We couldn’t wait to get our hands on the all-new 2016 Volkswagen Golf R performance hatch. We’ve already driven the 2015 Subaru WRX STI performance sedan, and we wanted to compare the two performance compacts to see which comes out on top. Both absolutely peg the fun-to-drive meter, but is there a big difference between these cars and which would we would rather have? Lets start with the specs for each car.
The 2016 Golf R 5-Door Hatchback ($36,595) is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine with 292 horsepower and 280 lb ft of torque. It’s mated to a sweet 6-speed DSG automatic transmission. Volkswagen says it will go 0-60 in 4.9 seconds and it ran the Nurburgring in 8:15. It comes with progressive variable-ratio steering, XDS+ w/electronic differential lock and available DCC dynamic chassis control w/3 modes. It comes standard with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive setup.
2015 SUBARU WRX STI Sedan ($34,495) is powered by a 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder Subaru boxer engine with 305hp and 290 lb ft of torque. It comes mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox. STI launches from 0-60 at 5.2 seconds. It comes with Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD with helical limited-slip front, Torsen limited slip rear and electronically controlled center differentials. It also features Electronic Torque Vectoring VDC and Driver Control Systems.
Both cars perform like advertised in acceleration, carving the curves and driving dynamics and are the best performance compacts on the planet. With the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO going away after the last model rolls off the line later this year, the new Ford Focus RS will be the only other vehicle in this segment to give these two hot compacts any real competition.
Ride quality does make a difference
The Volkswagen Golf R hatchback has a firm but more acceptable ride compared to the rally-bred STI. The Subaru WRX STI comes with a performance-tuned suspension and it was developed by Subaru Tecnica International (STI) on the rally course. WRX STI has a much firmer ride and is ideal for those who will take it to the track or rally course on the weekends. STI does come with more power and incredible performance in the corners, but it does come at a cost in ride comfort. As a daily performance driver, Golf R offers a bit more civility that driving enthusiasts will appreciate especially if its being driven on a daily basis.
When Subaru dropped the 5-door hatchback body style from the WRX/STI lineup , it upset quite a few WRX/STI fans. The Golf R offers one body style, the 5-door hatch and it offers superior utility over the STI sedan. Behind the rear seats, the Golf R measures 22.8 cubic feet of cargo carrying ability, and the Golf’s boxier shape allows stuff to be stacked nearly all the way to the roof. With the 60/40-split rear seats folded completely flat, there’s a generous 52.7 cubic feet available, making it a cargo-carrying leader in the class. This is a big plus for recreation enthusiasts who will also use their performance compact for transporting cargo, recreation gear and the family dog on the weekends.
Golf R is a real sleeper
Golf R differences are subtle from the standard Golf, with an updated front bumper design with larger air intakes, bi-xenon headlights with LED surrounds, black finish side mirror backs, R-specific wheels, four tailpipes, and small R logos on the front grille, fenders and rear hatch. Other than these few changes, the R is a real sleeper and can fly under the radar. You can see the R logo peaking through the 18-inch alloy wheels on all four corners if you look close. Subaru WRX STI has a huge wing on the back, that is functional, but it stands out from the crowd and can attract unwanted attention. Subaru does offer a smaller rear deck spoiler option for 2016. We drove a Reflex Silver Metallic Golf R tester and it absolutely flies under the radar.
6-speed DSG automatic transmission
The VW Golf’s sweet 6-speed DSG automatic provides lightning quick upshifts and we found it can be delivered easily with the steering wheel paddle shifters. Volkswagen says the Golf R can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, and it even feels quicker from behind the wheel. Top speed is an electronically limited 155 mph, which unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to check out. Subaru’s WRX STI only comes with a smooth-shifting 6-speed manual gearbox and it works just fine for performance driving. But in stop and go traffic, it’s a real pain. And from what we experienced, the DSG automatic will shift faster than any human can when pushing it hard. Check out the video above to see how much quicker Golf R is on the drag strip over the STI.
Performance enthusiasts will find both the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R and Subaru WRX STI a pleasure to drive and absolutely peg the fun-to-drive meter in all driving situations. The R is quick, powerful and agile in the city and on the open road. Volkswagen says the Golf R is the fastest car they have ever shipped to U.S. shores and we think it’s one of the best examples of German engineering on the planet. We like the 2015 Subaru WRX STI for all-out driving performance, but for those wanting a ride that thrills the senses along with practicality with a useful hatch, the R is a great choice for performance commuters in all climates.
Photo used with permission from Volkswagen US Media
YouTube video used with permission from Cars.co.za