By Bill Schaffer
San Diego ? Beware of the 2015 Volkswagen Golf that wears the subtle ?R? logo on the lower left of the rear gate ? it?s on the fastest most powerful performance Volkswagen ever built for the U.S. market. Well, actually there are a couple of other telltales of what lies under the hood of this awesome Volkswagen — like the quad exhaust pipes poking out the rear diffuser and the large four-wheel vented disc brakes with black ?R? branded calipers that fill the open areas behind the massive 18- or 19-inch alloy wheels.
Look still closer and you see different bumpers, air intakes, side skirts, rear diffuser and unique Bi-Xenon headlights along with attractive LED daytime running lights in the form of a distinctive dual ?U? design. And to further set it apart from the 2015 award-winning Golf, the ?R? is available with only five color choices including a new special ?R? color, Lapiz Blue Metallic or alternately Tornado Red, Limestone Grey Metallic, Deep Black Pearl Effect, and Oryx White.
The heart of this handsome five-door hatchback is a 292-hp, direct injection TSI? 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 280-lb.ft. of torque. (And I thought the Golf GTI was impressive with 217 horsepower.) This new engine is also 36 hp larger than the last Golf R. However it?s not all about horsepower, the new Golf R has an EPA rating of 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined ? not bad for a car that Volkswagen say makes a 0 to 60 mph run in 4.9 seconds, and it feels that fast. On a track, Volkswagen claims a top speed of 155 mph ? I?ll take their word for that. Needless to say the engine has received significant modifications to boost the horsepower and torque to the higher levels.
All that power is delivered to the ground through Volkswagen?s six-speed DSG? automatic transmission and the latest version of their 4MOTION all-wheel drive system. (A six-speed manual transmission with short-throw linkage will be available on 2016 models.) Making the actual connection to the road are newly designed aluminum alloy wheels fitted with 225/40R18 performance tires or the available 19-inch ?Cadiz? aluminum-alloy wheels fitted with 235/35 summer performance tires.
I was reminded how challenging California traffic was as I drove and my driving partner called out turns from our route book on our drive from the San Diego beach area to Julian in the Cuyamaca Mountains northeast of the city. Unless we were carefully looking ahead at the directions it was easy to get into the wrong lane. When that happened, I would have to flip on the turn signal, accelerate quickly to a small gap in the traffic and try to duck into to the line. The first time I pulled this move, I realized this was no ordinary Volkswagen Golf. The blue Golf R quickly shot ahead toward an open space in traffic followed by powerful deep-throated roar from the quad outlets ? then tap the brakes, turn the wheel and we were position for the needed turn.
As we progressed into the rural areas the roads narrowed, the traffic diminished and the road wound its way through canyons and over hills providing the Golf R with a place to show off its prowess. Our test car was the upper level of two models, which means it included the DCC adaptive damping system and navigation system along with the 19-inch wheels and tires, a Park Distance Control system and Fender audio. The DCC adaptive damping system has three drive modes ?Comfort?, ?Normal?, and ?Race?, which are selected and displayed via the center console touchscreen. We tried all the modes, but the ?Normal? setting best suited a spirited drive in the country. The ?Race? mode tightened the suspension considerably and produced an almost too rough of ride for the street and highway but perfect for ? racing or driving really fast.
In all the settings, the DCC takes input signals from wheel sensors, accelerometers and the chassis to instantly adjust to the optimal damping force. The system works with each wheel individually so it is possible to independently vary rebound and compression damping while cornering. The Golf R feels perfectly balanced and almost glued to the road. Even when accelerating out of tight hair-pin turns there was no wavering, slipping, leaning or any other distraction?the car just jumped ahead quickly and with a wonderful exhaust rumble.
The VW DSG transmission is one of my favorites, the shifts are lightning fast, and it can be shifted manually using the console mounted shifter or the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. It was mesmerizing hearing this transmission shift like a racecar accelerating down a straight stretch.
The 4MOTION system is a permanent all-wheel drive and uses a Haldex 5 coupling which is activated instantly before a wheel spins. Under normal operating conditions the front wheels are driven and the rear wheels are decoupled to save fuel.
The impressive performance of the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R carries over to the interior which has the same basic dash configuration as the other Golf models, but where it varies most is the great fitting front sport seats with leather surfaces. The deep bolsters hug the driver and front passenger?s body to provide excellent lateral support during hard cornering, plus they were very comfortable for our drive out to Julian ? and not the kind of seats that made you feel fatigued when you climbed out after an hour or two behind the wheel. I wish I could have one of these seats to replace my desk chair.
As the flagship performance model, even the standard Golf R get a full treatment of features including SiriusXM? Satellite Radio; heated front seats; a Media Device Interface (MDI) with iPhone? connectivity; Bluetooth?; VW Car-Net? connected service; KESSY? keyless access with push-button start; rearview camera; 12-way power driver?s seat; and Climatronic? dual-zone automatic air conditioning. It also has some neat driver assist features like XDS? brake-based cross differential lock at the front and rear and ?ESC Sport? which briefly switches the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to a sport mode to give the driver a chance to ?hang out? a little more without the ESC protection during spirited driving.
So, is the Golf R worth the extra money? Yes, especially for someone who wants the maximum performance and precision this model can offer. It?s an amazing tool that allows a driver to be all that he or she can be when conditions permit or on the track. Conversely it?s enjoyable and easy to drive around town, too.