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Auto review: VW Golf R-aises the bar -- a lot

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

At Nürburgring, this added grip — along with a healthy gain of 25 horsepower from the 2.0-liter turbo-4 — allowed for an impressive 19-second reduction over a 13-mile lap of Green Hell. Its 7 minute, 51 second lap time is on par with the ’Ring’s reigning hot hatch king, the scorpion-tailed Honda Civic Type R.

Math 101: better grip + more power = faster corner exits.

“There’s tech you always want in a car,” VW racing ace and brand ambassador Tanner Faust says. “The leap from the generation seven to the generation eight Golf R in technology and dynamics is a huge jump.”

Golf R isn’t the first hot hatch to make use of a torque-vectoring twin-clutch rear differential. Ford stuffed it in the 2016 Focus RS that I destroyed Waterford Hills Race Track with a few years back.

Alas, the Focus RS has disappeared from the U.S. market. I envy European hot shoes who will be able to test the Golf R and Focus RS mano a mano.

The Golf AWD system’s full capability is accessed via new cabin-wrapping screens that match the R’s mechanical upgrades with digital wizardry.

 

Six drive modes are accessed via a convenient “R” button on the square-bottom steering wheel. The feature was pioneered by Porsche and has been replicated by other performance brands including Cadillac’s “V-mode” button. The democratization of autos continues as this whiz-bang feature now finds its way to a 40-grand hot hatch.

Press “R” and thumb through Comfort, Sport, Race, Drift, Special and Individual modes (the latter configurable to your driving style). I liked Race mode, which turned the instrument display into a horizontal digital tachometer like my Lola race car.

Each mode comes with its own dynamic screen graphic. The digital renderings are richly drawn and anchor multiple pages so you can configure the brakes, steering and more. Golfs have been a bit stodgy in their interior tech, and the graphics are a welcome change.

The triptych cockpit display looks like a gamer’s desktop setup. All the latest digital goodies are here, including wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto for finding your way to remote places like Smithers.

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