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2015 Subaru WRX STI vs 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 3/2/2015 Jessica Walker, Ron Kiino
2015 Subaru WRX STI vs 2015 Volkswagen Golf R© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Subaru WRX STI vs 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

With the demise of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X pending this year, the Subaru WRX STI will have one less rival to fret about filling its rearview. Not that the STI needed more assurances, what with it winning a June 2014 comparison test against the 320-horse BMW M235i and 355-horse Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG. Talk about taking down the heavyweights.

Like any reigning champ, the STI wouldn't go untested for long. Enter the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R, the most powerful production Golf ever to come to the U.S. Not only is the R armed with a rip-roaring 292-horse version of VW's EA888 turbo inline-four, but it also boasts a checklist of requisite go-fast bits: a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox (a six-speed manual will be available this summer as a 2016 model), a 4Motion AWD system with a fifth-generation Haldex center coupling and the XDS+ cross differential system, and an available DCC adaptive damping system. Better yet, for track duty, the R gets the larger brake system seen on the GTI Performance Package, available 19-inch alloys with 235/35 summer tires, and a stability control system that can be fully defeated. No doubt, the Vee-Dub is a formidable foe to the 305-horse Subaru.

To see if this speediest of Golfs could fly with the winged STI, we subjected each to the challenging mountain roads around Borrego Springs, as well as the heart-pounding curves and elevation drops of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. And because these are daily drivers, we ran both through our standard instrumented testing and Real MPG fuel economy loop. With the votes tallied, one car's tenacious grip and all-around excellence left us with a bigger joker's grin.

Related Link: Research the 2015 Volkswagen Golf

Track Stars

The Golf R and STI both come with selectable drive modes. For the Golf R: Comfort, Normal, Individual, and Race. Each alters the DSG and dampers. The STI offers Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp, which vary the ECU and throttle.© Provided by MotorTrend The Golf R and STI both come with selectable drive modes. For the Golf R: Comfort, Normal, Individual, and Race. Each alters the DSG and dampers. The STI offers Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp, which vary the ECU and throttle.

Around the undulating 2.21 miles of MRLS, the STI gripped and drifted for an impressive time of 1:47.16 -- quick enough to place it 0.42 second ahead of the 2006 Porsche Cayman S and just 0.44 second behind the 2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed but an eye-opening 1.15 seconds behind the Golf R's 1:46.01. Why is the more powerful STI that much slower?

"The VW felt softer but overall more refined,"our pro shoe Randy Pobst said. "With three tight hairpins, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca rewards braking and acceleration. This offers the possible explanation for the 1-second-plus-quicker Golf. It stopped very well, while the STI suffered significant fade. Off the corners, the Golf showed fabulous traction; in fact, it felt like it had less understeer on power than it did off power, which is kind of unusual. This is by far the best VW turbo-four I have driven yet from the factory -- really runs well and pulls all the way to redline. Further, the VW's DSG gearbox does not require the boost-robbing lift off the throttle to make a shift, as does the Subaru's true manual. And the steering -- quick, excellent, with a lot of good feedback."

Still, this discrepancy was surprising given his frustration with the Golf's understeer and stubborn dual-clutch. "Into the corner, when driven at the limit, the Golf R understeers a lot," he said. "It is helped by some light trail-braking to bring the nose in. In Sport mode the transmission was not downshifting until I gave it the gas. Well, that's too late. It needs to already be in the gear."

Despite posting a tardier lap time, the STI tugs a bit harder on the heartstrings.

Despite posting a tardier lap time, the STI tugged a bit harder on Randy's heartstrings. "The shifter is kind of stiff on the street, but on the track it feels just right, real positive," he said. "All in all, the Subaru is a more enjoyable and satisfying driver's car due to the adjustability of the AWD system. Also a factor is its stiffer suspension, which properly controlled body motions and quickened responses. It soaks up what few bumps there are here very well without disturbing the chassis at all. And like its rally-inspired history, the STI felt drifty and tossable."

Road Warriors

The 2.5-liter STI makes 290 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm, but the 2.0-liter Golf throws a wrench in that with 280 lb-ft at only 1,800 rpm.© Provided by MotorTrend The 2.5-liter STI makes 290 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm, but the 2.0-liter Golf throws a wrench in that with 280 lb-ft at only 1,800 rpm.

Away from MRLS, the STI grew less lovable, the Golf R downright endearing. First, the Subaru's overwrought, clumsy styling, a blur on the track, is a sight for blind eyes when parked. Like a bull mastiff, the STI's beauty lies in its strength and prowess, not its staged portrait. This awkwardness is a stark contrast to the elegantly penned Golf, which can be longingly admired from any angle. "The Volkswagen is gorgeous, whereas the STI is simply not," senior features editor Jonny Lieberman said. "I'd go so far as to say the Subaru is like a blistered Corolla." That said, the Subaru's 18-inch forged BBS wheels, bulging fenders, monster wing, and quad tailpipes give it a sporty, aggressive presence.

