GTI vs. Golf R: How to Appreciate Your Daily Again

After owning my GTI for about three and a half years now, it feels monotonous to drive to work every morning and feel like I’m not driving something that excites me anymore; the honeymoon phase has long passed. I recently paid it off and now I have a bit of a bug gnawing at me to upgrade to something new. Like most enthusiasts, I jump on Facebook Marketplace in my down time to search for any exciting deals I won’t jump at and a few weeks ago I came across a Lapiz Blue 2019 Golf R for sale in my hometown. I glazed past and thought how convenient a Golf R would be to simply upgrade to 68 more horsepower and a bigger screen on a car I already knew. Coincidentally, that same Golf R was traded in to the auto group I work for, so I jumped at the chance to test drive it and see how it compares. Ultimately, this led me to be reminded how appreciative I am of my non-PP Mk7.5 GTI and how it really pulls at my heartstrings as a happy medium between a mostly dull Golf TDI and the track-tuned Golf R that could easily get me in trouble.

After being handed the keys and pulling onto the main road, I instantly noticed how much more direct and sharp the R’s steering felt with a much shorter ratio since it only took 0.9 turns to get to full lock rather than 1.1 turns in my GTI. It’s easy to feel how the smaller aspect ratio of the low-profile sidewalls led to less roll in the tire and more responsive steering. At higher speeds on freeway off-ramps, the Continental summer tires held on incredibly well though as soon as the front tires unloaded while accelerating out, understeer made it run wide as the limited slip front differential directed more power to the outside tire and overwhelmed the cold temperature of the rubber. In short, this is one hell of a handling car when balanced well through a corner.

The brakes felt much more capable and less prone to fade than my non-PP GTI brakes did even with upgraded Porterfield R4-S front pads. On acceleration, there didn’t feel to be much of an improvement throwing me back in the seat. The turbo felt like it spooled up a bit faster and the shorter gear ratio aided the effort in compensating for the added weight of the all-wheel drive components, though when cruising at 80 miles per hour, three thousand revs per minute might stress most frequent interstate drivers especially when the R’s tire noise is noticeably louder than the GTI at interstate speeds.

Coming to the adaptive suspension, comfort mode felt comparable if not a bit more firm and slightly uncomfortable than the GTI. Race mode did firm things up quite a bit, but it still wasn’t terrible on weather-beaten country backroads like the Civic Type R’s Race mode. Something interesting about the soundaktor/fake engine sound is when it’s put into race mode, it sounds a lot like a five-cylinder in the Audi TT RS. Fun fact: The Mk8 Golf R was originally planned to have a five-cylinder once upon a time, but Audi was being greedy and didn’t want to share it with Volkswagen to create cheaper and more practical competition for the RS3.

Aside from performance upgrades, I very much enjoyed more toys available with the Golf R and didn’t miss the fact it wasn’t optioned with a leaky moonroof. Blind spot monitoring is always a handy safety feature to get used to and Volkswagen’s adaptive cruise control is refined and always chauffeur-like in my experience. Lane-keeping is always annoying and better switched off unless you ask it to do the lane-centering for you on the interstate. The Fender premium sound system didn’t seem to be much more exciting than my well-mixed, base VW system though it was a tad more clear. The 8-inch center display and digital cockpit was fun and the headlights were miles better than my halogens but the thing is, all these options are available on the GTI Autobahn for a fraction of the price. None of what the Golf R has offered so far is justified by its price.

What it comes down to is everything I found to like on the Golf R is offered on a more fun, realistic, and comfortable daily driver; the GTI. Once I was told the price with my employee discount, I drove off immediately in my paid-off GTI and took the same corner I first took in the Golf R at almost the same speed but while having more fun without feeling as uncomfortable. If I bought the Golf R, I would have to take out another loan double the value of my GTI and for what? To have to be more careful to not bend the 19-inch wheels on potholes, and only 68 more horsepower? The Golf R is an amazing machine but for a different everyday environment.

In the end, I gained a new respect for my non-PP GTI with renewed admiration. I now understand why it has reigned supreme year after year on Car and Driver’s 10Best list. All you have to do to make it near as fast as it’s big brother in the corners is stick on some good summer rubber for a fraction of the overall price. Perhaps upgrading to the PP GTI with the bigger “Golf R” brakes and limited-slip differential would be the perfect middle ground? Stay tuned!

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