There have been a lot of people lately asking this question. I guess enough Golf R inventory has arrived with initial demand satisfied that average buyers are walking up to a dealer and seeing both cars available. I keep seeing people ask for advice and, like this thread on Reddit, receive awful buying advice with almost everyone being completely wrong. Common errors when giving advice between the two:

  • The TCO and Maintenance outside of the initial MSRP investment is identical
  • The engines are the same
  • You can’t tow in a Golf R
  • The R has bigger brakes (partially wrong)
  • The R has a higher resale value
  • The GTI doesn’t have torque steer or any other issues that plague a front wheel drive performance vehicle
  • The WRX and Golf R are the same
  • The Civic SI and GTI are the same
  • The STI is above both of those cars
  • The Golf R is a 5 second 0-60 car
  • The Golf R has and doesn’t have a sunroof (both are correct in one way)

Let’s start with what these vehicles are with an overview written in my own words without Volkswagen’s PR machine or website guiding me:

The MK7 GTI (2015/2016 North American Model Years) is based on VWs MQB Platform. It’s modular and allows the auto company to cut costs while still allowing flexibility in various models and trims. The GTI is a turbocharged 2 liter engine with a turbo that’s larger than any other car in VW’s lineup except the Golf R and possibly the CC. It is front wheel drive with an electronically controlled limited slip differential in the Performance Pack. If you want to get a GTI that’s configured as close to the Golf R as possible, it’ll be a 2016 GTI with Performance Pack & Lighting Package (adds self-adjusting HID lights that corner as well). If the GTI was all wheel drive, it may be neck and neck with Subaru’s WRX in speed. It’s limiting factor is sending the stock power to only the front wheels. You will get wheel spin in launch control with this model. The GTI is manufactured in Puebla Mexico along with the Tiguan and other models. While the GTI starts at 25K USD, when you add the dual clutch gearbox, dynamic chassis control, performance package and the lighting package, you’re at $35.5K.

Let’s digress for a moment to talk about VW’s DSG transmission. I get a lot of crap from drivers for my lack of a third pedal but the fact is, the DSG transmission is the only option you should be considering if you want the most out of this car with the most longevity. DSG is capable of handling 600 ft/lbs of torque (in the Golf R but slightly less in GTI) which is double over stock capabilities. It shifts faster and allows a full half second gain on 0-60 times and you can drive it completely in manual mode if you’d like. 

Let’s continue and talk about Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC). This is a technology similar to Audi Magnetic Ride. It uses a computer to control your dampers and shocks to stiffen or loosen the ride intensity to allow for a more firm or more comfortable ride. You have Comfort, Normal, Race and Individual where you can control various settings. I use Comfort when I’m driving in Mass or CT where roads are bad and Individual with all sport settings enabled except for the drive train (which is sport transmission) and I’m very happy with the Individual setup. Is DCC right for you? Test drive a GTI that has it and decide for yourself.

The MK7 Golf R (2015/2015 NA MY) is identical in every way except appearance to the 2016 Audi S3. Yes, identical. Every mechanical part is fully interchangeable, the performance specs are on par, the platform is MQB and both share the same AWD system. The S3 says “Quattro” but technically, it’s not. It’s the Haldex AWD system which is a front-biased system that can send up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels if it detects slip or under heavy load (like when the driver engages launch control). Quattro is full time AWD with Haldex being only part time. There’s a coupler that connects the rear wheels to the drive-shaft that activates via an electronic command from the ECU. It’s a smart system but it has faults such as understeer on tracks which is a shortcoming of front wheel drive vehicles but only slightly improved by the Haldex system. If you want a rear wheel drive or full time all wheel drive experience, Haldex in the Golf R & S3 is not for you.

It’s worth mentioning as well that the Golf R is still built in Germany.