Away from the track, the STI grows less lovable, the Golf R downright endearing.

That presence, alas, carries over to the road, where the STI's firm suspension, a plus on the track, proved more of a detriment. It's far from call-the-dentist stiff, but in light of the Golf's comparatively compliant setup, the STI is busy and bouncy, transmitting much more of the road surface into the cabin. Throw in a touchier throttle, lighter steering, and noticeable turbo lag, and the Subaru was deemed the more frenetic of the pair.

Four point five. That's how many seconds it takes the Golf R to hit 60 mph from a standstill, making it a tenth quicker than the Subaru. Evidently, the R's new cylinder head, pistons, injection system, and turbo are legit. At the quarter mile, the STI closes the gap, tying the VW with a time of 13.1 seconds, albeit at a slightly slower trap speed. The Golf's lateral acceleration of 0.94 g is a smidge off the STI's 0.97, but its 60-0 emergency stopping distance of 108 feet results in another tie. Although comparable in numbers to the STI, the Golf is dissimilar in feel and character. From its organic steering and linear turbo engine to its composed chassis and bulletproof brakes, the Golf R is mature, graceful. And considering its Real MPG fuel-economy ratings of 21.8/30.9/25.1 mpg city/highway/combined (versus 23/30/26 per EPA estimates), which outclass the STI's 21.6/24.9/23.0 (17/23/19 EPA), add efficient to the list.

Our loaded "DCC & Navigation" Golf R came in $880 below the similarly equipped "Navigation + Keyless Access" STI Limited. In terms of dough, it's a push. But as Lieberman noted: "$40K buys you an equal measure of performance, but if you choose the Volkswagen, you also get world-class refinement. The entire car is coated in a layer of elegance not seen in this segment. Hell, it possesses an elegance not seen in much, much pricier segments. I'm amazed, actually."

Treat yourself to a Golf R, and you'll be amazed, too.

A Tale of Two Boxers

In Japan the STI uses the smaller 2.0-liter EJ20 Turbo, making 304 hp at 6,400 rpm and 311 lb-ft of torque at 4,400. Conversely, the U.S. STI’s 2.5-liter EJ25 Turbo doles out 305 hp at 6,000 and 290 lb-ft at 4,000. On the whole, similar specs. The biggest differences? Octane, boost, and redline. The EJ20 hits its numbers on 95 octane; the EJ25, 91. And whereas the EJ25 gets 14.7 psi of boost and 6,700 max revs, the EJ20 touts 19.4 psi and 8,000 rpm. What did I think of the JDM STI after a week of seat time? It’s like driving an S2000 -- with torque.

Deep Focus: Ford Reveals Wicked AWD Focus RS

Ford Focus RS© Provided by MotorTrend Ford Focus RS

For those folks yearning for an American nameplate in the turbocharged all-wheel-drive econorocket segment, Ford has answered your calls. When the Focus RS arrives in early 2016, it'll storm U.S. streets with a more potent iteration of the Mustang's 2.3-liter EcoBoost I-4. Our insiders suggest the official rating will come in around 350. Whoa.

The sole transmission will be a six-speed manual. The extra horses should more than compensate for time spent shifting, allowing the RS to sprint to 60 in around 4.5 seconds. The standard "Ford Performance All-Wheel-Drive" system touts Dynamic Torque Vectoring, which not only routes torque fore and aft (up to 70 percent to the rear) but also side to side between the rear wheels (up to 100 percent of available torque to one wheel). The RS ratchets up the chassis tuning for more serious track use, with stiffer springs, bushings, and anti-roll bars. And let's not forget the big rear wing and dual exhaust. Inside, the RS coddles with Recaro seats, Sync connectivity, and a 10-speaker Sony sound system.

Production begins at Ford's Saarlouis, Germany, manufacturing plant late this year. Price? Figure roughly $35,000 to start and around $40,000 all gussied up.

Against the WRX STI Alphabet Soup, R Rises to Top

Between the Golf R and WRX STI, there are 12 gears, two turbos, 570 lb-ft of torque, 597 horsepower, one wing, and eight shiny tailpipes.© Provided by MotorTrend Between the Golf R and WRX STI, there are 12 gears, two turbos, 570 lb-ft of torque, 597 horsepower, one wing, and eight shiny tailpipes.

