Took a German Golf R for a test drive today: it was the German equivalent of a CPO car; about 30Kmiles on the odo, 2-dr black with the “Talladega package” which is the black 19s, black headlight housings, tinted rear windows and hatch glass. The car was DSG, and in addition to the Talladega pack it had DCC, KESSY, leather, back-up camera, the rain sensing wipers and self dimming mirror, nav, Dynaudio etc. It was truly loaded and the sticker new was an eye-watering 49K EUR! Now asking 32.8K. Salesman asked that I bring it back in 40 min or so.
Aside from the deeper, slightly rumbly exhaust note, the very first thing noticed after start up, adjusting the mirrors, and pulling away was the weight – this feels like a heavier, somehow much more mechanical vehicle than the GTI – which of course it is. Sometimes that manifests itself mostly in a bad way if the car is underpowered, or if the car you’re comparing it with is much more lively and agile. The R is not underpowered. The weight gives it a more planted, substantial feeling than the GTI, which does feel a little more tossable, and perhaps more involving overall because of the presence of the 6-spd manual.
That exhaust note makes itself known right away; it’s deeper, louder and more persistent than the GTI’s, so in that sense it is like my old mk5 R32 but there the similarity ends – the R completely lacks that nice, brassy cry that the VR6 produces in the old car. Given DSG short-shifting tendencies if left to its own devices, the R’s exhaust has a tendency to get a little drony when you get back on the throttle, which the R32 (also DSG) didn’t. So I’d rank this a “plus” over the GTI, since I like an exhaust that is bit more of a more noticeable companion, but it doesn’t compare to the R32’s, as you’ve no doubt already heard – nope.
The R is faster than a GTI, and also a bit faster than a stage 1 GTI, more so as speeds climb – all of which stands to reason given the K04’s greater capacity and ability to maintain more boost as engine/turbine speeds rise. For full disclosure, my GTI is GIAC, with an S3 intercooler and Neuspeed TOP and throttle body pipe/noise pipe delete. I drove my GTI again after the R, over most of the same route. The GTI pulls hard and immediately; probably more so than the R from the initial throttle tip-in, though my perception may have had to do with the weight the R is carrying around. So I wouldn’t say there was pronounced turbo-lag, but in that sense it is noticeable. I also noticed pronounced front end lift in the GTI under heavy throttle in 2nd or even 3rd that the R does not exhibit. Flash/chip-tuning a small turbo like the GTI’s also means getting power down can be challenging in the lower gears, especially when conditions are less than ideal, and especially if the wheel is turned. This is of course the R’s great advantage over the GTI - none of that is an issue for an R, and I’d love to try one that has been flashed.
To confirm the R’s top-end advantage, it was necessary to mix in some Autobahn time. Patiently waited to reach a de-restricted zone, dropped to 4th and off we went – the R pulls consistently hard – my guess is it was at least as hard as the GTI from around 65 mph, and grew from there – not a “night and day, oh my god” kind of a difference, but it was there. To be more objective: on the same stretch of road in very similar conditions, I was able to reach about 145 or so in the R, where the GTI was traveling 138, before needing to brake for an exit. Most of this difference was the power, to be sure, but a little was also due to the greater ease and confidence with which speed could be reached in the R – it was rolling on 19 inch Dunlop Sport Maxx GTs, with DCC in sport, and (again) that heavy, planted feel. My GTI was still in ‘winter mode’ which (since we don’t see much snow here and I don’t have to drive when I don’t want to) means OEM 17s, including the Conti Pro Contacts – as an aside, these are not nearly as bad a high speed tire as you may surmise in the US. Speaking from the “no-limits” perspective, those tires inspire confidence at speeds well north of their H-rated limit, though I avoid doing that for prolonged periods for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, on a 2-lane, curving stretch of Autobahn with other cars around, the R can get you there and with more comfort, confidence and control than the GTI.
I know the US R is rated a bit lower than this 270hp Euro version, though like everyone else, I can’t tell you whether that is a reflection of some true difference in the specs, a pure ‘marketing’ move to protect Audi (though the TT-S is such a meaningless blip on the US sales radar that I suspect that argument is horse----) or just VW’s belief that 256hp is probably closer to what the average US R will produce on any given day, especially those running 91 (R + M)/2 since the average German R will be running fuel that has an Octane rating 3-5 points higher. 102 RON is widely available here, which equates to about 96-97.
The suspension: DCC seems like a bit of overkill over here, to me; German roads tend to be of a consistent, higher quality than back home (especially in NY!) For that reason, you could really live with it in any of the modes. I did notice differences in the shock valving between comfort, normal and sport, but I think I’d just leave it in normal mostly, though additional hours behind the wheel could change that impression, I concede. I did notice the heavier steering feel in sport, and a little firmer, less forgiving ride. I suspect that if the US R came with DCC I’d leave it in comfort almost everywhere and use normal on good highways. Outside of a track, or north of about 130mph, I wouldn’t bother with Sport. I assume that normal equates to the non-DCC cars’ shocks. Overall, the GTI is a tad bit more bouncy and you do notice the front-end lift more.
A word on DSG: not too much about the Euro version stood out to me, compared to what I know from back home, except that the R seems to crack off the shifts a bit quicker, that may have to do with the better fuel control afforded the engineers by the direct injection of the 2.0T, compared to the port-injection VR6. It works great, I’m confident it would be quicker in a sprint than a manual car. One thing I noticed was that in sport or manual mode, the idle rpm immediately increased to 1K or so. Wasn’t a fluke, it happened every time and dropped back down to normal speeds as soon as you slotted it back in to ‘D’ – it make sense from a performance standpoint, but I don’t remember that at all from the US DSGs I drove including the R32 I owned – have I forgotten, or is this a Euro only feature? Anyway, it works very well, but I’d still take a manual I’d rather spare the weight, the extra mechanical interface between me and the car and the occasionally funky behavior DSG is known for. Plus, the manual is just more involving and therefore fun, to me. No DSG wars, please...besides, it is moot for you.
Brakes – very good, though I have to say I didn’t experiment with them enough to find a big advantage over the GTI here, which I would expect over time.
A couple of general points, this car, with about 8K miles more than mine, has far less rattles, squeaks shakes and vibes, than mine, I’m sorry to say. Since they are built on the same line by the same folks in the same way AFAIK, I can only conclude this means that 22K miles on NYC @!#$%& roads is equivalent to about 60K on German roads! Also makes me think I should yank the BFI torque arm insert out and try living without one for a while to see how that calms things down, or install the revised one they sent me.
Overall: While driving I had this thought several times – it is hard for me to imagine ever needing more car than this, (especially if tuned) honestly. Or when loaded up the way this one was. Would I buy one? In the abstract, yes, or if I was looking for a new car - absolutely - hands down. Is it enough to make me want to trade up from my GTI? No, probably not. Especially given the price differential here – though that also means my GTI should be worth more as a used car here than in the US, and I own it free and clear, so maybe I should check...
Thanks for reading, those of you who made it “all the way” through, (and you thought TechEd's posts were long...) maybe this helps a few GTI owners or others considering the R to draw some conclusions. For the rest of you, enjoy your Rs!! It's a super car its own right and an impressive performance flagship for VW. Now I just got to find me a Scirocco R to try out...