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The 315-HP Hot Hatch Keeps the Manual, Adds Drift Mode

They say not to mess with a winning formula, and Volkswagen’s hottest hatchback, the Golf R, is one such winner. Rather than fix what ain’t broke with the new, Mk8-based R, Volkswagen has carried what works on its renowned performance hatch forward, refining every little assembly to produce the fastest, most livable Golf R yet.

Most of what ties the new Golf R to the old can be found under the hood, where the venerable 2.0-liter EA888 turbo-four engine resides. In the new Golf R, though, it produces 315 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque—up 27 and 30, respectively, from the outgoing model—which are sent through either a six-speed manual (praise be) or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. With the latter equipped, the new Golf R can sprint from zero to 60 miles per hour in a mere 4.7 seconds while pushing on to 155 mph.

Power travels from the transmission to an enhanced take on the last R’s all-wheel drive, one that can send 50 percent of power to the rear axle, the subject of much labor in the new Golf R. Through a torque-vectoring electronic rear differential, the R can send all its power to either side, enabling VW to add a Drift mode, not to mention some more serious setups like those it perfected at the Nürburgring. There, on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, the Mk8 Golf R lapped in 7:51, some 19 seconds faster than the last model, though still seven slower than a Honda Civic Type R.

Much of that pace comes courtesy of the Golf R’s new Vehicle Dynamics Manager, which orchestrates the aforementioned torque vectoring in tandem with the adaptive damping and antilock brake systems. Some of these mechanisms can be shown in action on the configurable instrument panel, whose displays of anything from boost pressure to transmission oil temperature can be selected from the steering wheel with haptic touch controls. Meanwhile, screens in the new Golf are as abundant as plagues in the Old Testament, so it’s love’em or leave’em.

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