Since the Golf R and S3 are so similar, that’s worth saving for another thread. When you look at the GTI and the Golf R, the platform is the same and the Golf R interior is nicer but not more so than the GTI Autobahn. The R versus base GTI, there’s no contest that the R has a much nicer interior. Once you get the GTI with leather seats, there’s not a lot different for interior improvements.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the core differences, let’s discuss specifically what engine changes are in the Golf R over GTI. Both are 2 liter 4-cylinder engines but the Golf R has the following improvements: (via)

  • Cylinder head (made from a different alloy compared to other engines in this module because of higher thermal stress)
  • Exhaust valves (hollow, higher Ni content, nitrided)
  • Exhaust valve seat rings (improved temperature stability and wear resistance)
  • Exhaust camshaft (adapted valve timings)
  • Compression ratio 9.3:1 with different pistons
  • Piston cooling jets (higher flow rate)
  • High pressure injectors (even higher flow rate)
  • Exhaust turbocharger
  • Charge pressures of up to 17.4 PSI (1.2 bar)
  • High performance main radiator with 1-2 auxiliary radiators (depending on country specifications)
  • Additional acoustic modifications have been made in order to achieve a sporty sound – use of a sound actuator (for the occupant cell) and active exhaust flaps in the exhaust system

Turbo specs:

MK7 Golf GTI 2.0T EA888 Gen 3

  • IHI
  • 6/6 Blade Billet Compressor Wheel & 8 Blade Turbine Wheel
  • 42.5 mm Inducer / 54.0 mm Exducer – Compressor
  • 46.8 mm Inducer / 50.4 mm Exducer – Turbine

MK7 Golf R 2.0T EA888 Gen 3

  • IHI
  • 6/6 Blade Billet Compressor Wheel & 8 Blade Turbine Wheel
  • 45.2 mm Inducer / 58.0 mm Exducer – Compressor
  • 47.4 mm Inducer / 54.7 mm Exducer – Turbine

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I guess it’s good to compare the two in stock performance but if you go for an engine tune, these numbers completely change. Tuned, the Golf R outperforms the GTI by an even larger margin than stock. Stock, the Golf R is still winner due to AWD and increased HP and torque. Tuned, the Golf R doesn’t hold anything back. It’s truly a beast.

For reference, my Golf R is putting 350 horsepower and 370ft/lbs of torque to the wheels. Specs below are crank, not wheel horsepower.

  • GTI, 227HP (258 ft/lb of torque) w/ Performance Pack
  • Golf R, 296HP (280 ft/lb of torque)
  • The Golf R is 202 pounds heavier due to its AWD system
  • The GTI does get 10-15% better fuel economy
  • The GTI takes 87 Octane fuel. The Golf R requires 91 or higher (Octane = NA fuel rating, not RON)

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Let’s address some of the inaccuracies I saw in the Reddit thread:

  • The TCO and Maintenance outside of the initial MSRP investment is identical

No. The R is going to cost 3-5K more than a maxed out GTI depending on how you spec it. I went with 19” wheels, DCC, Navigation and that means a Golf R at 39.5K USD a full 4K more than the highest configured GTI with every bell and whistle short of a GTI roof rack.

Additionally, the Golf R will have a 40K Mile Haldex service that’s required and it runs between $400-$550 depending on where you live (city dealerships charge more) and it is required on the Golf R / S3 but not the GTI. The Golf R having larger wheels & tires will cost you as well as the insurance cost will be slightly higher. A few years ago, my insurance company put the Golf R down as a regular TSI Golf. They’ve learned their lesson and now charge appropriately putting the cost about 15% higher than a GTI despite the car not being 15% more expensive. I guess Golf R drivers are living up to the performance available to them.

  • The engines are the same

See above

  • You can’t tow in a Golf R

You can actually. The most common towing setup is via this site: http://torkliftcentral.com/2015-volkswagen-golf-r-ecohitch Others are out there but it’s possible.

