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’15 VW Golf R debuts at NAIAS with 4Motion, 290 horses, sub-5-second 0-60

Sections: Chassis, Fuel Economy, Powertrain

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2015 VW Golf R Front Quarter Press Photo

(Photo courtesy Volkswagen of America)

The new-for-2015 VW Golf R made its North American debut at North American International Auto Show — how fitting — as the most powerful, planted, and perhaps preposterously quick Golf ever built.

The press release from Volkswagen said the 2015 VW Golf R will have a turbocharged TSI 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that pumps out 290 horsepower (estimated) at 5,500 RPM. The press release said that figure makes it “one of the most powerful four-cylinder engines in the world,” and while I’m not normally given to publishing such press release hyperbole, I have to say it rings true. Consider the number of V6 engines that make less than that — including some in much larger vehicles — and it lends some credence to Volkswagen’s claim. As for torque figures, VW said the TSI 2.0-liter would make 280 ft-lbs, with most of it available in a fairly flat curve from 1,800 RPM to 5,500 RPM.

2015 VW Golf R Engine Bay Press Photo

The 2015 VW Golf R’s 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged four-cylinder is among the most-powerful four-cylinder engines in consumer cars worldwide, according to Volkswagen. It helps the Golf R get to 60 MPH from a standstill in less than 5 seconds, according to VW, while reportedly averaging up to 31 MPG on the highway. (Photo courtesy Volkswagen of America)

Despite all this power, VW claims the 2015 Golf R is expected to be more fuel-efficient than the previous Golf R. The new VW Golf R will get up to 31 MPG highway with the six-speed manual transmission, up from 27 MPG highway in the outgoing model. Since VW is tooting its horn about manual transmission fuel economy, you can bet the DSG-equipped Golf R won’t do quite as well.

But the DSG apparently trades fuel economy for acceleration. The press release said when equipped with the DSG automatic gearbox, the 2015 VW Golf R will sprint from 0 to 60 MPH in a blistering 4.9 seconds. Okay, maybe not “blistering” compared to, say, a McLaren P1, but as consumer Volkswagen models go, that’s pretty darn quick. By comparison, the stick-shift 2015 VW Golf R gets to 60 MPH in 5.3 seconds. That’s still not slouchy at all, and falls within the same range as the monster 470-horsepower Chrysler 300 SRT8 we tested in 2013. That car could theoretically do 0 to 60 in less than 5 seconds, but I could only manage that one time in real-world conditions without the car’s Launch Control feature, which I never bothered to learn how to use since you can’t get away with using it on the street, anyway.

But that Chrysler didn’t get anywhere close to 30 MPG on the highway. That’s what impresses me so about the initial details from VW about the 2015 Golf R. The combination of power, performance stats, and economy is impressive. To achieve the good fuel efficiency scores, VW said the EA888 series 2.0 TSI engine water-cooled exhaust gas channels running through the cylinder head to the turbocharger, which VW says helps efficiently reduce full-load fuel consumption, and a dual injection system with direct and multi-port injection. Thermal management is more efficient because of the car’s electronically controlled coolant system, VW claims. Namely, the warm-up phase has been reduced to tamp down frictional losses and fuel consumption. Variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust sides further helps the 2015 VW Golf R achieve an optimal mixture of power and efficiency, the release said.

Golf Rs have always had Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system, and the 2015 will be no different in that regard. What is different is the new-and-improved 4Motion setup found aboard the 2015 VW Golf R. It uses an electro-hydraulic oil pump-activated Haldex 5 coupling that flips the 4Motion switch before wheels slip — Volkswagen’s claim, not ours — which the automaker said allows nearly all traction-loss situations to be avoided. Front wheels handle all the traction duties under light loads or when coasting, but power can be transferred to the rear wheels in a fraction of a second, VW said.

2015 VW Golf R Driver's View Press Photo

The 2015 VW Golf R will feature a 5.8-inch infotainment screen from which, among other things, the driver can select multiple driving modes designed to make the Golf R handle sportier or provide more comfort for commuting. (Photo courtesy Volkswagen of America.)

The release said, “If necessary, nearly 100 per cent of the drive torque can be directed to the rear wheels.” Sounds good to us.

The Haldex 5 coupling handles front-to-rear power transfer, but electronic differential locks handle side-to-side control, briefly braking a wheel that is slipping, enabling uninterrupted and stable transfer of drive power to the wheel on the opposite side, according to VW. Finally, VW said its XDS+ front- and rear cross-differential lock helps make the 2015 VW Golf R more agile. When the car is being driven at highway speeds, brake pressure is applied to the inside wheel to help restore optimal traction as soon as the electronics detect excessively light loads. XDS+ thereby operates like a limited-slip differential and thus compensates for understeer during faster cornering, VW said.

The 2015 VW Golf R has a few old-fashion chassis tricks up its sleeves, as well. It is lowered 0.8 inches, making it 0.2 inches lower than even the rorty VW GTI, the press release said. A newly developed lower control arm adorns the strut-type front suspension, while a multilink setup takes care of things at the rear with unique-to-the-Golf-R toelink tuning to make things a bit more sporty.

The engineers designed the running gear of the new Golf R for maximum driving fun combined with extraordinary stability and good long-distance comfort. Compared to the previous model, steering response was improved thanks to the new “progressive” variable ratio steering rack. In addition, maximum attainable cornering speeds were significantly increased and understeer all but eliminated.

Weighty claims, VW. We would very much like to drive a VW Golf R to feel this all-but-eliminated understeer of which you speak. If 4Motion really does direct “nearly 100 per cent” of the engine’s power to the rear wheels when needed, perhaps the Golf R will be surprisingly planted in fast corners. I have a few corners in mind that would put it to the test, and the claimed 2.1 turns lock-to-lock would make those corners a blast. Call me.

If you want it so equipped, the 2015 VW Golf R can be had with VW’s second-generation DCC dynamic chassis control system, which comes with three selectable modes: “Comfort,” “Normal,” and “Sport.” Sport mode stiffens the suspension dampers for, well, sportier handling.

The DCC system adaptively controls the damper valves via a further developed and refined control algorithm. DCC takes input signals from wheel displacement sensors and accelerometers as well as vehicle information from the Chassis-CAN bus to compute these values and adaptively adjust the optimal damping force. Moreover, damping forces are selectively applied to the four wheels individually. With the new generation of DCC, it is now possible to independently vary rebound and compression damping while cornering.

Those DCC settings are changed via a “Driving Profile Selector” option on the 2015 VW Golf R’s central 5.8-inch touchscreen, which features a proximity sensor. Another option  in the Driving Profile Selector is the ability to select various programs that will affect the way your Golf R responds to your inputs. We again quote the release:

The Driving Profile Selector has three programs in the Golf R, and four in conjunction with DCC: “Normal”, “Individual”, and a “Race” mode that has been specially designed for the Golf R. In combination with DCC, “Comfort” mode is also available. All modes were specifically tuned for the Golf R. In “Race” mode, which is designed for high-speed track driving, damping is increased and engine response and the shift points of the DSG transmission are configured to be even sportier. In the “Individual” driving profile, the driver can combine mode settings for various individual parameters.

We hope 2014 brings us a chance to test drive a 2015 VW Golf R. The car is expected to go on sale in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2015, according to the release, but you can bet there will be early build versions scurrying around the press fleets before that date to drum up anticipation for the car hitting showrooms.

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