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First impressions — I was not expecting what I ended up with this week. I jumped in the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R and expected the same old Golf with more power than a GTI – a hopped-up, hopped-up Golf so to speak. But whoa! Either the Golf has really grown up or Volkswagen really does perform magic to make the R a different beast.

For those not “in the know”, the Golf R sports the same 2.0L TSI engine that is in the GTI. In the GTI it offers up a healthy 210 hp and in the R 292 hp is on tap, but it doesn’t end there. The real kicker is the 4Motion system that drives the massive 19-inch wheels. That’s Volkswagen’s AWD system and a great system it is.

My tester is equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission for even more fun, although you can opt for a six-speed DSG transmission if you prefer quicker shifts and and automatic mode for an extra $1,400. The only other option is the technology package with which my tester is equipped.

The technology package adds: blind spot monitoring, radar cruise control with stop and go, lane assist, park distance control and the most desirable addition of them all: a beautiful 8-inch touchscreen display with navigation and satellite radio. All this for $2,015. I don’t know why you wouldn’t buy this package to be honest.

Despite looking very much like a typical Golf, those in the know know this is anything but, and when you open the doors you immediately notice the difference and the updates for 2016 that make this probably the best Golf built to date. Should be a blast this week, maybe it will snow?

Model: 2016 Volkswagen Golf R
Pricing: $39,895
Options: Technology Package — $2015
Freight: $1,605
A/C Tax: $100
Price as Tested: $43,715

Ford Focus ST/RS
Subaru WRX/STI

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As I posted in our forums, you can easily fit 12 XL pizzas in the trunk of the Golf R but try as I might, I could not get my curling broom in without removing the cargo cover — I find that odd, it is just that little bit too narrow. There is no spare tire either as I noticed while waiting for said pizzas; where the spare tire would normally be located is a very well hidden and well placed subwoofer… that looks like a spare tire, or pizza?

Typically when these higher end versions of compact cars come out, you can tell they are built off a lower priced model – the materials and build quality are usually not there, but the Golf R is different. As I drive home in the dark and look over, I see beautifully lit up door handle pulls, LED accent lighting and more.

I feel the door panels and dash materials and look at the centre console’s glossy black finish and come to the conclusion that the Golf R is more like an Audi that has been perhaps slightly de-contented then an entry level compact car that has been gussied up.

The materials all feel top notch and the Golf R looks very classy and sporty on the inside. The only missing piece is the classic height adjustable armrest that Volkswagen use to always provide; there is still an armrest but it only moves fore and aft and is no longer height adjustable.

The new infotainment system is incredibly quick and responsive. Turn on the car or turn the system off and back on and it is instant. The navigation is super-responsive and allows you to pinch the screen to zoom and you can move the map around with your finger like a smartphone, it just works. The only question is why it took so long for Volkswagen to get into the 21st century.

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I’m faced with a tough decision, is this the most fun-to-drive car I have driven this year? Or should that title go the new 2016 Mazda MX-5? The Mazda is a hoot to drive, top down in the summer sun it is hard to ask for more, the Golf R offers a different experience but equally as fun.

The MX-5 slides around easily and that’s where the smiles come from, as well as the magic of feeling fast while not actually being so. The Golf R though offers so much grip it feels like the car will just never run out, even on winter tires I’ve tried to push the car past its limit with no real success. The all-wheel drive system pulls you along and somehow Volkswagen even managed to hide the understeer by making the car so capable, you would be hard pressed ever to find it.

On the flip side when you just want to cruise down the highway or off to work early in the morning the car is quiet and composed. I don’t know how, but despite the zero wheel gap, large low profile tires and low ground clearance the Golf R is never jarring, never rough and never bottoms out even on the largest dips — it feels incredibly solid and composed.

The brakes will make you eat the steering wheel if you jab them a little too quickly, but they are perfectly linear and easy to modulate as needed. I can’t really tell much difference between the various modes (comfort, normal, race and individual). The modes adjust the steering sensitivity, dynamic chassis control and various other features, but I’ve been leaving the car in race-mode. Perhaps that would be annoying if the vehicle was equipped with the DSG transmission as it would hold gears, but with the manual transmission it’s a non-issue and I can be racing around constantly!

Despite being driven by a four-cylinder turbo the engine note is sublime, the “race-mode” setting does offer the occupants an extra dose of noise by pipping it into the interior and it is glorious, sprints through the first three gears tends to happen at full throttle at every possible occasion — gas mileage be damned.

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Turns out, if you drive around full throttle everywhere, you do not achieve stellar fuel economy… who knew? But it also turns out that if you are driving a vehicle with 292-hp, even if you try not to pin it constantly you still do not achieve stellar fuel economy.

Over the week of driving I averaged 9.6 L/100 km, which seems kind of bad actually, but I wasn’t very kind to the Golf R. At moderate pace though I noticed the fuel economy was not improved very much.

Fuel Economy
Exterior Styling

Despite the six-speed transmission the engine is still turning over at around 2,600 rpm on the highway. With the amount of torque the engine offers they could have geared sixth a little lower for a more relaxed highway ride.

The Golf R really is one of the best cars I have driven in 2015, the combination of sportiness, comfort, quality and features for the price make an outstanding car. Yes it is missing a few items that buyers in this price range may be looking for, most notably a sunroof — but the fact that they are missing are easily forgotten once you start the engine and head down the road.

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