As a dedicated band of VW enthusiasts, the SoCal R32 members were among the first in the country to experience the new Golf R from the business end — looming large in their mirrors at their annual track day!
And this isn’t the first time they’d been given this treatment. In previous years, representatives from VW of America also previewed the second gen R32 at this event. But this time around, key lessons had been learned.
Interestingly, of the 80-or-so cars in attendance, there were very few of the later Mk5 R32. Its bland styling and DSG-only transmission option was blamed for its relative lack of success. So after talking to club members, the new Golf R comes with a manual transmission only, in either two- or four-door guise. We’d argue its styling could be more exciting but that’s our only real complaint, and something we’d happily live with.
You see, the beauty of the Golf R isn’t what it is, but what it could be. This is a true tuner’s car because it provides the perfect platform for modifications. The styling begs to be enhanced but, most importantly, the 2.0T engine is ripe for modification.
We argued for some time that a AWD 2.0T would be a better package than the previous R32’s VR6 because the four-cylinder’s forced induction is cheaper to tune. With software, you’ll start feeling real results, while a big-turbo conversion could see 350-400whp. What’s more, it should be cheaper than turbo or supercharger upgrades for the 3.2L VR6.
Just as importantly, the lighter four-pot motor gives the Golf R superior balance, for better handling. So while the Mk5 R32 was plagued by severe understeer, the R is agile and totally chuckable. It might not be as sonorous as the delectable R32 exhaust note, but it will be more economical on a daily basis.
The group was established by Eugene Lee and his band of collaborators back in ’04 when 12 R32 enthusiasts got together in Malibu, CA. It’s grown steadily to where this was their fifth major event. And while Fastivus 2011 didn’t reached the record-breaking numbers of 159 R32s a few years ago, there were 110 cars at the track day, including more than 80 R32s. They expect this number to jump past 200 cars in 2012 once the Golf R is in circulation.
The 2011 event began on Saturday, June 11 with a free GTG sponsored by Pasadena VW (see sidebar). The diehard Dubbers stayed on for Sunday’s track day, which cost a paltry $32 thanks to the generosity of VWoA, which paid for the track day operated by Speed Ventures. Numerous sponsors also provided more than $15000 in raffle prizes to keep the good times rolling, including Toyo, VF, VMR, Rotiform, HPA, Borla, fifteen52, GIAC and Unibrace.
An owner of first and second gen R32s, Eugene runs rdefined.com for fellow R32 and Golf R owners. He’s already planned Fastivus 2012 event for Memorial weekend at Willow Springs Raceway, so mark your calendars. We must also thank Vivian Seki and Anabelle Lee for the loan of their ’04 and ’08 R32s for our photos.
We’d previously driven the Golf R on a Conti Tire test in Portugal (et 8/11) and a 330hp Revo stage 2 Golf R (et 3/11) in the UK, but this would be our first experience in the US. Unfortunately, it was the more powerful 270hp European version — US cars will be neutered to run in AZ summer temps, potentially robbing it of up to 20hp!
Our destination was Buttonwillow Raceway in California and we borrowed a stock 2010 VW GTI 2.0T for a direct comparison. The first thing we realized was the enormous ability of the GTI. Damn, this car is good!
The responsive engine, phenomenal chassis and DSG technology put it in a class of its own. The Golf R would need to be really good to beat it.
As it happens, the R is really good. It’s very much like a GTI since the car looks the same and has similar engine characteristics. The difference is in its superior horsepower and grip. These two factors allow the R to shrug off its additional 320 lb.
With plenty of grip, the R beats the GTI to 60mph by about 0.5sec thanks to the Haldex system moving the torque around, but give the GTI a rolling start and the two cars are closer than you’d expect. A stock R struggles to escape the GTI below 80-100mph, above which its extra power takes effect.
A colleague from another magazine complained about turbo lag, but he missed the point. He wants more power from a bigger K04 turbo with the same engine response as the GTI’s K03; it’s just not possible. But drawing attention to an almost imperceptible trait is confusing the issue because, in the real world, in the right gear, you’ll never notice turbo lag. Fitted with a manual six-speed, you change down and floor it. And compared to older turbo cars that genuinely had measureable turbo lag, this car wouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence. So if you’ve read other reviews that whine about lag, ignore them, it’s simply nitpicking a great car.
The reason the R will go down as the greatest Golf to date is its incredible chassis. Pushed far beyond limits you’d use on the road, it remains planted and predictable. Unsettled by mid-corner lift-off or being bounced off curbs, the application of power and a flick of steering lock would encourage the R to maintain its line without fuss.
The chassis is both entertaining and forgiving. It’s certainly a wonderful progression of its GTI roots.
Driving the GTI back-to-back as a camera car for our online video, you could see the R’s greater poise and harder acceleration out of corners, where the GTI would struggle for grip slightly. Yet the GTI isn’t embarrassed in this company. If anything, you learn to appreciate the GTI’s ability even more.
We don’t have enough space here to tell you how much we love the Golf R, and how relieved we are it’s finally coming to America. As Ferris Bueller said, “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”
As we rolled up to Fastivus, the blocks surrounding Pasadena VW were crammed with GTIs, Jettas, and Golfs. The dealership emptied its lot for the visitors, providing premium spots for members’ R32s. It was quite a spectacle to see them all lined up this way.
The dealership even provided more than 400 double-double burgers from an In-N-Out truck, as well as tons of shaved ice from the Get Shaved truck. With more than 300 cars at the gathering, clearly a few people doubled up on the Double-Doubles, but who’s counting when some flew in from NY, FL, NJ, GA, with others driving from WA, AZ, NV and OR?
If that wasn’t enough, VWoA brought the only Stateside Golf R so fans could touch it, sit inside, grip the steering wheel and make engine noises as they imagined racing a twisty road. Of course, this was only the first of a two-day event, and the prefect chance to start the trash-talk early for Sunday’s track day.
Only about half the cars made it to Button Willow Raceway for the high-speed action, but those who did enjoyed plenty of track time. I’d like to personally thank Lars Wolfe for allowing me to passenger in his Mk4 R32 to get some video footage in addition to what we shot from the GTI and Golf R. Check out the edited video online at eurotuner.com or youtube.com/eurotuner