In 1989, Volkswagen built 71 examples of the Golf Limited. It was the most powerful Golf until the MkIV R32 a dozen years later. It was powered by a supercharged, 2.0-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder and put 207 hp to the ground through the same all-wheel-drive system used on the legendary Rallye Golf. It had all the high-end features of the day: power windows and sunroof, leather interior, even heated seats. On the outside, they were relative sleepers, all-gray four-doors with single, round headlights and 15-inch BBS wheels.
The new MkVII Golf R is similar in mission. It doesn't forego luxury for the sake of performance, although it is the fastest Golf ever. Although those in the know will recognize it as a performance car, it could never be considered flashy. The biggest difference between then and now is that the Golf R is actually sold in the United States.
We won't see it Stateside until early next year, but we got our hands on a European-spec version VW brought over for testing and marketing. While it isn't the innocuous dark gray of the Limited, it doesn't look over the top or too boy-racer even in Lapiz Blue. The front and rear bumpers, plus the 19-inch wheels, are the biggest tip-offs that this isn't a run-of-the-mill GTI.
VW suffered from some ill-timed decisions with previous cars wearing R badges. The MkV R32 was only offered with DSG when everyone still wanted manuals. The MkVI R was only offered in manual, when enthusiasts had since realized the value of computerized shifting. The MkVII Golf R will come with either transmission. Ours has a good old-fashioned three-pedal manual, which makes it an apples-to-apples comparison with the last MkVI R we tested.
That earlier model in U.S. trim sported 256 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque. Not bad numbers, but the MkVII steps up with 290 hp and 280 lb-ft. Even though 290 sounds pretty impressive, I wouldn't be surprised if that number is on the conservative side. The MkVI R sprinted from standstill to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds-fairly impressive. The new R does the same nearly a tick faster, at 4.9 seconds. Keep in mind that DSG-equipped cars will probably be even quicker. In the quarter-mile sprint, the VI ran a 14.2-second time but couldn't quite break the century mark at 97.9 mph. The VII takes just 13.5 seconds and traps at 101.3 mph. Those of us who have been around for a while remember when anything under 15 seconds in a hot-hatch was flying.
Besides accelerating, the R has also learned a thing or two about stopping. The VI needed 128 feet to stop from 60 mph. The VII shows a huge improvement, needing just 104 feet to hit halt, thanks to 13.4-inch rotors up front and 12.2-inch rotors at the rear. The only problem with the brakes is the pedal itself. While actuation is good, placement could be improved. If I'm buying a manual, I want to be able to heel-toe my downshifts. There is a bit too much distance between the brake and gas pedal, making it pretty difficult to blip between gears. Maybe some inventive aftermarket company can come up with a slightly wider brake pedal cover; those buying the DSG will never notice or care.
There isn't a single thing to complain about with the steering. The new Golf R is blessed with an extra-responsive, variable-rack system that's go-kart quick for turn-in. Steering assist, along with damping rates and exhaust sound, are all variable at the push of a button with VW's Driving Profile Control and Dynamic Chassis Control. Besides that (cue '80s teen-movie building applause), stability control can now be completely deactivated-the people rejoice. As the final icing on the proverbial performance cake, the Golf R receives brake-based torque-vectoring. In conjunction with the latest Haldex 5 system for all-wheel drive, light brake pressure pushes the power around to where it's needed most to either rotate or stabilize the car during cornering.
All these things add up to a Golf R that can play with the big boys around our figure-8 test. The MkVI Golf R needed 26.5 seconds to lap the twisted oval; the VII requires just 25 seconds. If you're wondering how quick that is in the grand scheme of things, it's 0.6 of a second faster than the F30 BMW 335i x Drive we tested not too long ago. The Golf R puts in these numbers exhibiting a bit of understeer in steady state cornering that's easily controlled with a bit of throttle lift.
On power is where the Golf R really shines, using all four wheels to get off the corners without drama. After driving the MkVII GTI with the Performance Pack's limited-slip differential, I wondered if there was even a need for all-wheel drive in a Golf. I'm no longer wondering. While the limited-slip diff is great (and the GTI has needed one for years), all-wheel drive is next-level. Especially if you plan on adding power to your Golf with aftermarket equipment. You will want some of that extra power going to the rear axle.
At the time of writing, Volkswagen didn't have official pricing on the MkVII Golf R. I guess it will be slightly north of $35,000, and we will see where that heads if VW decides to make things like active cruise control and perhaps even parking assist available. Each member of the Golf family is as premium as ever and represents an amazing value in its category. The Golf R is no different. It won't be nearly as exclusive as the Limited, but at least you'll be able to park one in your driveway.