Like all hot hatchbacks, the Golf R is not an old person’s car. While the 2016 model slated for arrival in the U.S. will be equipped with four doors, it’s still the fastest and most powerful Golf ever sold to the American public. It’s a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive speed bubble. It’s a bullet with sport suspension, 18-inch wheels, and tight, bolstered seats. The tires are thin, the brakes are grabby, and the exhaust burbles and pops. It’s a pumped up, track-oriented performance special. Obviously, this is a complicated machine aimed at a younger crowd.

Grip and power are good, and the Golf R practically oozes with both these attributes. But the car for tomorrow, the kind of vehicle that anyone under 30 might want, needs more than a collection of high-performance statistics. To effectively reach the new consumer, a car needs connectivity, innovative infotainment, and the latest interior technology. For a growing number of customers, it’s the cabin gadgetry that either makes or breaks a car sale.

With this in mind, Volkswagen is using the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show as a springboard to unveil the Golf R Touch, which integrates a huge variety of forward-thinking user-interface technology to enhance the experience for both passengers and the driver.

While the rest of the vehicle is unchanged from a production Golf R, it’s fascinating to see the direction VW wants to take in a bid to stay at the forefront of cabin tech. Say goodbye to buttons and switches- in their stead, you’ll find screens, haptic feedback, and gesture control. It looks complex, but if you’re the kind of person who can smell free public WiFi from a mile away, you should feel right at home.

Click past the jump to read more about the Volkswagen Golf R Touch.

Exterior

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Beyond perhaps a lack of boldness, it’s hard to fault the Golf for the way it looks.

Beyond a unique red-and-grey color scheme and stylish, new wheels, the rest of the exterior on the R Touch is essentially unchanged. Based on the seventh-generation Golf, which began production last year, the new R comes with larger front air inlets and quad exhaust tips in the back. Placed alongside its commuter siblings, the R looks lower and meaner thanks to a suspension drop and larger-diameter aluminum wheels. Like Golfs of old, the design is simple and chiseled, with the trailing edges creased slightly to give it a sporty feel, most notably in the rear with a lip across the hatch roofline and in the lower diffuser.

Beyond perhaps a lack of boldness, it’s hard to fault the Golf for the way it looks. It’s clean and well proportioned; attributes that helped propel the new Golf to a spot on TopSpeed’s new car top picks list for 2014.

Interior

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The ambient lighting is also adjustable throughout the cabin, tailoring the hue to match your tastes.

This is where things get really interesting. The cabin in the Touch received a major upgrade over the singular navigation screen found in the stock Golf R. The Touch is VW’s preview for future interior technologies, with a focus on the elimination of traditional mechanical buttons and switches. That means there are three total screens for the user interface, including a 12.8-inch main screen mounted in the center console, an eight-inch control screen mounted right below it, and a 12.3-inch active info display taking the place of a traditional instrument cluster behind the steering wheel.

The two larger screens are fully customizable, with a variety of information and images available to mix and match depending on preference and need. These screens are also touch-enabled, with proximity sensors embedded nearby to aid use. The 12.8-inch main screen has what’s known as a multi-touch slider that lets users control parameters like music volume, fader, and balance through a combination of different numbers of fingers. The ambient lighting is also adjustable throughout the cabin, tailoring the hue to match your tastes.

The eight-inch control screen incorporates haptic feedback, giving a sense of “clickiness” that will help keep the driver’s attention on the road while he or she makes a selection. All these different control features can also be made via gesture command, whereby a roof-mounted camera is used to recognize hand movements, turning a variety of waving into discrete actions.

Drivetrain

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Sitting under the aluminum alloys are high-performance brakes, with rotors measuring in at 13.4-inches and 12.2-inches in the front and back respectively.

We can only assume the drivetrain for Golf R Touch remains unchanged, but that’s okay. Even in stock form, the Golf R is very capable. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-four with 290 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque pumping through 4MOTION permanent all-wheel-drive. There are two transmissions to choose from, including a six-speed manual or six-speed auto DSG, with the slush box rendering a slightly improved 0-to-60 time of 4.9 seconds. Sitting behind the aluminum alloys are high-performance brakes, with rotors measuring in at 13.4 inches and 12.2 inches in the front and rear, respectively. A new suspension yields max grip, with struts up front and a multi-link in the back, while pilots can choose between several different driving modes, including “Comfort," “Normal," “Sport," and “Race."

Prices

A fully loaded Golf R is just a sneeze below $40,000, and I’d wager that the new screens, gesture control, and other goodies found on the Touch would add up to one helluva option box. Should VW pull the trigger on offering such a package, I wouldn’t be surprised if it added another $7,000 to the MSRP, making for one very pricey Golf. Of course, that’s just speculation. Over time, if this tech gains in popularity, the price should eventually fall.

