buying a car you didn’t truly consider until 3 weeks before buying it. Cause, that’s what I did. I was on the hunt for a new car because I was tired of driving my 2008 Mercedes CLK550 and wanted something with: more utility, better mpg, and something that was more modern. Here are all of my previous modes of transport.
I thought of cars that were around $20,000: a GTI, a 135i/is (thanks to E90M3), and a Civic SI. I test drove the GTI and SI; feeling that the GTI was more adapt to what I wanted. It had more power, more space, better options, and I was already familiar chassis. The SI, while handling great, didn’t have the power I was looking for, plus was a manual. Yes, I wanted to consider automatics too, because I’d like my girlfriend to be able to drive me places, in my car.
To preface all of this, I had a Golf TDI back in 2012 and sold it to VW after Diesel-gate; but I really enjoyed how good it was as a highway cruiser and how much stuff you can really fit in the back.
I didn’t pursue any BMW’s because I was leaning more to utility, rather than driving dynamics and such. Plus, they don’t sell the 1 series hatch here, and I already had a 328d wagon and thought it was too much money and too long.
I finally sold the Mercedes and was basically taking my Ducati to work and to the grocery store (very challenging to load groceries into a backpack mind you). Naturally came the rush to find a car, because it was tough at times just taking the Ducati and finding a car became a priority. Let’s just say the girlfriend didn’t want to ride pillion on the Ducati.
I don’t really remember what made me think of the Golf R honestly, I had even shrugged off the idea of buying it, even though my friend told me about it. Funny how things change.
Then I suppose something clicked. I was hating the trade offs on power vs. utility vs. mpg vs. price with my car search. Then I remembered the Golf R; it fit every checkbox, and for some reason, I didn’t really feel money was an issue anymore. Cue searching VWVortex classifieds, eBay, Craigslist, BAT even. Then I found the one...
Now it’s been over 1 month since I bought this 2017 VW Golf R in Limestone Grey Metallic, with DDC (Dynamic Chassis Control), Navigation w/ Apple CarPlay, Fender audio, DAP (Driver Assistance Package), DSG trans. and 292 hp / 280 lb-ft of torque. And I fucking love it!
So, in tried and true Opposite Lock review fashion, lets start off with the:
Exterior - 8/10
This car is a Golf; let’s not forget. Underneath all the bulgy scoops on the front, the aggressive headlights, the quad exhaust, and the 19" Pretoria rims; it’s the MQB platform. VW uses this thing for a ton of their vehicles, including the Atlas. The car sits 5mm lower than the GTI, but kinda looks high due to the wheels. But I like the way the car is proportioned. The rear wheels sit really close to the rear of the bodywork, which makes it feel really compact. Which is my point about the 328d being too long because the Golf R is short and squat to fit in parking spots in LA and to park my Ducati behind it in the garage. So size matters.
The paint is interesting too; it’s limestone grey metallic, and when it’s not covered in LA’s finest air quality, it looks really nice, and it varies in the way it looks depending on the light. The headlights are very crisp and clear, and have sharp looking LED DRLS. They even have a cornering function, so when you’re turning or preparing to, a light will activate to illuminate more of the corner you’re turning into! Thanks Germany!
There are a few R badges to remind you that it is indeed an R. Otherwise, some might confuse it for a GTI...
The rear valence has a few things going on. I kinda like the aggressiveness of the strakes and the quad-tip exhaust. But sometimes I wish they kept with the Golf R’s of old, and made it dual, center exit exhaust, it just looks less pretentious. The tail lights are nice too, matching the front headlight design motifs. The reverse lights are LED I believe and aren’t as bright as I’d like. I do like how the backup camera is hidden in the VW badge/hatch handle; that’s really clever and expensive to fix when it breaks.
So back to the front. Remember how I said it had bulgy scoops; well, they’re functional! The side intakes are for 2 small radiators and the front grill is for the intercooler and main radiator! Pretty neat.
