Price (as tested) 💲: $45,835
Powertrain ⚙️: 2.0-liter Turbocharged 4-cylinder
Output 💪: 315 hp/280 lb-ft of torque
Transmission 🕹: 6-Speed Manual
0-60 MPH 🚦: 4.9 seconds
Top Speed 💥: 155 mph
MPG (as tested) ⛽️: 20 city/28 hwy/23 combined
Curb weight ⚖️: 3,360 lbs

 

I’ll join in a “save the manuals” chant with the same fervor as any enthusiast, but it must be said…not all manuals deserve saving.

My week with the 2023 VW Golf R was conflicted. Here was an attractive, composed, practical, 315-hp hot hatch with a manual gearbox! In theory, that list of criteria should usher the Golf R into a cohort of highly desirable performance machines.

And yet, my heart didn’t flutter.

The R’s torque-vectoring AWD system and boosty 4-cylinder enabled handling feats and straight line agility. The steering was light, but dialed. The gearbox was…ah, the gearbox.

The double-edged sword of a shrinking roster of manual-equipped cars is that, yes, row-your-own-gearheads have fewer options, but the ones that have held out are rarely malnourished developmentally. The Golf R’s, however, is.

Long throws, under-defined gates, an ambiguous clutch, and an awkward shifter shape restrain the driver’s bond with the car. Perhaps these character flaws wouldn’t be as stark if main rivals like the Civic Type R and (to a lesser extent) Toyota GR Corolla didn’t have such phenomenal manuals.

The good news for the R is that, unlike the CTR and GRola, there’s an excellent dual-clutch automatic available. And in this reviewer’s opinion – despite my affinity for standard transmissions – the Golf R is a better hot hatch with the auto.

Its snappy shifts and intelligent operation are merits, but the DSG even matches the R’s more refined character and livability. The fact that its competitors don’t even offer an auto alternative only support the dual-clutch equipped R’s case.

Of course, having made my case, I still felt compelled to mail in my enthusiast card to the proper authorities. I do hope they return it, though.

Put in a good word for me, will ya?