You would think that a car like the Volkswagen Golf R (which, TL;DR I liked a lot), would lend itself to an easy review. But it does not. In fact, this is something like the sixth go at crafting something I’m willing to let see the light of day.
The reason for this is the fact that in the premium hot hatch market there are some great choices; Golf R, Ford Focus RS, and the Honda Civic Type R. It’s not that one car is better than the other, it really boils down to what fit’s your personality best.
Hear me out.
Having driven these various choices, some speak to me more than others. I genuinely like driving the Civic Type R. The interior is excellent, plus it’s a Honda so you’ll be able to thrash the snot out of it for a quarter million miles and never worry about it. As good as the Honda drives, however, it lacks some emotional engagement. It’s a bit clinical.
There’s also the styling. As I approach the end of my 40’s, I find this one to be far too boy racer. If you’re under the age of 35 though, it may be fine to excellent in your eyes.
The Focus RS is a great car with crappy suspension. Crappy in that the spring rate needs to be dropped about 30% to be livable as a daily, and it would also make the car lap a track more quickly. The interior is okay, the styling is handsome, and the engine is fantastic, minus the Mustang head gaskets going on some motors.
The Golf R is the car that calls to me in this category. The styling is a little too understated but I can give that a pass. You don’t stick out to the Five-Oh in the Golf R and I enjoy having no points on my license. The interior is well done, though I do wish we could get the cloth tartan seats in the U.S. like they do in Europe. The new eight-inch head unit looks and works great and it has REAL KNOBS AND BUTTONS! The suspension can be firmed up with the TCC, but even in it’s the firmest setting, the wife/partner who couldn’t care less about cars won’t object. Put it in standard or comfort and you are ready for the worst roads that LA or Detroit can throw at you.
If there is one thing lacking it’s the engine. Now 292 horsepower isn’t bad. It’s just down on everyone else. You could always call up APR and drop a little over a grand and bump that power number to 370 if you are willing to run premium gas. Having recently spent a week with the Audi TT RS with 400hp and AWD, I will tell you that an APR tuned Golf R will be fast enough for you to call your doctor for …persistant, err, problem. As it sits stock, it’s still a ton of fun to drive and plenty quick.
The overall package and balance of the Golf R makes it a great daily, as well as something you can take to a track day or autocross. Will it be the best at those? Not likely, but you will have fun, have a competent and confident car that you can enjoy and then drive to work on Monday, and all you did was put gas in it and reset the tire pressures.
Because of the Golf and GTI lineage behind this Mk 7.5 version of the Golf R, the package has been refined over the last 40 years. All of the ergonomics are good to excellent, the use of interior space is well done, with four doors and plenty of rear legroom you can actually take friends places. Fold the rear seat down and you have plenty of cargo room for runs to your preferred big box store.
If at this point you are wondering why I’m not going into details about performance numbers or how it handles on a back road, it’s because your mind was made up before you clicked the “READ MORE” button on what you would think of the Golf R, and that goes back to my main point. If this car fits your personality you are going to like it. If it doesn’t, you will find a litany of faults with it real or imagined.
What I will say after a week and just shy of 300 miles in the Golf R is this, I would spend my own money on this before any of the others. Sure, $40,000 for the Golf R is a tough pill to swallow, but the other cars in the category will cost about the same. But wait you say the Type R is five grand less! That’s if you can get a dealer to sell you one at sticker.
Now here is the interesting data point about all these cars, the demographic that most want these cars can’t really afford them. For the early twenties to mid-thirties person these cars most appeal to, how many of them can afford to buy one new?
Let’s go on pretty established market data about how people buy cars, they finance 90-95% of the purchase price. So if we use $40,000 as our purchase price, we’ll say you put 10% down, your note is $36,000. Now we’ll do the note over 72 months at 4.9%, your monthly payment is a touch over $578/month.
Let’s round up and say $600/month, toss in another $200/mo for insurance, you are paying almost your monthly rent payment just to have the car and be able to drive it. If you make $50,000, which would be good, not great money in most of the U.S. for someone in their early 30’s your take home would be about $2,500/month. So between your car and your rent, you are about tapped. But I could lease one of these you say. Yeah, good luck with that. You aren’t going to be getting a $300/mo lease on anything here.
If you can afford it, any of these cars are a great choice, especially if you can have only one car in your life. Even if you have a young family with one or two kids, there is no real need to ditch these for a crossover or SUV. These will hall your kids, their car seats, and all the crap you have to bring along when you have kids just fine thank you.
Side note, if you are in Canada for $2,500 you can choose from one of 30 custom colors. It’s rumored that most if not all of these colors will be coming to the U.S. for the 2019 model year.
This is a fantastic time in the U.S. if you want a premium hot hatch. Drive them all and buy the one you like best. For me, my tastes and my personality, I’d choose the Golf R and not have to think twice about it.