Launch Gallery

The Golf R just might be VW’s ultimate driver’s car. Although GTI fans may object, the R comes with all-wheel drive. The GTI’s front-wheel drive doesn’t adapt as naturally to the kind of track day driving where the R really flourishes. With speed aplenty coming from the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine generating 256 horsepower with 243 lb.-ft. of torque, a wonderfully tuned suspension and great balance in turns, the R has all the tools to keep a lead-footed gearhead smiling.

In an age when manual transmissions are becoming as rare as a good Adam Sandler movie, VW keeps it old-school by only offering the Golf R with a short throw six-speed manual, so those who have never mastered a clutch might want to stop reading now. The interior is sporty, with a flat-bottomed racing-style steering wheel, aluminum pedals, semi-bolstered seats and cool bright blue needles on the instrument panel. The R comes in both two-door and four-door versions.

The R doesn’t disappoint on curb appeal either, with a downright nasty mien. The wide stance, aggressive bodywork, daytime LED running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, black R-badged brake calipers and dual center-mounted exhaust pipes make a great impression coming or going. Yet the R retains a level of sophistication in its design that makes it seem slightly less youthful than the boy racer vehicles that make up some of its competition, such as the Subaru WRX or Mitsubishi Evo.

The Golf R can definitely walk the walk when it comes to performance. VW claims a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds, which makes it the fastest production VW in the USA. The 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is always engaged and sends torque to the wheels that have the most grip. The R has an alphabet soup of additional systems to keep the car on the road, from ESC (electronic stability control) to ASR (anti-slip regulation, a traction control system). The enhanced sport suspension keeps the R balanced through twists and turns, and the electromechanical steering delivers a good sense of the road to the driver. Gas mileage is respectable at 19 city/27 highway.

All this power and style doesn’t come cheap, with the two-door test vehicle we drove coming in at $34,760. Then again, you’re getting VW’s ultimate driver’s car. Sorry, GTI.