I recently sold my Audi TTS and was looking to get back into something with similar speed but with four doors. With someone in my family just purchasing a brand-new Audi S3, and seeing the performance of the car as well as the everyday usability of it, it got me thinking.
Why not pay 10-grand less and buy its younger sibling, the Golf R, with a manual of course as they start to fade out of existence? I wanted to review the new car and how it compared to my older TTS Coupe, as well as some of its main rivals in the hot-hatch world.
Going from a small two-door coupe to a hatchback was a big wake-up call. The TTS was low to the ground, only ever seemed to be in a sporty mode and wanted to be pushed. Though, it just wasn't a fun car when pushed compared to its rivals.
The Golf R has five different set-ups to select from. There is Eco mode, which is only used for long cruises on the highway to get those ridiculous gas numbers. Some trips I was averaging around 8.0L per 100km. Comfort mode, which feels no different to normal mode. Which is a little upsetting, as the one thing the R misses out on a little is a bit of a softer ride. Normal is fine for everyday driving around town.
Race mode shifts the steering wheel, revs the engine note through the speakers, and makes the car ride really well around corners. It's the mode the car stays in the most when driving because it's such a blast to drive around every day. It was a nice switch up from the TTS only having that one rough mode. The model of TTS I had was not fitted with Audi's drive select modes.
The other major thing I noticed is different, compared to the TTS, is just how much use a hatchback actually brings into your life. There are so many different ways to fit people, luggage and even pets into this car without worrying about space. It has lots of storage space, and even has a nice fold-through piece in the middle.
The only real complaint is that the armrest glovebox is too small and can barely fit my tiny wallet. The material in the R is also very good, but not as nicely fitted as the TTS. There are some cheaper, harder plastics, but in areas you wouldn't normally touch.
The new infotainment system is 100 times better than the MK7's. The MK7.5 Golfs all got refreshed, and thankfully so. The old one was slow, tacky and didn't have a nice feel to it. The new face-lifted models come with touch-sensitive buttons that really make the car feel more expensive.
The most impressive step up is the new digital gauge cluster. It is a complete rip-off of Audi's Virtual Cockpit, and is not up to par with its older sibling, but it's not supposed to be. The cluster in the new R is simply perfect for the car, with lots of ways to customise it and have it the way you'd like. I currently love to have my nav’ in between my speedometer and rev counter. And having the fuel economy show inside the speedometer and rev counter is a nice added touch.
It's also nowhere near as confusing as Audi's cluster. While working at Audi, I can't tell you the amount of times I would step away from my desk to help someone with the Virtual Cockpit. The R's cluster is just a lot easier to use and get familiar with, which is why it's such a nice addition. All the extra safety gear like the forward collision warning, lane-change assist, lane-change hold and auto cruise control work nicely with no real flaws.
As for other cabin details, the steering wheel is still amazing. German companies know you'll be holding the steering wheel more than anything else, so they never hold back on making it amazing. The flat bottom is a nice touch too. The R seats are sporty enough to hold me in corners, but also comfortable enough for long road trips. Extra lighting really has a good effect in the car at night-time, when all I can see in the inside of the car are those great-looking blue lights.
The shift is a bit meh. I much prefer the Type R shifter compared to the R, but that being said, the R is trying to be the best overall car in its segment, not just race, race and race. The back seat is a little tight, but the better R seats compared to a normal Golf make it more supportive for longer trips. I'd say the only other real issue with the car is it still should come with a manual handbrake, but it's just easier now to save space and some weight with the electric one.
Now, comparing this car to its three main rivals (In Canada, at least, where I live), which are the Honda Civic Type R, the Ford Focus RS and the Subaru WRX STI. We will start with the STI as it's been around the longest and slowly losing its place. The R does almost everything better than the STI. Straight-line performance, comfort, useability, economy, fun factor etc. It's sad because back in its heyday, the STI was untouchable, like the Evo, as one of the best cars. Now it is in dire need of an update and new version, which I believe is coming soon. However, I think everyone will still enjoy the wing on the back of the STI. Shame on the people who get it removed.
The Honda Type R is up next, and this one is really a head-scratcher. The Type R does so many things well: it is a beast on the track; it has that edgy look that people like in this segment; and it's got all the good things you'd expect from a Honda. But it does have some shortcomings.
Although the Type R might be a track demon, it can't do anything right in a straight line, whereas the R and RS have all-wheel drive and would win every time. The looks are way too much for the car as well. The wing on the Type R, although cool, only makes the disaster of a back end even worse. I think the interior is the thing that gets me with the Type R, though. For nearly CAD$45,000 (I think the exchange rate is similar) you get a red steering wheel and no leather? I am sorry but that's just silly.
The red overkill inside is just too much for the eyes, and that's saying something for a guy who loves red interiors, as my TTS was a piss-red colour inside. It also just doesn't drive nearly as nice as the R does. Just too much overall I find negative about the Type R, which made me stay away from it. It was simply, do I want a track-based car I will use twice a year that can't drive in the winter, or do I want the road beast that can do everything better outside the track? It was a simple pick.
The RS, though, as we all probably know, is the king of the hatch world. I haven't had the time yet to drive one, but I have heard my fair share of reviews. It's flipping fast – be it a straight line or track, it's got the R beat in both as it is packing nearly 60hp more than the R. It also looks freaking awesome. It has enough boyish looks to make me go 'Yes, race car', but also calm enough to drive around without it causing any unwanted attention.
The RS, just like the R, is fantastic in all weather. But then it comes down to the interior, where it falls apart. The inside, in short, is crap. A car that costs CAD$55,000 should not have all the same features as a base-model Focus. I think that's been the biggest complaint about this car from all its owners: how cheap and unwelcoming the inside is. Sure, everything is useful, but when you are spending money on a car that is now in the fully loaded C-class, 3 Series and A4 range, you'd better be packing something a lot better. Between the RS and R it's a simple choice. If you had the money to spend and get the faster and, sadly, cooler car, then do it, as long as you can live with the interior's shortcomings.
Adding all that up from its three rivals, the R is in the perfect spot. It is fast, comfortable, fun to drive, and it's a great place to be. It's not the most expensive and it has the least amount of shortcomings when compared to all three rivals. It just makes for a good car.
Compared to its older brother, the S3, they are so similar in every range, well, because they're the same car, but then again they aren't. The S3 feels more high class but isn't as fun as the R. Comparing the R to the TTS is a no-brainier, though. I miss the looks of the TTS, but the R just beats everything else without fail except quality.
At the end of the day, I have owned the R for about four months now and I love it. It's the best overall car on the market. It looks good, it's fast, safe, fuel efficient, and has that feeling it wants to be driven more. It does miss in some areas that rivals nail, but that's okay because the R wasn't meant to be the king of the hot hatches. It was meant to be the best, and simply put, it really is.