Today’s edition of Casey on cars is a little bit selfish. I’m looking to replace my personal vehicle, which is a 2011 BMW 335. I loved that car, but it’s lived in the shop and I’m just sick of it. So what do I replace it with? Well, I know I want something that’s four doors, three pedals, six gears with CarPlay, and is kind of fast. So where does that leave me? Well, I could do a Focus ST or RS, but I think I’m too old for that I’m definitely too old for the Civic Type R.I could go Accord, but I’m too young for that I could do an Audi A4 but it’s not quite quick enough. The GTI has the same problem. So where does that leave me? Well, that’s an interesting question because this very car might answer it. This is the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R So what is the Golf R exactly? Well take a GTI and just turn it up a bit It’s got four driven wheels instead of just front-wheel drive It’s got a lot more horsepower and a lot more torque. But it’s also missing some stuff It doesn’t have a sunroof and you may or may not like that sort of thing but to me, I love a good sunroof and I’m bummed that it doesn’t have one And there’s some other things that are missing in this car that you would expect in a car that costs about $40,000 But, nevertheless, there’s a lot of potential here.So, lets you and I take a little time to explore it One of the reasons I’m so interested in the Golf R for my own car is because it’s not very ostentatious In fact, if you were to look at the front of this car you wouldn’t even really be sure what you were looking at It doesn’t have the red trim that a GTI has and it certainly doesn’t say GTI here In fact, this R is one of the few “R” logos on the car and it’s one of the only ways you would know what you were looking at Now, since I’m up front I should also point out that one of my favorite features of this car is something that you don’t see and that’s the sensor block that sits right here on most cars My wife’s 2017 Volvo XC90 has this big blob right here that has all the forward collision detection and all those sorts of things Whereas the Golf R–and a lot of modern Volkswagens–they hide them behind this VW logo here Which is an unbelievably clever design that I really really really appreciate.In general, this car doesn’t look very fast and to some that’s a negative. But to me, as I’m becoming an ever older man, that’s actually a positive You’re going to hear me talk a lot about the
subtlety of the Golf R because that’s what I love so much about it It’s the grown-up’s hot-hatch. If you look at the side of the car, it looks basically like a regular Golf The only real clue that you’re in something fast is this Golf R badge on the side–again one of four–and these wheels Now we have to talk about these wheels.These “Englishtown”, or “Spielberg” wheels… I am just not feeling it I think they are not attractive at all And this is made even worse because last year–the 2017 Golf R–had these beautiful wheels that they call “Pretoria”. They were very very simple but so pretty. Granted, they were an inch smaller if memory serves But nevertheless they were so nice and I wish that Volkswagen would let us get those old wheels And have them on a brand new 2018 Golf R. The good news, is wheels are very easy to replace and this is a fixable problem Unlike, say, having an issue with the look of the car itself. But, gosh, I wish they would bring back those old wheels They were so much prettier The rear the Golf R might be the part of the car that actually wins me over, which sounds really really weird but bear with me. I have heard unbelievably good things about the Focus ST, the Focus RS, and the Civic Type R but the thing that all of them have in common is some amount of ridiculous wing in the back of the car that as a guy in his mid to late 30s cannot pull off.It’s just ridiculous. I’m not 16 anymore. That much is obvious So I love that the Golf R just has this extension of the roofline, and little else. Additionally, there’s not a lot of cladding and badging on the back this is our last remaining Golf R badge of the four on the outside and with the exception of these quad exhausts–which I do like although are definitely aggressive–things are very understated Also, just like in the front of the car There’s another great example of Volkswagen hiding things and specifically behind the badge You’ll notice that there’s no reverse camera or there’s no backup camera, which is federally mandated in the States, and that’s because it’s hiding under this logo. This logo also operates as the trunk latch In the trunk, it’s a mixed bag. On the one side, this is a hatchback and so there’s plenty of vertical room to get things in and out and you can fold the seats down to have just a cavern of space which is extremely great. The problem though is that I have two small children in fact, this is the
stroller for one of them and when you have two car seats in the car you can’t exactly just fold the seats down willy-nilly.It becomes a big pain in the butt So there’s not an overabundance of trunk space or at least not in depth and width. There’s there’s not as much surface area, let’s say, as my BMW. But the good news is like I said, there’s plenty of vertical space so getting the stroller in and out is really easy-peasy. And this privacy screen comes in and out real easily. You just pull these two tabs which are nicely weighted. So they just kind of fall down–in the good way–and then pop out. There’s almost nothing to it. And you can see that with the privacy cover out of the way, there is plenty of vertical space So if you’re willing to stack things on top of each other, it’s actually more room than meets the eye. In fact, I’ve looked at the numbers and this is a little bit more room than my BMW has The problem is that I would prefer it to be more depth and less height and this is obviously the opposite: it’s very little depth and a lot of height. Nevertheless, in a pinch if we couldn’t take my wife’s car on a trip for whatever reason we could definitely make this work.The first impression of the Golf