Taking a hot hatch for a drive. Cliff Leppke – CleanMPG – Nov. 16, 2022 Volkswagen invites you to discover high-horsepower finger painting. Choose your canvas, a snaky roadway is perfect. Your paint pot is a turbocharged 315-hp Lapaz Blue Metallic over Titan Black Leather Golf R with 19-inch wheels. Get in. Adjust the shell-like front throne. Grab the steering wheel. Apply the pedals. Press start. Zero-to-60 mph is yours in less than five seconds. The nearly $44,640 R inspires confidence—it’s nimble, powerful and stable. You feel like Jackson Pollock because you pour the R down the road. Plus, it sticks well, too. Steering effort is splendid, the chassis is seemingly unflappable and directional changes are prompt. You can journey through MKE’s high-rise expressway ramps unruffled by expansion joints. In short, it draws a good line. Plus, it creamed my backroad course. This R-tist went to no-drama school. The R stops as well as it goes. You modulate effective two-piece, cross-drilled front rotors clamped by blue calibers via a firm brake pedal. Two-part discs have braking surfaces cast on metal spokes which extend from the hub or hat. This manages brake rotor heat. My six-speed manual tester lets you stir the gears; the engine’s broad power band and idle-speed modulation make clutch-pedal work simple—you can one-foot launch it in second gear without throttle feathering. Shifter gate feel could be better. Come to a complete stop before applying the electric parking brake; it’s aggressive. VW’s hill-hold brakes reduce rollbacks. The parking brake also has a hold-like function; it automatically releases when you generate forward/rearward momentum at the clutch’s friction point. The hill-hold feature engages when you meet certain conditions and firmly apply the foot brake. That said, if the car rolls backward, while you’re in neutral or have the clutch pedal depressed, the back-up camera deploys. Motion, not gear selection, triggers camera views—interesting. Touched By a Demon There’s a fly in this car’s painterly ointment. Many kids over-express themselves in their first finger-painting episode—more mess than artwork. Likewise, VW mucked up its motoring magic with a touch/talk/video display interface which replaces conventional gauges, buttons and dials. VW places a 10.25-inch digital display in front of the driver. On the cockpit’s left, you’ll find lights and defroster shortcuts. The configurable Digital Cockpit has various graphics for mph, rpm and mpg. One mode creates a horizontal rpm band atop the display. Its colors vary indicating driving mode—green for the car’s special track setting. Farther right, there’s a wide 10-inch infotainment touchscreen. Further complicating your fingers is the steering wheel’s touch-action “switchgear.” It’s nicely illuminated day or night—almost gem-like. But it’s too much and too wrong. It feels like you’re poking at marbles in a bag. Want another example? Let’s say you decide to set the cruise control after deciphering where to touch the left steering-wheel spoke. The next step requires a deft tap on either side of the space for selecting the radar-cruise distance. All too often I “brushed” distance instead of picking speed. Likewise, tapping the virtual home button on the touchscreen is like trying to operate a vending machine while on a pogo stick. In addition, VW likely found a loophole in the USA’s motor vehicle rules; it doesn’t illuminate the temp adjustment touch points or volume controls on a trough below the touchscreen. Instead, there are at least four lit dedicated touch spots a bit lower where you pick climate, drive mode, drive assist and self-parking. These shortcuts summon touchscreen menus. Therefore, you can skip the Apple-like home icon, which lets you survey the app tiles—sometimes grayed out when you’re in motion. Should you wish to turn off lane-keep assist, press the button on the turn signal and then tap ok on the steering wheel. The touchscreen, in contrast, won’t let you tweak drive assists while driving. The climate control’s menu contains three folders: Classic View, Smart Climate and Air Care. Yes, Virginia there’s a cold-feet setting. If your brain’s overloaded by choices, VW’s Byzantine climate setup will cause a mental meltdown. Leave it in automatic. Let’s return to that prince of darkness climate trough. Simultaneously touch the blue and red areas with two fingers and you'll trigger the seat-heat menu. You didn’t see that one coming, did you? Tap with two fingers and you’ll cycle through bun-baking levels. That’s a tad easier than heading