First up, the Golf R. I test drove a DSG-equipped Golf R and thought it was the one. Amazing chassis, good power, ridiculously nice interior, very German. Rear-seat space and cargo storage were ok, but on the small side. The DSG is so good, but I just can’t do an automatic, yet. Which leads me to my next test drive.

The closest thing to a manual Golf R on the VW lot was a GTI. I love the golf-ball shift knob, but the shifter was junk. Long, imprecise throws and even though the golf-ball is cool, it’s very plasticky in a way that does not mesh with the rest of the high-quality interior. Come on, VW, put the quality where people will notice it. We spend a lot of time touching our knobs and they should feel nice! Power was noticeably less than the R, but still adequate. The R and the GTI, unfortunately were eliminated mostly because of the terrible shifter, with extra points lost for merely average seating space. I should note here that the dealership experience at the VW dealer was very good. Low pressure and a very knowledgeable salesperson. They didn’t act like the R is made of unicorn farts and fairy tears.

I drove nextdoor to the Subaru dealer, intending on testing an STI. Unfortunately, they had none in stock, so another quality salesperson took me in a test drive in a WRX. The new 2.0 engine is a peach. Unfortunately, the interior in the WRX is not even in the same league as the GTI or R. Not as awful as reviews would lead you to believe, but not exactly good. The shifter was better than the GTI, but just barely. Long throws and vague feel left me with mixed feelings about the WRX. The back seat room was great, and the trunk, while not a hatch, was very roomy. Plenty of room for activities. Handling and acceleration in the WRX were both exciting enough that I preferred it over the Golfs, but that shifter... I planned on finding an STI later, since I liked the WRX size and character a lot.

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Next came the Focus RS, and the shittiest dealership experience of the weekend. The salesman couldn’t remember “RS” and kept trying to look up the Focus “SR” and then when we were looking for the cars on the lot, he couldn’t tell the difference between the base Focus and the ST or RS. When we got to the RS (one of 6 on the lot), there were signs all over it saying “no test drives!” The salesperson and the manager confirmed that they wouldn’t do a test drive under any circumstance because nobody’s going to buy a Focus RS with 30 miles on it. I called bullshit on that to no avail, but I decided to drive a Focus ST just to get a feel for the platform. The ST had excellent ergonomics and a fantastic shifter. The interior is high-quality, but not to my taste. Ugly and chunky is how I’d describe it. When it came time to check the rear-seat space, I was shocked to see just how little there was. It was like a reverse TARDIS in there. After a very pushy conversation with the manager haranguing me for not putting money down on the RS without a test drive and “see? this is why we don’t give test drives. You weren’t going to buy it anyway.” I told him I’m not buying it because I didn’t get a test drive (and the back seat was way too small anyway).

The search continues... (or continued, because I have a new car as I’m writing this)

tl:dr:

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Golf R: 7/10 fun, 7/10 practicality, 8/10 interior

GTI (manual): 7/10 fun (+1 for manual, -1 for less power), 7/10 practicality, 7/10 interior

WRX: 8/10 fun, 8/10 practicality, 5/10 interior

Focus RS: 0/10 fun, 4/10 practicality (-1 because hatchback but still no space!), 6/10 interior

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Focus ST: 7/10 fun, 4/10 practicality, 5/10 interior