2016 Volkwagen Golf R Gripes
This page is my review of the Mk VII Golf R. Sure, there is a lot of kvetching here. It's fun and easy to write. And I understand VW is trying to contain costs on what's already a very expensive car. When it comes down to it, these complaints in total did not keep me from buying this car.
Many of these complaints are simple things that could have gone a long way toward making this a better car. Some were simple engineering parameter choices. Others required effort wasted making the car worse.
- The less said of Haldex AWD the better. So I dedicated a whole web page to it! VW 4MOTION (née Synchro) is predominantly an understeering FWD drivetrain meant for average drivers. When loss of traction is detected in the front wheels, the Haldex clutch pack quickly engages from slip to full lock a shaft to the rear wheels. The front and rear diffs are open units that use the brakes to simulate limited slip differentials (LSDs). It's not quite a track-ready AWD system like Subaru or Quattro drivetrains, but seems to perform fairly well in low traction situations. I scoff, but I decided it works well enough that I actually sold my Tarmac Stage! fun Evo. Not having to turn all those wheels is doubtless a contributor to really good fuel economy. Plus it seems to compare to the contemporary STI quite favorably on-track.
- Brakes Are Overboosted
- Just like our 2013 TDI and 2017 VR6 Passats, the brake pedal is way more sensitive than anything else I've driven before them. Is this some misguided attempt to decrease the speed to full braking force? Regardless, it took plenty of getting used to while I jolted passengers and followers alike. I'm finally starting to get confortable heel-and-toe shifting as of this writing. I much prefer the increasing pedal pressure of…well, every other car I've driven (including our 2002 Passat Variant and 2005 Beetle) over the long, mushy, overboosted and uncommunicative brakes in new VWs. Just awful.
- Clutch Pedal Return Is Damped
Possibly this is a misguided feature to ensure smooth clutch engagement and reduce driveline damage from n00b clutch-poppers? Launch control for manual transmissions? Whatever the case it makes heel-and-toe downshifting and double-clutching upshifts clumsy and slow. I discovered long ago on our B5.5 Passat Variant that the notchy german shifter was rendered perfectly smooth when double-clutching. Maybe it just slowed down my upward gear changes enough to let the engine rev down more, but it was quite rewarding and became second nature. Light on the downward stroke, the R's clutch pedal seems to be working its way through oatmeal on the way back and sometimes tapped me on the foot when I was faster than it was. I'll admit to a couple spirited runs where I was on the gas early enough to rev the motor awkwardly before the clutch was fully engaged. Not Good™.
Turns out this is a restriction built into the hydraulic clutch bleeder block. One option is to remove the little plastic ring in the OEM unit that causes all the trouble. I opted to install the ECS aluminum clutch bleeder block.
Dear VW engineers: Stop helping.
- Gear Spacing
The gears in the manaul transmission are too close together. It's like they're just checking the "6-speed" box in the feature list. VW/Audi's excellent 2.0T reaches peak torque at a V8-like 1800 rpm. The low first gear provides great mechanical leverage against the pavement but it seems like sixth could be a little taller for 70+ mph cruising. The chosen ratios seem to make more sense in the DSG that's quick to shift up and down all day for that last mpg. It can be frenetic in the manual. I've often taken to shifting 1-3-5-6 or 1-2-4-6 and I'm still getting better than 30 mpg on my morning commute. At least it doesn't have the uselessly small 5-6 gap I remember from B5 Audi S4s.
Maybe I just got used to the 6-speed on my '95 Firehawk: 4th was 1:1, 5th was 0.75:1 overdrive and 6th was 0.5:1 over-overdrive. Now that would probably be a little too high for this motor, but more would be better for high speed highway cruising. In any case, I shouldn't be able to get into 6th on a city street.
- Electric Handbrake
- The German-built R succumbs to this disease of pointless gadgetry. (Mexican-built Golfs and GTIs still have a good ol' manual hand brake lever.) Sure, it's another expensive thing to break (oh, the puns) or not work when the battery is dead. I haven't engaged in this sort of hooliganism in a surprisingly long time, but I still want the option of locking the back tires and spinning around, pretending I'm Ken Block.
- No Spare Tire
Like a deplorable number of new cars these days, the Golf R is delivered with a weak air pump and a bottle of goo to handle flat tire emergencies. I'm sure it works great sometimes. Second week I had the car I got a hole in the shoulder of the driver's side front tire. It was big enough that the goo just sputtered out the hole. So what should have been a 10 minute spare tire swap turned into a three hour ordeal in the Texas summer waiting for AAA.
No, a spare tire is an absolute requirement in any car I drive, so I fixed it.
- Center Stack
Where do I start?
- Music and navigation have nothing to do with one another! So why must I have the radio on in order to see the satnav or the car status monitors or anything on the center screen? How is there no way to stop the music if I want to concentrate on turn-by-turn directions? How do I pause the radio? They share a screen but nothing else. Please re-examine your old-think.
