Volkswagen upped its game with the 2016 Golf R, adding a highly desirable six-speed manual transmission and more technology than ever. Starting at $35,650, this top-of-the-line iteration of the VW Golf is stacked with way more features than its price tag would lead you to believe. The new Golf R is lower to the ground, faster, more efficient and, most of all, it delivers on the high expectations that car enthusiasts have set for it.
The entire Volkswagen Golf family received the 2015 North American Car of the Year award, showcasing how well-executed of a product it is. The 2016 Volkswagen Golf R is the top model in the Golf lineup, running a few thousand dollars more expensive than the base Golf and GTI. The Golf R has a starting price point of $35,650 with the manual transmission (add $1,100 for the dual-clutch automatic).
A full 0.2 inches lower than the already sporty GTI, the 2016 Golf R is arguably the best-looking hatchback in VW’s stable. In true German automaker fashion, Volkswagen is restrained in souping up the Golf R’s exterior too much. The automaker focused on a refreshed radiator grille, new U-shaped daytime running lights and custom 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels with black brake calipers donning the “R” logo. There’re also black painted sideview mirror caps and a quad exhaust system.
The Golf R’s low-slung stance and custom fascia give it an extra edge over the GTI. For some, the changes may be enough to justify the Golf R’s additional cost, but for others, the subtle design differences may not be enough to warrant the heftier price tag.
Slipping inside the low-to-the-ground Golf R should delight performance-car drivers. Bolstered seats hug your shoulders and hips comfortably without squeezing too tightly. The three-pedal setup is good for drivers of varying heights and sizes, while placement of the shift knob is convenient for a quick run through the gears.
The Golf R achieves a quiet ride without completely shutting out the performance note from its 2.0-liter beating heart. Engine noise from the Golf R is best described as less obnoxious than the constant roaring of a Subaru WRX STI, yet more noticeable than the “white noise” from a lower-powered Honda Civic Si.
The quality of the materials is impressive, with smartly placed soft-touch points around both driver and passengers. We particularly enjoyed the 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and accompanying flat-bottom, leather-wrapped steering wheel. The gearshift and pedals are comfortably situated; meaning there’s no awkward angle for your right knee in order to reach the accelerator. Front seats receive an embroidered “R” logo in the seatback, just in case nobody noticed the external “R” badges you paid for.
It’s almost worth deducting a point from our interior score, however, for the lack of an available sunroof. The cabin can seem dark even in the daytime due to the black headliner material, but the decision to forgo the sunroof could be for the rigidity of the car.
Storage capacity is a healthy 22.8 cubic feet when carrying passengers and it expands to 52.7 cu. ft. with rear seats folded down. These cargo figures are more generous than what can be found inside a comparable vehicle such as the Mercedes-Benz GLA250. In fact, the Golf R has nearly enough space to compete against vehicles within the compact crossover segment.
This is where the 2016 VW Golf R shines. While fit and finish are important, performance is likely the primary reason buyers are interested in this zippy, lightweight hatch. At just over 3,200 pounds (3,300 lbs. for the automatic model), the Golf R propels forward with ease. Its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder offers 292 horsepower, and balances it across all four wheels via the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.
Simply put, the Golf R is a hoot to drive. It’s slightly more serious than its go-kart-like Mini Cooper competition. The Golf R confidently navigates narrow streets. It attacks corners and preys on twisty roads. It seeks out adventure in even the most mundane of daily commutes.
Both manual and automatic models get a respectable 25 mpg combined as estimated by the EPA. Models with the six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic achieve 23/30 mpg city/highway, while Golf R models with the six-speed manual garner 22/31 mpg city/highway.
Technology abounds on this 2016 Golf R, which receives a much-needed update to its infotainment system, including a USB connection and a larger 6.5-inch touch screen. Volkswagen makes syncing your smartphone with the Golf R simple and headache-free. The carmaker is one of the first to have a system that supports all three major connected smartphone applications: Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink.
VW’s Car-Net package now comes standard across 2016 Golf models. Broken into the categories of “App-Connect”, “Security Service” and “Guide & Inform”, the comprehensive software program covers everything from connected apps from your smartphone, to remote access, important vehicle diagnostics and more. Customers buying a new Golf will get a free six-month trial of VW’s Car-Net services with the option to renew for $199 per year (or $17.99 month-to-month). App-Connect, although part of Car-Net, is a free in-car app that is available to all vehicle drivers; it does not require a subscription.
We enjoyed the ease of using VW’s App-Connect to replicate many of the functions from our smartphone on the center display, relying on voice commands for just about everything when our hands are busy with the steering wheel and gearshift.
The 2016 Golf R offers at least two potentially life-saving features. VW’s Automatic Post-Collision Braking system applies brakes when it detects a collision to reduce the risk of subsequent accidents. There’s also an Intelligent Crash Response system that springs into action in the event of certain major crashes, shutting off the fuel pump, unlocking the doors and engaging the hazard lights.
For an additional cost, customers can purchase the Driver Assistance package, which includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with autonomous braking, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
The forward collision warning system will apply brakes in the instance the driver does not brake in time (or strongly enough) for an impending forward crash. Meanwhile, the lane departure system can actively steer the Golf R if the driver happens to drift too far outside of the normal traffic lanes.
If you’re shopping for a VW Golf, the R is the priciest option. However, when reviewing the additional features and technology that Volkswagen has packed into its 2016 Golf R, a price tag nearing $40,000 is not completely unwarranted.
The 2016 Golf R with DCC and Navigation we tested rang in at a healthy $39,190. It included every option available except the DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission, which would have pushed the price above the $40,000 mark.
For the extra cash, our test car picked up a four-mode Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) adaptive suspension, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels paired with summer tires, navigation, a Fender audio system and VW’s Car-Net App-Connect system.
That sticker price also included the $1,295 Driver Assistance Package.
It’s worth noting that none of these costs include the $820 destination fee or your state sales tax, dealership document processing fees and any other outside expenses related to the purchase of this vehicle. These expenditures can easily push your Golf R bill into mid-$40,000 territory.
The 2016 Golf R gets its lively 292-horsepower engine from the Audi S3 sedan, and that’s a good thing. With all that horsepower, and almost as much torque, the adaptive suspension system keeps the Golf R on the ground, steadily sending power to all four wheels at the right time.
We appreciated the “R” badges accenting the front grille, liftgate and the backs of the two front seats. The 2016 Golf R also receives blue ambient lighting in just the right amounts throughout the cabin.
Inside is where many consumers may be concerned about losing their faith, but the 2016 Golf R does not disappoint. In addition to the myriad technology features found on our test vehicle, the inside is clean, comfortable and minimalistic with a sporty edge.
The driving position is front-and-center. The controls are well within reach. The new touch-screen navigation interface is intuitive and easy to see, thanks to the 6.5-inch display. Voice commands are incredibly accurate when using Siri through Apple CarPlay.
All in all, the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R is a solid vehicle for buyers who want to have a good time behind the wheel without sacrificing common-sense functionality. Sure, it’s a hefty price to pay compared with the base Volkswagen Golf, but we think the additional tech and safety features that are combined with custom design elements will make it worth your while.