first to the touchscreen for climate and then worming your way to the seat menu. The front thrones chill, too. A steering wheel touch spot on the right spoke enables the tiller’s heater. It’s too close to the nicely contoured grab spots. So, if you don’t inadvertently muck up the cruise control with your left fingers, your right ones might brush the hands toaster. Finger work manages the motorized front seat. A convenience mode slides it back for easier entrance or exit. Fine. But a stick-shift car requires one to depress the clutch pedal in order to start it. You’ll get your morning stretch with this setup. There's a cure. Just press the start button one time and the seat slides forward to your favorite spot. Then, press the clutch pedal and followed by the start button. Fingers Crossed There is a blast of sorts: finger-dialed chassis/engine tuning called drive modes. These settings make driving, as with finger-painting therapy, more pleasurable. May I direct you to the blue R logo on the steering wheel’s left side? Rub it for good luck. Then, the touchscreen’s drive mode menu explodes expanding your options beyond those found using the center-dashboard touch spot. R enables, via yet more touching, a special mode for the Nürburgring’s north loop. Other choices include, race, drift (serious tire painting), sport, comfort and individual. Want Eco? Sorry, Charlie, you’re sitting in the wrong ride. These modes vary engine sound, idle speed, dampers and therefore chassis dynamics. I found VW’s sound effects acoustically satisfying —so you can crank up the turbo wastegate effect, listen to the baritone blast of exhaust notes or dial it back to a mild-mannered hum. I found this entire affair—there are sensors at the tailpipes—a pleasant surprise as the VW Arteon’s related turbo four gets angry when prodded—not the R which appears to rev a tad higher at expressway speeds (3,000 rpm at 70 mph). The Golf R’s snubbed suspension seems resilient despite rolling on 19-inch wheels wearing 235/35R19 tires. Body roll is minimal; the car feels like it's an ingot. A creative driver gets support—switches for power seat controls. The right front seat is the shell style, has power back rake but manual controls for height. The rear seat is upright but supportive for two. It split folds and has a pass thru. Those in the back get face vents, seat heat—yes, there’s a touch panel. The R’s driving dynamics paint a pretty picture. It’s a confidence inspiring machine with GT-car provenance. Its driver-control interface, however, muddles the picture, as touchscreens, touchpads and talk replace “snickety” switchgear. The EPA fuel economy numbers are 20-mpg city, 28 highway and 23 combined. I averaged 27 overall. This VW requires premium fuel, nothing more than E10. VW supplies eco driving reminders including: a shift into sixth gear, depress the clutch pedal (coast) and excessive idling. Speaking of warnings. The lane keeping assist, when in Travel Assist flashes a red visual and triggers a chime should it think your hand isn’t on the steering wheel. This tripped several times even though my right hand was on the wheel. Body Language: Aesthetics This VW’s thin horizontal ode to a grille punctuated by its rondel looks like a proper Volkswagen Golf. Other front inlets are more than eye candy. Ducts to front brakes, say, route air to the brakes. The LED auto high-beam headlamps effectively illuminate scenery. I saw lots of roadside critters including racoons and deer. Inside, VW went hardcore with stiff plastics. VW offsets this with interior ambient LED lighting—often keyed to drive mode—and an R puddle light. There’s no spare tire. You can slide a road bike with its wheels attached into the rear hatch and then close it. The R can park itself. Touch a dedicated spot and a menu guides you. It tells you which direction to move and when to brake, while it twirls the steering wheel. Finger Pointing VW’s R offers poise and power. The low-stance sleek profile evokes traditional, practical Golf design language. VW’s touch interface, however, feels wrong. You can work around some of this asking Helga, your onboard assistant, to adjust things. This isn’t satisfactory. For example, VW’s navigation system is easily stumped. When addled, it gets downright stubborn. And the Nav menu, which first displays a Tinkertoy graphic of previous destinations, requires a second tap to see the map. Wireless Android Auto and CarPlay are standard. So, it depends on your canvas. The R motors on roadways with competent air. In contrast, the cabin’s controls are an error.