Market proliferation is pretty common in the auto industry. Manufacturers like BMW are aiming to have nearly one hundred model and trim combinations in their showroom, with sedan versions of coupes and coupe versions of SUV’s and other bewildering combinations. That said, if your heart has been searching for a reasonable compact car with AWD and close to 300 horsepower, your search results haven’t been too successful beyond say, the pricy BMW M235 X-drive. Perhaps if you were to get part of your desires with AWD and practicality, you’d look at an STi hatch, but for 2015 that’s only made in sedan.
Enter the new Golf R.
Mission Beach, San Diego was the introduction point for the new Golf R, and fittingly so. Trails through the southern California topography would be the main routes used to get up close and intimate with the new benchmark for the hot hatch.
Straight away there is good news for traditionalists; the 2015 R will re-introduce a third pedal later on in the year, though will be initially introduced with the DSG. Don’t be worried about this, the DSG shifting is magnificent, and in some cases, more appropriate. Better yet is how all of that power is put to the ground. The amount of driven wheels matches the amount of doors you’ll find (R models only in 4 door hatch) and through a Haldex coupling, power can be split 50/50 depending on needs.
On paper it ticks all the right boxes with 4motion AWD, a turbo 4cyl engine putting out a healthy 292 horsepower and... well it’s a Golf, so being reasonable is never in question. Even loaded with extras, MSRP is going to be around $39,900.
One fact is clear; this is now a performance car. Sure it does things that a humble little Golf should do, and all of the Golf’s attributes are still there, yet is brings out performance car heroics. Though it rides stiff (even in comfort mode on DCC equipped models) it doesn’t beat you up.
Steering is crisp as you would expect and you’re not going to have an easy time breaking it from the natural, neutral handling balance. There were plenty of perfect, narrow and twisting roads to really push to the limits, and get lost in how rapidly you can cover ground. Brakes are up to the task as well and the most impressive part is how the entire car seems to work in unison.
So, after falling in love with the Golf R along the southern California terrain, a real question presented itself: will this car stand up against the newly introduced Focus RS? They are both in this new niche part of the uber-hatch segment, about the same price, equipment, horsepower and capability. If you were to ask which one I'd pick, well... I think it's time I sit myself in the Blue Oval and find out.