SCRAPPYDO’s 2013 Golf R review
EVO magazine’s review of the 2002 Bugeye Impreza WRX said that they ‘went and let the Impreza WRX grow up and get refined, which is fine, but the problem with that is once you add these refinements, you can never go back again.’ Those words always puzzled me for years after I read that. But the fact is, it is true. Adding refinements to a car while keeping the price somewhat close makes for a far more attractive car and will appeal to far more people.
In a nutshell, this is what I just went through. I was comparing the 2013 WRX STI against the 2013 Golf R. Refinement against Raw performance. A whisper versus a scream. A Rembrandt, vs high end Graffiti. Okay, you get my point. I have had the Golf R for 16 hours so far. I have driven it 80 miles or so, and most of that was pure joy riding. Before I go on, you as a reader should know my nearest comparison. In March of this year, I sold my 2011 WRX which was Stage II COBB, 22mm rear sway bar, upgraded rims and Extreme performance Dunlop summer tires, and new performance brake pads on all four corners with DOT4 fluid. I had the Perrin short throw shifter in my WRX. That was the last Subie I owned. (I test drove a 2013 STI as well)
On to the review. Let me go on to say that refinement comes at a cost. The Golf R is not cheap. But despite its 5000 cars limited run the prices are negotiable, and I managed to get what I thought was a very good deal. What do you get for that much cash. Well lets start with the obvious things first. You get the same drivetrain that is in the Audi TTS. This is not the aluminum block 2.0 liter that is in the newer GTI’s and GLI’s. It is the older iron block that has a reinforced bottom end, rods, pistons, and block. All of this is good. Iron block boosted motors tend to do quite well (4g63). It makes 256 HP and 243 ft lbs of torque. All of this comes on with a buttery ramp up that hits a crescendo at about 2500 – 3000 rpm. If I can compare it to something, I would compare it to my old 2002 bugeye WRX but with FAR more torque. The Golf R throttle is not an on off switch ,more of a linear dimmer switch. Accessing the torque in the car requires you to push the pedal beyond 30% of wide open throttle. (Subies come on with the torque sooner, 2.5 liters vs 2.0 liters probably). It has this characteristic reguardless of RPM or gear. In any gear if you push the pedal down, the torque rushes in seemingly as if the turbo can make the power whenever it wants to, but you have to let it know you want it. It is like having a boost button under the pedal. I find it quite fun. Drive with restraint putting around, and you will be rewarded with instant throttle response and peppy performance. If you want to access all 243 ft lbs of torque at any time, just push the pedal and the wait for ooph is refreshingly nonexistent.
So is the Golf R a performance benchmark. Um, No. Not in a straight line at least. It is quick and my friends who I have given rides say it is damn fast. But let’s be honest, in a straight line the STI would beat it. But it would not be a slaughter. More like a well fought prize fight that is decided on judge’s decision. Is the Golf R fun in a straight line, most definitely. So what is the Golf R performance like when the roads are not lines across the horizon? This is where my eyes are opening to the nature of this car. It is still to early to talk about ultimate limits. (It will take a trip to the track to get that answer) The cars limits are just to high that you cannot safely push them on public roads. The car turns in and goes EXACTLY where you point it. Being on the power during the corner seems to have no effect on its ability to tighten the line around the apex. Again, at some point it will probably wash out to understeer, but that will come at a VERY high (read as unsafe) limit for street driving. The cars attitude in mid corner is extremely planted and neutral. Very little body movement and it feels very BMW like as it seems to rotate about the centerline of the driver. I am loving the handling so far. If I had one gripe, it is the visibility. It is almost too good. There is nothing obstructing your view out of the front and sides of the car. This is great for seeing the road and other cars and scenery, but you literally CANNOT see any indication of a hood at all unless you raise up the seat several notches. You sit very low in a Golf R. Not knowing where the corners are takes some getting use to. I am about there, but still adapting. As far as braking, it is crazy good. They come on as you would expect and they bring the car to a stop with absolute authority. They are reassuring and super easy to modulate. They make the WRX stock brakes seem like little more than dragging your feet on the concrete. If I said they matched the STI- it would be a fair comparison. The Golf R for some reason came with 225/40/18 ALL Season tires, which is just plain silly. No option for a summer tire was available, but I cannot even begin to imagine what the performance envelope will expand to with proper tires.
So dynamically I am very pleased. The fit and finish of the car is just something I am not use to. Aside from our 2007 Outback XT, I have never been another Subaru as good put tighter as this Golf. Is it the end all be all of interiors. Of course not. My comparison is to the WRX and STI. The buttons on the dash are plastic, and guess what they feel like plastic. But they push with a nice feedback. The knobs are solid and turn well. The seats. Well there has never been a seat in any Subaru sold in this country since 1999 with seats nearly as good as the ones in this car. Period. Even my old 2002 WRX seats with the great bolsters are nothing compared to the feel and fit of these seats. I love them. The steering wheel is good. The flat bottom nature of it that so many other reviewers seems to like, to me makes absolutely no difference at all. Somebody else can brag about it. Moving on we get to something I like to call intangibles. The Germans have been building this car for so long that they have figured out how to use the space so efficiently. There are so many nice little touches everywhere in the cabin. Nets, configurable cargo holders, 12 volt and 110 volt outlets, lights where you want them, knobs where you want them. All the surfaces of the car that your hands touch are beautiful and refined and feel addictively tactile. The doors open and close with a great thud. And going up and down driveways the car feels like a block of granite.
The Dynaudio stereo is the best thing I have ever heard in a car. Crisp highs and deep bass you can feel. I am not much of a car stereo guy, but I notice extremely good (VW) or extremely bad systems (Subaru). I love hearing my music on this. Naturally it has all the blue tooth stuff and MDI cable stuff and you can control everything through the steering wheel, blah blah. You guys know how it works, and this is exactly like most other cars. It took 2 mintues from the time I got in the car to have my iphone 4 configured and paired. That was nice.
The US configured Golf R’s do not have homelink, which I overlooked when I bought it. I just figured it would have it. Nope, seems like a silly omission, especially since it is standard on European golf R’s.
Okay now you can obviously see I am happy with this car. What would I change? I would add homelink to the car and maybe I would make the center console storage a bit bigger. But so far that is about it. This car is so much fun to drive and it is so willing to rev it urges you to find a reason to get behind the wheel and go for a spin.
My original question to myself, is can a die hard Subaru guy love a VW? Let’s say I am ‘in like’ with the VW right now, but I can see this could be a long term relationship. The car is just plain great. I do think I could come to love it (pending a rash of mechanical and electrical breakdowns naturally).
So I do believe that EVO had it right. Once you go refined it is hard to go back, nearly impossible actually. I think the Golf R is what the next WRX should be. Subies are slow to add content, and I respect them for it. Reliability comes first, and that is a smart move. But I desired more content than Subaru could offer, and paying big money for a raw car is not a market that is going to grow.