Volkswagen Golf R vs. Volkswagen GTI

By

Automotive Editor

John Diether has been a professional writer, editor, and producer since 1997. His work can be found on TV, radio, web, and various publications throughout the world.  He is a graduate of Northwestern University and has a 1992 Cadillac Brougham d’Elegance in his garage. 


, Automotive Editor - April 13, 2018

The Volkswagen GTI invented a niche decades ago as a spirited offspring of the compact Golf. While other hatchbacks stress efficiency and practicality, the GTI adds some genuine fun to the mix. It's a formula that generations of buyers have embraced.

A newcomer by comparison, the Golf R shares its body with the GTI, but is altogether more serious about performance. The Golf R gets significantly more power, a track-ready suspension, and standard all-wheel drive. All of this goodness comes at price, of course. Is the Golf R worth it, or does the GTI get the job done just fine for less?

See a side-by-side comparison of the Golf R & GTI »

What the Golf R Gets Right

The Golf R proves that Volkswagen knows how to wring every bit of oomph out of an engine. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder manages 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission comes standard, but the Golf R is a tick faster with the newly optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Zero to 60 mph happens in as little as 4.5 seconds, which makes the Golf R's efficiency all the more endearing. It's EPA-rated at 25 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving.

With its taut suspension and performance-tuned all-wheel drive setup, the Golf R handles well beyond the ambitions of the average driver. Just so there's no confusion, its true potential is only unleashed in Race driving mode. Even so, the Golf R makes for a perfectly civilized daily driver — and a downright comfortable one with the optional adaptive suspension.

What the GTI Gets Right

The GTI is designed for drivers that measure performance in less tangible terms like response and agility, not tenths of seconds. Under the hood is an appropriately energetic (and allegedly underrated) 2.0-liter turbo that now churns out 220 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque. Buyers can stick with the standard six-speed manual, or upgrade to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

The GTI gets its own specially tuned suspension, performance brakes, and a limited-slip differential. That makes it more aggressive than the regular Golf, if not as ferocious as the Golf R.

Equipped with the automatic, the GTI can scoot to 60 mph in about 5.6 seconds, and achieves an EPA-estimated 27 mpg in combined driving.

How Much Performance Is Enough?

The Golf R delivers a whole different level of performance, along with the same hatchback utility and everyday comfort as the GTI. That would make it a shoe-in if not for the GTI's own talents on the road, which are readily apparent and easy to appreciate. Add that to a $13,000 difference in base MSRP, and the GTI emerges as a relative bargain.

Our Verdict: Volkswagen GTI

When it comes to sheer excitement, the Golf R is a king among hatchbacks. For fun-seeking buyers with a mix priorities, the GTI takes the crown.

Take a closer look at the Volkswagen Golf R »

Take a closer look at the Volkswagen GTI »

Side-by-side comparison of features, pricing, photos and more!

, Automotive Editor

John Diether has been a professional writer, editor, and producer since 1997. His work can be found on TV, radio, web, and various publications throughout the world.  He is a graduate of Northwestern University and has a 1992 Cadillac Brougham d’Elegance in his garage. 


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