Interior - 7/10
The interior is a nice place to be. I’m already familiar with it due to owning an MK6, and everything is where I’d expect it. There’s well bolstered front seats, covered in black leather. The driver’s seat is power adjustable, but the passenger’s side isn’t; for a premium car that kinda irks me. Also, I don’t really like piano black plastics, which this has all around the infotainment screen. But I digress.
The seats are comfortable for long trips so far. I’ve taken a 2 hour trip to the canyons in Malibu and wasn’t fatigued at all, even after driving the twisties. The pedals are aluminum, the paddle-shifters are plastic, and the steering-wheel is D shaped. Among other things, the rear seats fold down allowing easy loading of moving boxes or Ikea sit-stand tables. Blue strip lighting on the door panels and soft LEDs add some contrast to the cabin at night.
I fixed a “regulatory issue” with the center console a few weeks after I bought it too. This issue is that the center console doesn’t open due to some US law about drive-shafts or something of the like. So, with some parts from ECS, I was able to enjoy my formerly lost storage!
Acceleration - 9/10
This car moves! Every time I drive the R, I try to “give it the beans” on any straightaway I can. The 4-motion system doesn’t allow any torque-steer, which makes the car feel even more planted, despite it not having an LSDs in it. It’s one of those controlled feelings of acceleration too, never feeling like it’s gonna get away from you.
With the DCT, the car can get to 60mph in around 4.5 seconds. For about $800 and about an hour of my time, APR claims that their software will add 74 hp and 98 ft-lbs of torque when used with 93 octane fuel. A new 0-60 time of just 3.8 seconds. That’s insane.
Brakes are great for single piston calipers; 60mm pistons though. Firm pedal feel and they don’t feel faded after a hard canyon run. They look good too. Black with a silver R logo; nice and simple.
3 handling modes mean the handling can be:
A. Comfort mode) Very soft suspension, with easy steering
B. Normal mode) Stiff with moderate steering
C. Race mode) Very stiff, and almost feels like hydraulic steering. Yeah, I said that. It’s true though, it has lots of feel and is quite heavy which gives me more confidence in the car when driving spiritedly.
When you’re really pushing it, you can feel the rear end get some power, especially in the corners. It rotates around them. Since the car doesn’t have any LSDs, it emulates this by using individual brakes, so there isn’t really any chance of oversteering or burnouts; sadly.
The DSG is really great and there’s a reason it’s coming to more and more cars. It’s smooth and can be shift very quick when needed. Living in LA means lots of stop-and-go traffic, and driving a manual can get annoying quick, hence why I went with an automatic. The only thing that’s kinda negative is the paddle-shifters are tiny on the steering wheel, I feel they could be a bit larger. But oh man, when you shift aggressively, the shifts are lightning quick and you get a bit of burble from the exhaust, aka: DSG farts.
Good amount of toys. As you see above, a neat performance monitor. Plus Apple carplay and Android auto. Good Fender audio system with a subwoofer where the spare wheel would go. Soundaktor is there too to add engine sound artificially, which isn’t my cup of tea, but it doesn’t sound too intrusive and I understand it’s point; make it feel like your car is louder than it is whilst not pissing off your neighbors.
It could be cheaper I suppose. It’s priced above the Focus ST and and the Fiesta ST, which don’t have the comfort or refinement of the Golf, so good value on that. The Golf is also 50hp down from the Focus RS which is priced the same MSRP-wise. But for being 1 of 4 hot-hatches available in the US, it’s priced alright. Plus, you won’t have to worry about head gaskets.
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged I-4
Power: 292 hp @ 5400 rpm / Torque: 280 lb-ft @ 1800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed DSG
0-60 Time: 4.5 seconds with DSG and Launch control.
Top Speed: 155 electronically limited
Drivetrain: 4-Motion AWD, mostly FWD until the car thinks you need rear power.
Curb Weight: 3,340 Lbs.
MPG: 34 hwy, 25 city, 20 if lead foot is applied
Used in Los Angeles: $34,000
TLDR: A classy hot hatch with enough power to be exciting and enough comfort to not hate it as a DD.