Ride and Handling
Here is a classic case of Analogue versus Digital. The Volkswagen, you see, has electric steering, the Subaru, hydraulic. One is better if you like feeling every rut and bumple in the road, if you enjoy the sensation of the wheel dancing in your hands on the gravelly, rutted, piece of undulating, winding road you’ve found yourself on.
The other is better if you like your car tame and composed and if you prefer the steering wheel focus on the all-important job of actually changing the car’s direction.
It’s probably fair to say that realistically, the Golf R’s electric system is better, but who needs reality?! The STI’s hydraulic wheel reminds you of what the R makes you forget: That driving is actually pretty difficult. The R is easier to drive, the STI is more fun – sensing a theme yet?
The Subaru is heavier by 16 kg, 319 mm longer and 39 mm taller. It only has a 20 mm longer wheelbase, so much longer overhangs than the Golf R. These should all be disadvantages in the handling department. The Golf R has a wider front than rear track, however. On the STI that is reversed. That could point to why the STI turns in more quickly and convincingly, while the Golf R is more composed and stable-feeling.
It could also be due to the suspension settings, however. The dynamic ride control featured on the R is compliant, comfortable and adaptable, earning high praise from Jeff: “On the highway and in urban traffic, the Volkswagen is undeniably the one you want to be in. Its ride is better (when electrically adjusted as such).” There are five modes for adjustment – Normal, Comfort, Eco, Individual, and Race – and there are dramatic differences between them. It is, admittedly a much simpler-to-use system than in the STI. What settings should you use in the Golf? Traction control off, Race mode.
What settings should you use for the WRX STI? Set the traction control (VDC) to TRAC, the engine management programming (SI Drive) to S# and centre diff to Auto –. Voila! Why TRAC and not Off? Because in TRAC you still get the brake-based torque vectoring, just not the traction control and stability control. Why don’t you want those? Because sideways.
Enough technobabble. Here’s Jeff on why the STI wins this category: “When we finally found a few fleeting moments away from traffic, and on some undulating, twisty rural routes, the Subaru asserts itself as the more serious sporting machine. When driven with aggression and, admittedly foolish disregard for physics, the Subaru is unflappable.
“It feels both planted and light on its feet, reacting immediately to steering inputs. By comparison, the R is composed and still very capable, but does not feel quite as confidence-inspiring.”
When it comes to ride comfort and composure the VW is absolutely head and shoulders above the WRX STI, but again, we find the Subaru more fun when hustled.
Interior and Infotainment
This stuff is often pooh-poohed as “unimportant” by the enthusiasts, but despite protestations otherwise a car’s infotainment system is is third-most used touchpoint in the whole experience – behind the steering wheel and pedals. Fourth-most if you’re in a manual. Being satisfied with the way you connect to the infotainment system is critical to enjoying your car.
Android Auto is the coolest thing to hit infotainment since I don’t know when. Paired with Sirius XM there is absolutely nothing else you need in a car. And bonus points to VW too for allowing me to choose what the steering wheel functions do! That’s a neat trick. Jeff, the audiophile (and apparent leatherphile) couldn’t say enough about the interior environment of the Golf. “Its Fender-tuned stereo is bright and powerful and the leather-covered seats are wonderfully comfortable.”