R interior is that it’s way nicer than you’d expect but not everything is perfect So let’s start with the bad. Look at this volume knob: it’s clear that if you push it, it will turn the infotainment on and off But everything takes a turn when, well, you turn it. Watch what happens when I spin this knob. What is going on with that power button? Are you kidding me Volkswagen?! Don’t do this to me. Now I have to leave it precisely upright and the only way to turn the volume up and down in this car is by using the steering wheel controls way over here on the left on the bottom. ::: sigh::: Overall, the interior of the Golf R is a mixed bag. There’s so many good things… and yet, there’s a few things that are missing. Look at these empty switch places these are for things like automated parking and other advanced features like that which just don’t exist in the Golf R. Why? Another weird thing about the Golf R is the presence of a kickdown switch.This isn’t uncommon on automatics from Europe and it’s used to tell the car to downshift immediately no matter what. But why is it on a manual transmission car except for maybe cost-cutting? It’s a very very weird choice. Something that’s a little
bit weird about the Golf R is the way the two front seats are configured with regard to moving them around. The driver’s seat is exactly what you would expect. You have all the controls like you would in any other normal car You can move the seat back. You can move the seat up and down.You can move it forward and backward and you can even adjust the lumbar settings, which you can’t really see in the video. But what’s weird is the passenger seat. Coming around to the passenger side, it’s a little bit different. In order to move the seat forward and back, there’s a grab handle on the other side of the car– I can’t reach it from here. In order to just move the seat up and down, you use this little handle here and in order to tilt the seat, you use this button… which is electric. Boogie woogie woogie? Anyway, the point is is that it’s weird to me that this button is electric to tilt the seat but everything else is manual. It seems to me like why wouldn’t everything be manual? Pick a story I guess, right? That’s the real conundrum of the Golf R. None of the switch gear feels bad; in fact, it all feels very very nice! But once you look at what’s in front of you, you realize you’re missing some options that you would expect like automated driving assist or a Qi charger or something like that.And it makes you feel like, even though the car doesn’t feel cheap it doesn’t have all the things it should. Like most modern performance cars, the Golf R allows you to adjust the drive mode you can do eco, comfort, normal, race, or custom In custom you can adjust it to be exactly how you’d like using the touchscreen or the spinner on the right. This allows you to change the settings as you wish and what’s nice about the Golf R is it will remember the way it was set when you turn the car off and start it again. Volkswagen’s center display unit is pretty good It supports CarPlay and Android Auto which to me is table stakes and in general seems to operate pretty well I’ve used the navigation some and it works fine.I’ve used CarPlay and it works fine. The media controls, well, they work fine There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this but it works exactly as you would hope it would which is all you can really ask for at this point. Plus, by supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto even if this thing starts to look out-of-date, in theory both CarPlay and Android Auto will always look modern Which is
why–for me–I won’t buy any car without CarPlay support. One of the things I really like about the Golf R is the performance computer you can see in the center display. In order to get there, you can either tap the vehicle icon on the display itself or press the car button that’s all the way on the right-hand side Once you do that you can see that there are three different gauges that you can swipe vertically in order to change what’s being displayed I actually like it set like this with the boost all the way on the left, the G meter in the center– which is a little bit bigger than the others–and then the oil temperature on the right hand side So I can know how long after the car has been turned on that I can be a little more…Spirited. In any case, it’s fun to watch the gauges dance as you drive (loud engine noise) (shift) (loud engine noise) (shift) (soft engine noise) So, what does it like to drive the Golf R? It is an impressive, impressive car. It’s a little rougher than perhaps I would prefer, and I’ve fiddled with the suspension settings a bit I still haven’t gotten quite the way I want them. Nevertheless, it is unbelievably fun because it is such a good just point- and-shoot car. You stand on the gas, you point the wheel, and you just let the car sort it all out. And this four wheel drive system is very good, much better than I would have expected. (engine noise) (whirr) It’s quick. It’s definitely quick. And it can definitely get me in trouble, that’s for sure. But what I love about the Golf R is that it is very very tame when you want it to be I’m currently in sixth gear at about 50 MPH and I’m just cruising. It’s 2,000 rpm. It’s not very loud in here.It’s really good As I did with the Giulia, I brought the Golf R to a lift in order to see what was going on underneath it. Unlike the Giulia, pretty much everything was wide open. As we go front to back you can see there’s little to no plastic cladding to get in the way. I particularly liked looking–starting in the front–for where Volkswagen put the driveshaft to go to the rear end.It’s this black tube right here It goes down the long axis of the car right near the exhaust until it eventually runs into a giubo joint –which among other things, helps with vibration–right here. You can see the two half shafts and additionally, on the driver’s side, you can see this green sensor, which is to help the car know when it’s
