Pro driver for VW’s Rallycross team gives TopSpeed a hot lap in a Golf R

During our recent visit to the Texas Motor Speedway with the Texas Auto Writers Association’s Springtime Auto Roundup, we had the privilege of riding shotgun with famed racing driver Scott Speed. The action took place in a bone-stock 2016 VW Golf R – a 292-horsepower, AWD hatchback with a proper six-speed manual transmission and a light, 3,300-pound curb weight.

The video above is Scott showing us just how capable the Golf R is around a road course. If the video makes the car look slow – its an illusion. Speed and his skills push the car around the track with each tire screaming for mercy, the tachometer nudging redline, and the brakes letting of their distinctive smell. Speed simply makes it look easy.

Race fans from several genres of motorsports will instantly recognize the name Scott Speed. He started as a youngster racing karts before graduating to open-wheel racing in 2001. A year later Speed was racing for RedBull in Formula Three. Speed soon moved up to Formula One, becoming the first American to compete since Michael Andretti in 1993. He spent time racing GP2, Gran Prix, ARCA, and even several NASCAR series.

Nowadays Speed can be found co-driving with Tanner Foust for Andretti Autosport and Volkswagen in the RedBull Global Rallycross. In a mix of dirt-road rally driving, drifting, and stadium-truck-style jumps, Rallycross is one of the fastest growing motorsports. Speed and Foust pilot a 560-horsepower VW Beetle with AWD a sequential six-speed gearbox, and a full safety cage. Missing from every Rallycross car is any sort of traction aid – meaning slides and wild maneuvers are a common sight during a race.

That’s why Volkswagen had Speed on hand to demonstrate the 2016 Golf R’s abilities on track. It’s easy to appreciate the Golf R’s smooth clutch, notchy shifter, versatile AWD system, and weighty steering when driving on the street, but it’s another thing altogether to experience the car with a man who’s completely familiar with the chassis, tires, and handling characteristics. For more on our Golf R driving impressions, click “continue reading.”

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2016 Volkswagen Golf R

Riding Shotgun in a VW Golf R Driven by Scott Speed: Video Exterior
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VW has finally unveiled a new set of high-res images of the 2016 Golf R. Check them and our review of it at TopSpeed.com.

The Volkswagen Golf R shared much of its parts and designs with its less-powerful Golf brethren, but with a full 72-horsspower more than the Golf GTI, the Golf R makes its performance case well known. Torque is also healthy, listed at 280 pound-feet. This gives the Golf R the ability to hit 60 mph in roughly 5.2 seconds with the manual gearbox. Top speed is governed at 130 mph. While the DSG dual-clutch can be had, the manual proved to be a pleasure to drive and added a more connected feeling to the driving experience.

Behind the wheel, the Golf R feels tidy yet not small. Its tall windows lead to great outward visibility and the confidence for quick maneuvers. The leather seats are well bolstered and hold tight during hard cornering. What’s more, the driving experience is aided by a quick-action steering ratio within a steering column that translates plenty of road feel without any dead space on center. The brakes feel extremely confident and only started fading after several hot laps with Speed behind the wheel.

The shifter and clutch were my favorite aspects of the Golf R. The clutch pick-up is super smooth and predictable, giving the driver great feel and feedback. The shifter enjoys a short throw with positive engagement within each gear. All this leads to a short learning curve and quick lap times.

Power is impressive for a hot hatch, though it does feel underpowered when driven back-to-back with things like the 640-horsepower Cadillac CTS-V. Still, the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder moves the car with authority. VW’s 4Motion AWD system further adds to the confidence, making torque steer and wheel spin non-issues. What’s more, with a set of winter tires, the Golf R can be a true four-season sports car.

Of course, the Golf R does have some strong competition. The Subaru WRX STI comes to mind as being its fiercest. Though it’s not offered in a hatchback form these days, the WRX STI offers an impressive 305 horsepower from its turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four. The sprint to 60 mph happens in only 4.7 seconds, handling outgunning the Golf R. Still, The Golf R is a more practical car for everyday life. It is a hatchback, after all. The VW is also a smoother driver, one that your mom and girlfriend will appreciate.

All told, the Golf R is a fantastic hot hatch that I’m happy to see offer here in the U.S. Now if we could just drive it back-to-back with the Ford Focus RS – now that would be a showdown!

Read our full review on the Volkswagen Golf R here.

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