With its later braking into Turn 2, the Golf R quickly grabs a small but early lead from the WRX and determinedly hangs on for the next 94 seconds to greet the checkered flag with a 156-foot advantage. Sounds like the Volkswagen made quick work of the Subaru -- but that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, the two repeatedly dive-bombed each other, with the Golf R repeating its late-braking trick into Turns 4 and 6 and the WRX apexing Turn 4 at a higher speed and accelerating faster toward Turns 5 and out of the corkscrew. But ultimately, the Volkswagen sealed the deal with a better rounding of Turn 6 and a more determined climb toward the iconic left-drop-then-right corner. Exiting the last, tight left-hander, the Subaru fractionally gains again toward the finish, but it isn't enough. It seems the Golf's inferior power-to-weight ratio and fractionally smaller, narrower tires are meaningfully offset by its quicker-shifting transmission and low-rpm torque.

2015 Subaru WRX STI vs 2015 Volkswagen Golf R© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Subaru WRX STI vs 2015 Volkswagen Golf R


 2015 Subaru WRX STI (Limited)2015 Volkswagen Golf R
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
DRIVETRAIN LAYOUTFront-engine, AWDFront-engine, AWD
ENGINE TYPETurbocharged flat-4, alum block/heads Turbocharged I-4, iron block/alum head
VALVETRAINDOHC, 4 valves/cylDOHC, 4 valves/cyl
DISPLACEMENT149.9 cu in/2,457cc121.0 cu in/1,984cc
COMPRESSION RATIO8.2:19.6:1
POWER (SAE NET)305 hp @ 6,000 rpm292 hp @ 5,400 rpm
TORQUE (SAE NET)290 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm280 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm
REDLINE6,700 rpm6,500 rpm
WEIGHT TO POWER11.0 lb/hp11.6 lb/hp
TRANSMISSION6-speed manual6-speed twin-clutch auto
AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO3.90:1/2.94:14.77:1 (1-4); 3.44:1 (5-6,R)/2.79:1
SUSPENSION, FRONT; REARStruts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll barStruts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
STEERING RATIO13.0:19.5:1-14.1:1
TURNS LOCK-TO-LOCK2.52.1
BRAKES, F;R13.0-in vented disc;12.4-in vented disc, ABS13.4-in vented disc;12.2-in vented disc, ABS
WHEELS8.5 x 18-in, forged aluminum8.0 x 19-in, cast aluminum
TIRES245/40R18 97W Dunlop Sport Maxx RT235/35R19 91Y Bridgestone Potenza RE050A
DIMENSIONS
WHEELBASE104.3 in103.5 in
TRACK, F/R60.2/60.6 in60.7/59.7 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT180.9 x 70.7 x 58.1 in168.4 x 70.8 x 56.5 in
TURNING CIRCLE36.0 ft35.8 ft
CURB WEIGHT3,367 lb3,384 lb
WEIGHT DIST.,F/R59/41%60/40%
SEATING CAPACITY55
HEADROOM, F/R37.2/37.1 in38.4/38.1 in
LEGROOM, F/R43.3/35.4 in41.2/35.6 in
SHOULDER ROOM, F/R55.6/54.2 in55.9/53.9 in
CARGO VOLUME*12.0 cu ft52.7/22.8 cu ft (beh f/r seats)
TEST DATA
ACCELERATION TO MPH
0-301.3 sec1.5 sec
0-402.32.3
0-503.23.3
0-604.64.5
0-706.05.8
0-807.57.5
0-909.79.5
0-10011.911.7
PASSING, 45-65 MPH2.52.3
QUARTER MILE13.1 sec @ 104.4 mph13.1 sec @ 104.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH108 ft108 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.97 g (avg)0.94 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT24.9 sec @ 0.79 g (avg)24.9 sec @ 0.85 g (avg)
2.21-MI ROAD COURSE LAP107.16 sec106.01 sec
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH2,400 rpm2,250 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
BASE PRICE$39,290 $37,415
PRICE AS TESTED $40,790 $39,910
STABILITY/TRACTION CONTROLYes/yesYes/yes
AIRBAGSDual front, front side, f/r curtainDual front, front side, f/r curtain
BASIC WARRANTY3 yrs/36,000 miles3 yrs/36,000 miles
POWERTRAIN WARRANTY5 yrs/60,000 miles5 yrs/60,000 miles
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE3 yrs/36,000 miles3 yrs/36,000 miles
FUEL CAPACITY 15.9 gal14.5 gal
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON17/23/19 mpg23/30/26 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY198/147 kW-hrs/100 miles147/112 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB1.01 lb/mile0.75 lb/mile
RECOMMENDED FUELUnleaded premiumUnleaded premium
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB21.6/24.9/23.0 mpg21.8/30.9/25.1 mpg
* Cargo volume is computed differently for sedans and hatchbacks, hence these figures are not directly comparable

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