- Sure, it automatically lowers the music volume when giving audio nav cues. How about just make the nav cues louder and stop awkwardly cutting the music? I can adjust the overall volume with the knob. Maybe I'm just not listening to my music loud enough?
- Honestly, the 6" screen is a tad small in 2016. Seems to do the job well enough, but I've come to expect more in a VW interior.
- There's some kind of trick to getting the media player to limit its playlist to a subdirectory you select. I organize music by artist and album, which makes it easy to find when I'm into playing just one artist. For the life of me I can't remember how to make this work every time.
- The voice control is effectively useless.
- Unlike the top-level features, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay don't have a hardware button to launch them. You select "Menu" and then touch a button on the screen. Pretty distracting for getting to a system that does a better job at keeping your eyes on the road.
- AM/FM/SiriusXM bands are artificially separated on the radio UI. My 2013 Passat's otherwise terrible radio allowed me to have presets for any of the bands on the same screen. I love my wife but she is an incessant channel flipper made all the more frustrating when she has to flip bands too. There's no good reason for this in a modern UI.
- Settings/configuration seems a little convoluted and spread around in weird places between soft screens as well as a weird split between the center stack and the instrument cluster. It's mostly context-sensitive except when it just isn't.
Have you guys actually used this thing yet?
- Slick Seats
- The seats are comfortable with good side bolstering, but I still slip around on the slick leather. A characteristic VW/Audi Alcantera insert within the leather seat (like our otherwise unsporty Passat TDI) would have added plenty of grip and could have made a nice color accent. I understand that cost was a concern for a Golf that's already north of $40K, but the option would have been nice. Yeah, yeah, I know what you're saying, but the US-bound Audi S3 doesn't have a hatch anymore so it's disqualified.
- No Center Armrest Cubby
I'm having a hard time remembering back to the days when a VW didn't have a height- and length-adjustable center armrest concealing a highly usable storage bin within. Normally I just shoved it as far back and out of the way of the shifter as possible, but I appreciate the tidy storage. The US Golf R's center armrest only slides back and forth. Apparently this is the result of fedaral regulations banning such covers that don't have a latch. Easily remedied, but a hassle. Beware, VW really overtighented or glued those screws so go easy on the soft hex heads or you risk stripping them.
- Blue & White Instrument Lighting
- I don't get it. Red lighting is simply better on human eyes for preserving night vision. It's a fact. Blue is indeed pretty, oh yes. Quite. Mm hmm.
There's still a lot to like on this and other Mk7 Golfs.
- Manual Transmission
- Thank you, VW, for offering a proper manual in this car for 2016! The DSG is undeniably quicker in a drag race and lightning fast for manually selected gear changes with the paddles as you head into the corners. But I still get enjoyment exercising that particular skill. You guys are the tops! (Now bring back the Passat wagon. With a manual transmission, please.)
- Comfort vs. Performance
- Really struck the balance I was looking for. It's equally happy in rush hour as thrilling down twisty back roads.
- Power Band
- This 2.0T is all about area under the curve. The torque peak occurs at 1,800 RPM and remains nice and flat. A lot of turbo-fours don't reach peak torque until as high as 4,000 RPM so you really have to spin them to get the performance. High torque at low RPM makes this car very easy and comfortable to drive in any situation.
- Fuel Economy
- I find it quite easy to reach the EPA's 31 MPG on my morning commute. One morning in particular I acheived 34.4 MPG without any dangerous hypermiling shenanigans.
- Center Stack
Where do I start!
- Transflective LCD screen is highly visible in all but the worst glare.
- The proximity sensor detects your hand approaching the screen to which the display responds by making the on-screen buttons more visible and easier to target. Clever.
- The sound quality of the Fender-branded audio system is excellent. Good thing, because there's a lot integrated into it such that I would loathe replacing it with an aftermarket sound system.
- HVAC controls are still hard, tactile rotaries and pushbuttons I can accurately use by feel alone. Resist the dangerously distracting inconvenience of the touchscreen!
- Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integrate as well as any I've seen.
- Media are stored on high capacity SDXC flash cards and the player supports FLAC, playlists I create on my computer, (≤500x500 pixel) album art and v2 ID3 tags.
- Bluetooth audio profiles are clear and phone calls are understandable.
- Climate Control
- It actually seems to take the temperature of the occupants into account, unlike all previous automatic systems I've used. Mostly.
- VW/Audi makes the best interiors in class bar none.
- Exterior Styling
- Unlike the rather boring US B7/NMS Passat, the Golfs have remained understated yet handsome. After a string of attention-getters, it's wonderful to be anonymous.
Keep up the great work, VW. But stay humble enough to realize there's plenty of room for improvement.