squatting for the stability control system.Now the Golf R as with most four-cylinder turbocharged cars suffers from a lack of displacement and if you’re in fourth gear at 40 miles an hour, like I am right now I can stand on the gas At 3,000 the boost starts come in, but for a while there I’m just a hitting wall and that’s not tremendous fun to be honest. However, there’s a bright side to this, which is especially when mated with the 6-speed manual as this example is, that means that you can force yourself to be in the right gear all the time. You’re compelled to row your own in an effective way. Because if you’re not in the right gear, then it’s not a very fun car It just sorts itself out. It just sorts itself out so so well, it’s so very impressive. It really is a kind of jack-of-all-trades. You could make an argument it’s a master of none. But I tell you what, it does a fine fine job Another neat thing about the Golf R specifically is that it has Volkswagen’s new digital dashboard. It allows you to page through here and decide what you’d like to look at.You can choose between assist systems, navigation which will actually show the map on-screen and when you have navigation going it’s cool because it’ll actually shrink the dials a little bit so that you can see more of the map. You additionally have media, you have telephone, and just information about the car and in the Golf R specifically you have a lap timer, which is pretty cool. One of the very striking things about the Golf R is that the gearshift is really really good. In my experience, anytime you have a front wheel drive car, which this sort of kind of is, it ends up that the gear shift is just rubbery and gross.And I actually think this one is quite crisp. It’s not quite as good as, say, like a BMW or maybe an S2000 where it’s a traditional rear wheel drive car, but it is very crisp. However, it’s one thing I’ve noticed is that the lateral distance between say first and third, third and fifth, second and fourth, etc it’s very very short. Stunningly short! There’s almost no lateral distance between those gears which isn’t the problem, but it’s like something I’ve never ever seen before. And it didn’t take me long to get used to it, but it was very very different In fact, I have to say that the Golf R–more than any car I’ve ever driven in my 20 years of driving– was the one that I could get in and drive like I’ve owned it for
years immediately. Usually, when I get in a three pedal car it takes me a while to figure out kind of where the clutch catches and what the take-up rate is and so on and so forth. In this thing, it was immediate that I knew exactly how to drive unlike anything I’ve ever driven before.Which was really awesome! And I feel like I can drive it just as well as the BMW I’ve had for the last six years You know, the Alpha Romeo Giulia that I drove is twice the cost of this car. That is not a cheap proposition at all. And I would argue thanks to the four wheel drive system this Golf R feels like it handles better. I don’t know the numbers offhand maybe I’m dead wrong. But just in feeling it feels so much more planted, so much more chuckable I think that’s because of the shorter wheelbase and the fact that it’s just not a very big car. But I have tremendous confidence in my ability to turn in this thing in a way that I didn’t with pretty much any other car I’ve driven in recent memory. The thing I just can’t get past with the Golf R is how unbelievably planted it feels. Here I am exiting a highway and I’m using Maybe a little too much throttle, and maybe a little too much speed, and maybe a little too much steering input, and with the Golf R it just doesn’t matter.It’ll sort it all out for me. It makes an amateur driver like me feel like a driving legend. And that’s a feeling that I just can’t get over. It feels amazing. At the opening of this edition of Casey on Cars I told you it was going to be a very selfish edition. And that’s because I want to know: is the Golf R the right next car for me Having spent a week with it–it goes back tomorrow–I’m just not sure. And the reason I’m not sure is because I was ruined a couple of weeks ago. And I was ruined interestingly enough by another Volkswagen. You see a couple of weeks ago, I drove a colleague’s GTI and I was immediately struck by how the GTI felt like way more than its $30, $32,000 price tag would lead you to believe. It was a phenomenal car that felt like it was easily a $35, $40,000 car. By contrast, the Golf R feels like it’s every bit of that $40,000 and yet it also feels like it may even be less. Where’s my sunroof? I know we’ve already spoken about this, but I love a sunroof! How does a $40,000 car not have a sunroof? It’s not even an option‽ In fact, the only option you can get on this car from the factory is whether or not you want three pedals
or two pedals That’s it.Everything else is dealer-installed. So where does that leave me? Well, I’m not really sure. On the one side, I feel like it would be great to save a few thousand dollars and just get a GTI and be happy with that. On the other side, I don’t want to make the same mistake I made with my 335. Which is that I always felt like “Man, I should have saved up for an M3” Additionally, there’s something to be said for a car that looks at the laws of physics and says, “No, thanks.” And that’s what this car feels like. I can mash on the gas, and crank on the wheel, and not even have to worry about whether or not I’m gonna come through the other side.Because this car is made of magic, and it just figures it out. And although I would miss my sunroof many days… I think in the GTI, I would miss that power every day. Yes, I don’t really need all that much on the street. But, it’s just what I like, and I know myself enough to know what I like. So, in the end of the day, I think a Golf R is my next car But one way or another what a great problem to have. Do I get this slightly cheaper, but also excellent GTI, or do I spend a little more money and get the truly phenomenal Golf R? No matter how you slice it This is a great great great problem to have. As always, thanks for watching. .