2015 Volkswagen Golf R Introduction

Completely redesigned for 2015, the Volkswagen Golf lineup has become one of the most expansive families of compact hatchbacks extant, with three- and five-door body styles and multiple sources of power. Bigger, lighter and more powerful, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf marks the beginning of the seventh generation of these compact, front-wheel-drive cars.

It adds up to a 2015 Golf line that’s collected several honors, including the prestigious 2015 North American Car of the Year award.

Although hatchbacks aren’t as popular as sedans in the U.S., Volkswagen sees the 2015 Golf lineup as the core of its brand worldwide, and as such, has spawned a number of variants and powertrains: The 2015 Golf lineup made its debut with the gasoline-powered Golf TSI and peppy Golf GTI models, in two- and four-door hatchback body styles. Also available is the four-door Golf TDI with efficient diesel power. These were followed by the all-electric e-Golf, the high-performance Golf R, and most recently the roomy 2015 Golf SportWagen.

All share the same architecture, VW’s new front-wheel-drive MQB platform, although the SportWagen departs slightly from the hatchback formula with a more traditional station wagon body style.

All gasoline-powered 2015 Golf models use an updated version of VW’s 1.8-liter turbocharged, direct-injected inline-4, good for 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque in the standard model. And while other carmakers seem to be dropping manual transmissions, Volkswagen keeps its standard 5-speed manual as well as an optional 6-speed dual-clutch automatic. Fuel economy is EPA-estimated 26/37 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 26/36 mpg City/Highway with the automatic.

Whether in two- or four-door styles, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf is fun to drive, with a ride that’s firm but still comfortable.

The diesel-powered 2015 Golf TDI uses an updated version of VW’s turbocharged 2.0-liter direct-injected inline-4, which makes 150 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed DSG automated manual transmission, a la the one available in the GTI and Golf R. The TDI is smooth and quiet, and achieves excellent fuel economy, as expected from a diesel: 31/42 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission.

Volkswagen dropped the starting price of the 2015 Golf TDI by more than $3,000 compared with the previous-generation 2014 model, but not without compromises. For one, the Golf TDI loses its sportier (and more expensive) multi-link rear suspension in favor of a less sophisticated torsion beam rear axle, which we found to be less composed on the road. On the plus side, the new packaging allows more luggage space than before, bringing total cargo capacity in line with other 2015 Golf models.

The 2015 Volkswagen GTI, the car that inspired the hot hatchback phenomenon in 1975, is better than ever with its 210-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged power plant, bigger brakes, sport-tuned suspension and precise steering. A new performance package adds 10 hp, plus even more agility and grip thanks to an electronically controlled electronic slip differential. Fuel economy slips a bit compared to the standard Golf, to 25/34 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 25/33 mpg with the automatic.

Yet another variation on the same 2.0-liter turbo, the new 2015 Golf R version generates 292 hp and 280 lb.-ft., 36 hp and 37 lb.-ft. more than the previous model. It’s EPA rated for 23/30 mpg City/Highway, an improvement of 3 miles per gallon over the previous-generation Golf R. Both of the turbocharged engines require Premium gasoline, whereas the standard Golf versions burn Regular gas.

Underneath all these models lies a new architecture, which is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of powertrains and body shapes from the ground-up, instead of forcing engineers to shoehorn in modifications that can take up space (including the battery pack in the electric e-Golf).

Inside, all 2015 Golf models get comfortable seats, a tasteful interior with thoughtfully placed controls, a new standard touchscreen and plenty of space for people and cargo. We found even the tallest drivers are comfortable in the back seat, with ample headroom and sufficient legroom. Cargo space measures 22.8 cubic feet, and the Golf’s boxier shape allows stuff to be stacked nearly all the way to the roof.

Competitors to the 2015 Volkswagen Golf include hatchback versions of the Ford Focus, Kia Forte, Mazda3, and the Hyundai Elantra GT. Alternatives to the GTI include the Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Si. The only hatchback rival to the 2015 Golf R is its more expensive cousin, the Audi S3, though a hotter Ford Focus is due for the 2016 model year. Golf TDI models are in a class by themselves; those looking for diesel power would have to go to a four-door sedan like the Chevrolet Cruze diesel or step up to a more expensive luxury vehicle like the BMW 328d SportWagen.

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