Conclusion

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In a press release, VW states “this technology adds comfort and convenience to human-vehicle interaction by reducing driving distractions while operating controls, and further underscores the synchronized relationship between the car and the computer.”

We aren’t totally convinced this kind of tech yields reduced distractions, but we still think it’s pretty darn cool. As the equipment we encounter in the cabin of our automobiles becomes increasingly complex, the interface to control it must keep pace. Unfortunately, that means things like mechanical buttons are on the way out. Gesture control and touchscreens are not just a neat idea, I think they are a must moving forward. Cars like the Golf R Touch attempt to forge the way forward, and while it might look great in a five-minute staged demonstration, the real test is when a live consumer gets behind the wheel. In the meantime, I’ll be content to chuckle as this tech rolls out. Just like how the first Bluetooth earpiece users looked crazy talking to themselves, new gesture control users will look rather weird waving at their dash.

  • Leave it
    • * Questionable safety and usability for new controls
    • * Will probably be quite expensive at release
    • * Makes you look like an imbecile waving at no one

Press Release

Volkswagen, Europe’s most successful car brand, has been instrumental in driving the development of more connected, more intelligent vehicles. That is because the car—which operates intuitively, is networked systematically, reacts intelligently and offers significantly greater convenience. This gives new innovative impetus to mobile life, making it more communicative, safer and interesting. This is why Volkswagen is demonstrating an entire fleet of vehicles at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to show just how much the car and computer are already intertwined today and will continue to grow together in the future. The main focus at the show is on four aspects: computer-controlled drive systems; app and smartphone integration; intuitive vehicle operation; and autonomous and semi-autonomous driving.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R Touch High Resolution Exterior
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"The two inventions of the century, the car and the computer, are gradually coming closer together. We need to design future mobility to be even more intelligent and even more networked," said Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen AG.

Computer-controlled drive systems

Electric mobility is coming into its own. Full electric and hybrid versions of high-volume models have now arrived, and Volkswagen is setting the pace with best-sellers like the Golf. The e-Golf and Golf GTE are the protagonists of a new mobility. These cars would be inconceivable without on-board electronics with computers that control such functions as battery charging and, in the case of the hybrid models, switching between the different drive sources. At CES, Volkswagen is showing, among other things, how electric cars will be able to automatically dock to inductive charging stations and output signals that indicate the battery state-of-charge using the vehicle’s exterior lights.

App and smartphone integration

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It has now been eight years, to the month, since Apple® introduced its first generation iPhone in San Francisco. Smartphones have irreversibly changed our everyday lives, from the ways we communicate to how we access information. It has long been normal practice to have phones automatically connected to a car’s hands-free telephone system via Bluetooth and to have smartphones stream media libraries into car infotainment and sound systems. But now, Volkswagen is taking a significant step forward.

Later this year, VW will introduce the second generation "modular infotainment platform" (MIB II) in the United States. Along with the new infotainment system, MirrorLink™ will also be made available for the first time, integrating the apps and operating layout of numerous smartphones (including Samsung, HTC, LG and Sony) into cars. When MirrorLink™ is introduced, two other interfaces will also be launched under the App-Connect label: CarPlay™ (Apple®) and Android Auto™ (Google®). Simultaneously, VW will also launch CarPlay™ and Android Auto™ in the European market.

Intuitive operation

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In the future, the car will not only merge with the mobile world, it will also be more intuitive for people to operate. Today, and in the future, the car will adapt by recognizing their occupants’ movements—via controls based on proximity sensors and gesture recognition. Today, the latest infotainment systems by Volkswagen already detect the approach of a hand with proximity sensors. In the next revolutionary step—which Volkswagen is showing with the Golf R Touch concept vehicle at CES—the infotainment unit will use cameras to not only detect hand gestures, but understand but assign meaning to them. Gesture control will make it possible to control displays and functionality without having to use a touchscreen. This technology adds comfort and convenience to human-vehicle interaction by reducing driver distractions while operating controls, and further underscores the synchronized relationship between the car and the computer.

Autonomous and semi-autonomous driving

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Clearly, cars of the future will need to be able to drive autonomously if necessary, a change that will be introduced step by step. Even today, Park Assist by Volkswagen enables semi-automated entry and exit from parking spaces. The car executes the entire steering process for the parking maneuver independently. At CES, Volkswagen is now showing another evolutionary stage of Park Assist: Trained Parking. Here, the car scans a frequently driven path to a parking space via camera, and from that point on it executes the path semi-automatically by computer control. In another evolutionary stage, it will be possible to have the car parked by the driver remotely, using a smartphone to control the car.

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