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2016 Volkswagen Golf R: New Car Review

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Used 2016 Volkswagen Golf R 4-Door
Used 2016 Volkswagen Golf R
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author photo by Autotrader April 2016

The 2016 Volkswagen Golf R confirms the fact that the Golf platform is capable of great things. It also shows that some people want something beyond what the excellent GTI can offer. The GTI has been at the top of the Golf range for most of the car's existence, so when something comes in above it (such as the VR6, R32 and previous Golf R models), it's a big deal.

The current Golf R makes an extra 72 horsepower (compared with the current GTI) in its 4-cylinder 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and then sends it through to all four wheels. In the sprint from a standstill to 60 miles per hour, the R beats the GTI by about 1.4 seconds, clocking in at 4.5 seconds with the DSG transmission, which is quick. The manual-transmission version is around 0.8 of a second slower.

It rides on a sport suspension that's 0.8 of an inch lower than the regular Golf and has an XDS electronic limited-slip differential at both ends, giving the R some serious handling talent. This is complemented by a stronger braking system with larger discs. The usual high-quality interior takes a few more steps up with R-specific cabin accents, gauges and sport seats. And because it's still a Golf, that means a ton of practicality as well, with plenty of space for passengers and cargo.

Ultimately, its pricing seems pretty high for a Volkswagen, but the Golf R really has to be driven to be fully appreciated. That's when it starts to exert a tug when you start thinking of ways to make ownership possible, such as selling those Apple shares or breaking into the kids' college funds.

What's New for 2016?

A 6-speed manual transmission becomes standard and the DSG (automated manual transmission) is now an option. An updated infotainment system brings a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality and a USB port. And when the model with DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control, otherwise known as adaptive suspension dampers) and navigation is selected, it also becomes eligible for the Driver Assistance package that brings adaptive cruise control, forward-collision mitigation with autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and parking sensors (front and rear).

What We Like

Engaging turbocharged engine; handling, grip and traction enhanced by standard all-wheel drive; premium interior; highway champ

What We Don't

Pricey; not significantly faster than the GTI

How Much?


Fuel Economy

A 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder makes 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard.

With the 6-speed manual transmission, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates fuel consumption at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined. With the 6-speed automated manual (called DSG; it works like a regular automatic but also offers the driver the choice of manual selection by using the shift lever or paddles mounted under the steering wheel), consumption is 23 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The 2016 Volkswagen Golf R ($36,470) comes as one well-equipped model.

Standard equipment includes 18-in alloy wheels, keyless entry and push-button ignition, automatic headlights with LED running lights, rain-sensing wipers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, brake lever and shift knob, leather seating surfaces, dual-zone climate control, ambient cabin lighting with LED reading lights, leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat, a drive mode selector, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, an infotainment system with a 6.5-in touchscreen, a USB port, an SD-card slot, satellite radio and an 8-speaker audio system.

Options include an adaptive suspension (DCC), 19-in alloy wheels, the DSG transmission, navigation and a Fender-branded audio system upgrade. The Driver Assistance package consists of those advanced safety features mentioned above. The adaptive cruise control in this package doesn't work below 19 mph when paired with the manual transmission; it will bring the car to a complete stop if necessary when paired with the DSG transmission.

Like the other Golf hatchbacks, the R enjoys some of the most generous cargo space in its class: 22.8 cu ft. behind the rear seats and 52.7 cu ft. when the seats are folded down.


The Golf R comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, hill-hold assist and six airbags (front, front-side and side-curtain). Post-collision braking is also standard and something of a Volkswagen specialty. In the event of a collision, it automatically applies the brakes to reduce the chance of a secondary impact.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given the Golf R a maximum overall score of five stars: four for front-impact protection and five for side-impact protection.

The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 4-door regular Golf its highest rating of Good in every category and named it a Top Safety Pick+.

Behind the Wheel

The Golf R has excellent road manners to go with the muscle, along with a quiet cabin. And the all-wheel-drive system with the XDS electronic differential makes a real difference when powering through the bends. Whereas the GTI sometimes wants to understeer wide of the intended course, the Golf R gives that familiar "invisible hand" sensation of all four wheels working to keep the car in line. The R is completely composed at high speeds, and its upgraded brakes provide all-day stopping power without fade.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 BMW M235i -- The 2 Series is smaller and not quite as practical (although its trunk is pretty big at 13.8 cu ft.), but the M235i makes the most of that hallmark BMW rear-drive attitude with 320 hp.

2016 Ford Focus RS -- The Focus is another compact hatchback with a world-class chassis. The full-on RS version beats the Golf R with 350 hp going to all four wheels. Anyone thinking about an R really has to check out the RS.

2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA45 -- The CLA runs with 375 hp going to all four wheels (boosted for the 2016 model year). It's the most complete version in the CLA range, but now we're firmly in the $50,000 ballpark.

2016 Mini Cooper Hardtop John Cooper Works -- This Mini is less expensive than a Golf R, but it's also smaller, less powerful (228 hp) and only has front-wheel drive. But it's one of the most entertaining rides around.

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI -- Take a GTI for a spin to see if it works well enough. It has 220 hp and sprints from a standstill to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. For most drivers, this is all perfectly fine.

Used BMW M3 -- For power, poise and prestige, there's nothing better than this BMW.

Autotrader's Advice

Once things get past a certain level (in this case, the GTI level), then the extra power and expense is more of a heart decision than a head decision. Since this is an enthusiast's car, think about staying with the basic version, manual transmission and all. Going for everything puts the price past the $50,000 mark, which is hard even for the heart to take.

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Used 2016 Volkswagen Golf R 4-Door
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2016 Volkswagen Golf R: New Car Review - Autotrader