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2015 Volkswagen Golf R - First Drive

We test the new Golf R on ice and look at the future of VW's R

Kyle Fortune
Mar 26, 2014

VW Golf R Details:

  • 300hp turbo 2.0L AWD GTI
  • Manual or DSG transmission options | Haldex 4Motion AWD
  • Stability control can be turned off completely | XDS+ e-diff
  • 0-60mph in 5.1sec

2015 VW golf r cadiz wheels 18 Photo 2/80   |   2015 VW Golf R Cadiz Wheels 18

Electronics: Driver Profile Selector | Adaptive Chassis Control

+ Pros: More powerful engine | ESP can be turned off | Nimble package | Sportier

- Cons: Not arriving in the US until 2015 | What will it cost? | Will we get transmission options?

2015 VW golf r drivers 38 Photo 3/80   |   2015 VW Golf R Drivers 38

Across the table from me sits legendary racecar driver, Hans Stuck, and to my left is Ulrich Riestenpatt gt Richter, the Executive Director of R GmbH. Stuck is regaling us with tales of the Nurburgring, his old cars, the current state of F1 and an amusing anecdote about how one of F1's leading figures used to get drivers to sign for way less money than they demanded.

Casual and relaxed, Richter was formerly with Lamborghini and Audi, where he was involved in the Gallardo and R8 projects. He outlines his vision for the VW R brand and how Mr Stuck is involved.

Parked outside is his group's latest output, the Volkswagen Golf R. But the letter isn't merely a badge; R is a brand and a subsidiary of Volkswagen entrusted to build its most extreme sporting models.

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Richter likens R to quattro GmbH, although he admits R is only halfway through its seven-year development plan.

The Golf R is familiar to us, as are the R-Line Editions, but Richter wants to push the division's motorsport activities as well. He's trying to make a more obvious connection between what happens on the track and to the VW model range. Or off the track, in the case of the World Rally Championship-winning Polo, and Richter is pushing VW to allow him to produce a road-going version of it...

In fact, there are Polo R prototypes testing, and they were in action on the frozen lake prior to our arrival. Richter and a handful of VW Group bigwigs - including Porsche's Matthias Muller - were assessing the Polo R on ice.

Richter is keen to get approval from his colleagues. "It has to be four-wheel drive," Richter told us, but this required substantial engineering to the rear floorpan and suspension.

Apparently, the rest of the Polo R's specification is fairly straightforward: a modified Golf R 4Motion system allied to a detuned EA888 2.0-liter, four-cylinder TSI turbo engine. In the VW Golf it has 300hp, but the smaller, lighter Polo "should be somewhere between 240 and 250hp," according to Richter.

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The company would need to sell around 5000 cars for the Polo R to make sense, and Richter is bullish, believing there's demand for such a machine. That, and even more extreme versions of existing models... In fact, rumor has it there's a lighter, more focused Golf R "Evo" ready to be revealed later this year.

As for the "regular" Golf R, which we're here to drive, Richter boldly claims it's on par with the previous generation Type-997 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 as a driving experience.

That's an extremely confident statement, and one that remained unchallenged during our first experience behind the wheel since VW had chosen a frozen lake for our first impressions.

See the ECU tuning potential of the past gen R model: 2012 VW Golf R - Proven

Frozen Lake

Arvidsjaur is Sweden's Motown. The population doubles when the thermometer's mercury drops, not with winter sports fans, but a migration of automotive engineers seeking the deep ice on the region's 4000 lakes. Locals cut tracks through the snow to create test areas. We're told that 4" of ice is thick enough to support a car, 20" a truck and 32" will allow a plane to land.

The rationale is simple: this is the first VW Golf R where the ESP stability control can be completely disabled and, although they're not shouting loudly about it, in certain conditions the R is faster when the safety net is removed. At least, it is when driven by Hans Stuck...

His 8min 15sec Nurburgring lap was about 11sec faster than a GTI and 15sec quicker than the old R. And it was achieved without the interference of electronic "assistance."

2015 VW golf r drivers 22 Photo 12/80   |   2015 VW Golf R Drivers 22

Hold down the button and the R's 300hp 2.0T is under your control. There's no re-activation when you brake or slide either. The ESP only comes back if you request it or turn off the ignition.

There's a proper manual transmission, and no sign of the DSG automatic on these launch cars. Three pedals and six ratios: the R team wasn't joking about wanting the cars to appeal to driving enthusiasts.

Stuck's here for some fun, but it's nice to see the racing legend is an old-fashioned car geek like the rest of us - taking photos of the snow-encrusted R badge for himself.

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We're also hoping to enjoy the experience. To help us, we have radios in each car and local boy, Anton Marklund, on the other end. Driving an 800hp VW Polo in Global Rallycross, he's more familiar beyond the threshold of grip than anybody else here.

Any meaningful impressions of how the Golf R might drive on the road are pointless because Anton is only interested in making sure the arctic playground is exploited to the full. The numerous tracks carved in the snow give us ample opportunity to experience the Volkswagen's traction and his advice is simple and clear, "More gas, steer the car with the accelerator!"