  • The R has bigger brakes (partially wrong)

The R has larger brakes than the GTI but not the GTI w/ PP. Those brakes are identical so brake maintenance will be similar between a GTI w/ PP and a Golf R

  • The R has a higher resale value

In the past, that’s been correct and yes, a more expensive car up front should logically sell for more than the cheaper car assuming similar age & miles. But, the R models from VW used to be every 4 years. Now, the Golf R will see a regular production cycle on a yearly basis. More Golf R in the world, less resale retention than previous Golf R models. Anyone guaranteeing resale values doesn’t know what they’re talking about. We won’t know for a couple of years how the current gen Golf R holds up

  • The GTI doesn’t have torque steer or any other issues that plague a front wheel drive performance vehicle

The GTI has an electronically controlled limited slip differential. So people will tell you the front wheel issues of yesteryear are no longer an issue. They’re less pronounced but they’re certainly not eliminated. the Golf R also suffers from understeer being a front-biased AWD system. Aside from aftermarket parts, there’s not much you can do to defeat physics.

  • The WRX and Golf R are the same
  • The Civic SI and GTI are the same
  • The STI is above both of those cars
  • The Golf R is a 5 second 0-60 car

Sorry Subaru guys. You might receive a new engine in your STI next year but for now, these statements are horrible. The Golf R stock is a 4.4 second car 0-60. Unless you weigh 400 pounds with a trunk full of concrete, you’ll do that the moment you roll off the lot. VWoA under-sold the speed in their marketing materials. Probably to maintain the superior Audi brand image but the truth is, this car is very fast. No stock Subaru can do that. if the STI had received a new engine this year, maybe. The GTI on the other hand, it’s pretty close to the WRX if only it had the ability to send power to all 4 wheels. My Stage II Golf R will hit 60 in 3.5, sometimes 3.3 seconds.

I’d rank the performance imports that aren’t Audi, MB, BMW as follows:

  • Scion TC
  • Kia Forte GDI (these guys are always trying to race me)
  • Civic SI
  • Subaru BRZ
  • GTI
  • Impreza WRX
  • WRX STI
  • Audi S3 (it just does not do well on a track compared to Golf R)
  • Golf R
  • Audi RS3

There are obviously some cars omitted here but that’s how I see the breakdown in sheer lap times and overall grocery getter fun level. A couple of these can be switched around but with a  30K USD gap between all of them, it really comes down to budget. If I couldn’t afford the Golf R, I’d probably go WRX. If I couldn’t afford that, I’d go BRZ or GTI.

  • The Golf R has and doesn’t have a sunroof (both are correct in one way)

Are you in Europe? Because if you buy a Golf R in Europe (let’s say, Belgium), you’re going to get the following as standard / options that the North American car market won’t have access to:

  • Panoramic Sunroof
  • Chrome Mirror Caps
  • LED Tail lights
  • Pretoria Wheels
  • An accessible center-console
  • Folding Mirrors when parked

A USA buyer can purchase these things from Europe on eBay and install them quite easily but they are not options here. Why? probably cost. Something I didn’t touch on earlier is the Golf R for now is still made in Wolfsburg. The reason primarily is Puebla Mexico isn’t tooled for All Wheel Drive (4-Motion / Haldex) so any AWD VWs are made in Germany. Bringing a Golf R here with those features would put the MSRP up to Audi S3 territory and VW AG doesn’t want that. That’s the most likely reason.

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If you’re buying a Golf R today (2016 model year), expect dealers to be jerks. Volkswagen dealers are basically thinking the R is the best thing ever and while a Mercedes Dealer will allow you to drive a 60K USD car, VW won’t let you drive a Golf R. Sure, there’s the 16 year old Civic owner who wants to go wide open throttle and joy-ride but dealers should be allowing serious buyers to go for test drives.

Further, don’t buy an R if the dealer has added a “market valuation increase” to the sticker. A lot of dealers are adding $4,500 to the sticker price due to demand. Don’t give in. Wait or go to Cars.com and make the drive / flight to a dealer that will sell you the car at MSRP. I bought mine for Invoice cost. You can as well.

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At the end of the day, the Golf R is the better car but does the extra price make sense to you? Make sure you factor in the insurance increase, fuel economy, higher octane requirements, Haldex service, larger wheels and tires and the up front costs. if those are within your budget, then go Golf R. You’ll love AWD and while I didn’t do a good job of selling it, the AWD is an improvement over GTI in dry, wet and snow handling. 

I’d recommend test driving both fully expecting to buy the R if you love it. Email me if you have any more questions.