I’ve settled it. It’s done. Don’t trouble yourselves anymore, I’ve resolved it all for you. Over the last few years, I’ve driven the Subaru WRX STI (4-5 times since 2015), the Ford Focus RS (twice, in the summer and winter), the Honda Civic Type R (also twice) and the Volkswagen Golf R (also 4-5 times since 2015) both on the road and track.
Ladies and gentlemen, the best all-around compact performance car straight out of the box is the German giant’s affordable sports car. These are fighting words, I know, but let me explain to you how I’ve come up with this conclusion.
As most of us are poor saps working for the man, or woman, we can’t afford two or three newer cars to cover all bases. We’re not 19 either where we only care about ourselves. We have significant others, children, pets, hobbies, in other words, we live in the real world.
The 2018 Volkswagen Golf R is a performance car for daily life applications where everything is relative. In a drag race, the R won’t beat the Focus RS. The 292-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder will get the car up to 100 km/h in about 5 seconds. The RS cuts about a ½ second off that time. To say the Golf R is not quick however is impossible.
The mill’s 280 lb.-ft. of torque are all in as of 1,800 rpm and hold on until all the power tags in. This is a wonderful lag-free boosted engine that suffers only its pointless digitized exhaust note. The 6-speed manual is especially user-friendly as its controls are effortless for the inevitable traffic jam. Optionally, you can select the 7-speed DSG transmission which is brilliant. Its only drawback is the initial delay in activation. Moving to Normal or Race drive mode raises engine rpm to curtail the delay.
Spacious and chill performance
Once released on bail, after losing the street-light drag race, you need to get to daycare to pick up the kids. The boot can hold huge amounts of gear including an average-sized stroller. The rear bench will easily fit a pair of baby seats and best of all, the kids won’t be decapitated while dropped into their seats. The Focus’ cabin is not as user-friendly, or spacious.
The driving experienced can be turned down in the Golf R. It is possible to sit back in the included supportive sport seats and simply cruise with the family onboard. The standard adjustable dampers maintain comfort levels no matter the road conditions. By comparison, all three others cars rides as though constantly on edge. Go ahead, try and relax at the wheel of the Focus RS. The level of refined civility in the Golf R is greater than the other cars. Despite that, steering is still quick and not overly sharp, and the brakes are powerful and responsive.
Tech and pricing performance
The Golf R then, pleases and satisfies as a driver’s car, but it also fills the need when technology cravings hit. The configurable Volkswagen Digital Cockpit keeps the driver on top of the action while the passenger has access to an 8.0″ touchscreen with proximity censor. Through it, App-Connect with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink are attainable as is the Fender Premium Audio System and SiriusXM satellite radio. This is the perfect level of kit for the road ahead.
And finally, there’s pricing. The 2018 Honda Civic Type R is $75 less than the ’18 VW Golf R. The differences? The Type R is faster, sharper and uglier. The R has AWD, not as dynamic and a whole hell of a lot prettier. The STI is the least expensive by $2,500 but lags behind the latter two on almost all points. Yes, I’d jump train tracks with the STI, and not the Golf or Civic, but there’s no “savings” here.
Then, there’s the Focus RS. The roughly $15,000 price jump to get into the car’s cramped and overly busy interior is monumental levels of wrong. This money can be used to customize all three of its competitors, or put a new roof on your house, or take the family on a European vacation.
At $42,065, the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R is an affordable do-it-all option. You will need to spend an extra $2,995 for one of VW’s 35 special colours. My tester’s Violet Touch Pearl was incredible but there’d be a five way struggle between it, Ginster Yellow, Magma Orange, Viper Green and 91 Blue for my R.
My personal R with sport the 6-speed manual and one of the abovementioned colours. My tester included the DSG, driver assists package and paint for just over $49k.