Given the conditions, that's not difficult. Although we have 225/50 R17 studded snow tires in place of the standard 225/40 R18 summer tires, the EA888's ample power makes breaking traction as easy as flexing your right foot a few millimeters.

The wide-open space and a lack of anything to hit meant the only thing dented was our pride when we got it wrong. And it turns out that it's worth sliding the R into deeper snow banks just to watch the rescue guys in a Touareg use a snatch rope to extract you.

Marklund's radio instructions elevate to encouragement, and impressive slides receive praise as our familiarity with how the R's reactions result in greater confidence, increasing speeds and more opposite-lock.

In ideal conditions, the Golf R will reach 0-62mph in 5.1sec, onto a limited 155mph maximum. And while we're spinning away that speed with the limited traction, the Golf R's muscular performance is obvious.

2015 VW golf r r front bumper 14 Photo 17/80   |   2015 VW Golf R R Front Bumper 14

The four-cylinder's offbeat exhaust note is reminiscent of an Audi five-cylinder, giving the R more character. More restrained visually than aurally, the R lacks the red striping of its GTI relation or the muscularity of the original R32. Instead, it hides its potency in a typically discreet, Teutonic fashion.

The car will probably get a cursory glance from bystanders, although avid performance fans will fully understand the significance of the small R badges, deeper air intakes, 18" wheels, quad tailpipes and a moderately lowered ride height, which is 5mm lower than the GTI. The same is true inside. The seats are deeply bolstered but aside from the occasional R badge and blue highlights, it will be familiar to any Golf owner.

2015 VW golf r r leather sports seats  04 Photo 18/80   |   2015 VW Golf R R Leather Sports Seats 04

Of course, that also means impeccable build quality, but the R doesn't shout about its capabilities. That's always been part of its appeal: sports car performance in a practical package. Just as before, it's going to be ridiculously capable on pavement - wet or dry - with its Haldex 4Motion AWD able to distribute power to the axle that can best use it. This is coupled with XDS+: an advanced, brake-operated system that applies pressure to the inside wheels to assist turn-in agility.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to fully feel its effects when looking out of the side window, steering with the accelerator and twirling the steering wheel. Yet Stuck and Richter insist this new version takes the Golf R to a different level on the road.

What is undeniable is that "ESP Off" means exactly that. And when selecting Sport Mode, the electronics now allow more driver correction before intervening.

What's more, the Driver Profile Selector allows you to tailor the throttle and steering response via presets and a customizable profile. And if you option DSG and Adaptive Chassis Control, it will alter the shifting parameters and suspension settings, too.

2015 VW golf r r rear bumper 12 Photo 22/80   |   2015 VW Golf R R Rear Bumper 12

VW has listened to its customers and to enthusiasts, delivering a car that should have more driver appeal. However, we really need to conduct more meaningful impressions in a conventional test on dry roads. So if Richter wants to bring a 997 Carrera 4 and Golf R to the Nurburgring, and Stuck fancies setting another lap time, we'd be up for the challenge!

"Locals cut tracks through the snow to create test areas. We're told that 4" of ice is thick enough to support a car, 20" a truck and 32" will allow a plane to land."

2015 VW golf r front view r front bumper 17 Photo 23/80   |   2015 VW Golf R Front View R Front Bumper 17

Tech Spec
2015 Volkswagen Golf R

Layout front-mounted, 4WD

Engine 1984cc four-cylinder TSI turbocharged, DOHC, direct injection

Drivetrain six-speed manual transmission, XDS+ electronic diff

2015 VW golf r TSI engine 11 Photo 27/80   |   2015 VW Golf R TSI Engine 11

Suspension MacPherson strut f, multi-link r

Brakes single-piston black calipers, 340mm rotors f, 310mm r

Wheels & Tires 18x7.5" Cadiz wheels, 225/40 R18 tires (optional 19x8", 235/35 R19)

Exterior R bumpers, diffuser, matte chrome mirrors, smoked tail lights

Interior R leather/alcantara sports seats, steering wheel, carbon-look trim, blue instrument accents


Power 300hp at 5600-6200rpm

Torque 280 lb-ft at 1800-5500rpm

0-62mph 5.1sec (4.9sec with DSG)

2015 VW golf r r front bumper 54 Photo 31/80   |   2015 VW Golf R R Front Bumper 54

Top Speed 155mph (limited)

Weight 3250 lb

Economy n/a

MSRP n/a

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2015 VW golf r smoked taillight 53 Photo 45/80   |   2015 VW Golf R Smoked Taillight 53
2015 VW golf r steering wheel 03 Photo 49/80   |   2015 VW Golf R Steering Wheel 03
2015 VW golf r ulrich riestenpatt gt richter 21 Photo 56/80   |   2015 VW Golf R Ulrich Riestenpatt Gt Richter 21

Photos provided by Volkswagen

By Kyle Fortune
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