped it keep its composure even when Hermine came bearing down with sheets of rain and wind gusts. The sport-tuned suspension reduces unnecessary bounce and body lean, and it isn't uncomfortable unless you're driving on brick-paved streets. Cornering is delightful, and the steering — nicely weighted — reacts with precision. And there's plenty of stopping power with oversized vented disc brakes.
Interior: Inside, the R seems more practical. There's a lot of plastic but it is of good quality as is the build; nothing felt flimsy. The race-inspired seats came in black leather with white accent stitching. They have excellent side bolstering around the ribs and thighs to keep you in place on quick maneuvers. The rear split-folding seats could accommodate three with adequate headroom, but longer-legged passengers will find it cramped. Bright blue gauge indicators and thin blue ambient lighting add a sporty vibe, as does the flat-bottomed steering wheel with paddle shifters that's thick and wrapped in smooth leather. The lower console has a sliding armrest, but no bin underneath. Without the optional navigation system, the 6.5-inch touchscreen of this tester is adequate. Physical buttons flank the screen and controls are intuitive. Among creature comforts are dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, heated seats, USB and auxiliary ports, and cup holders with a sliding cover.
Feeling blue: The Lapiz Blue Metallic exterior is just the right hue — bright but not too flashy. Gauge indicators and ambient lighting are also blue.
Quick response: There's hardly any turbo lag, even on hard acceleration, and steering is quick and precise.
Understated: There's not much flashy about the car — except for its performance.
Peter was on vacation when this car was reviewed.
The bottom line: Along with performance comes a heftier price tag of around $37K, almost twice as much as the base Golf. Worth it? If you're looking for an engaging, fun and even practical daily driver, the answer might just be yes.