JULIAN, Calif. -- Steering Volkswagen's red-hot Golf R (that's 'R' for Racy), we're having way too much fun romping around tight kinks of the Sunrise Highway which traces the spine of California's Vallecito Mountains east of San Diego.
This new race-prepared yet street-legal variation of the seventh-generation Golf 5-door hatch pulsates from a turbo-charged 4-in-line engine capable of propelling the Golf R from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. Mark it as the most powerful Golf ever offered in North America by the German automaker.
If you can recognize the shape of VW's Golf, a best-seller around the world, then the Golf R will look familiar, although it's slammed and sculpted like a pumped up bodybuilder binging on steroids.
There's a low-down aerodynamic fascia mounted up front with exceptionally large air inlets, a modified radiator grille sporting the 'R' badge, and new daytime running lights integrated into the bi-xenon headlamp housings. Also, LED daytime running lights flash a dual U-shaped signature beneath the headlights.
At the lopped-off hatchback tail, a thick valence incorporates taillight assemblies mounted high on corners and an R-design diffuser punctuated by four exhaust pipes tipped in chrome.
On skirted flanks 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels wrapped with 225/40 Pirelli P Zero Nero or Dunlop SP Sport 01 A/S ultra high performance tires fill the wheelwells and seem even more exaggerated because VW chops the suspension to drop the body closer to the pavement. The Golf R rides 0.8 inches lower than a 2015 Golf TSI and 0.2 inches lower than the GTI.
A fully independent suspension consists of front struts with lower control arms and a rear multi-link design, while the optional driver-selectable DCC adaptive damping system brings three driving modes: Comfort/Normal/Sport.
The rack and pinion steering system gets electric power assistance which delivers excellent on-center responses but also contributes to the efficiency of the engine.
Brakes on the 2015 Golf R consist of large discs (front 13.4-inch vented discs and 12.2-inch rear rotors) tied to smart electronic controls. The equipment includes an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake pressure distribution and VW's ESC Sport electronic stability control unit which may be deactivated for track driving.
But the heart of this racy car beats below its swoopy front hood, where VW engineers managed to stuff a powerful engine into tight quarters.
The new gasoline-powered 4-in-line turbo-charged and direct-injected engine displaces 2.0 liters with DOHC (double-overhead cam). Power numbers tally to 292 hp at 5400 rpm with torque rising to 280 lb-ft at 1800 rpm.
Translator for all of this power is one versatile transmission -- a twin-clutch and 6-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) automatic. The DSG brings automatic no-need-to-think shifting if you choose, or the hands-on control of manual shifting and engine rev-matching too to drop smoothly into down-shifts.
Also available is a tight shift-it-yourself 6-speed manual transmission.
The Golf R also carries VW's 4Motion electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system with 5th-generation Haldex coupling that keeps the rubber sticking securely to any road surface by continuously distributing the engine's power to front and rear wheels. Aiding this effort for power delivery is the XDS+ cross differential lock front and rear which transfers torque across axles to check under- and oversteer.
Slip into Golf R's cozy cockpit and you'll discover a 5-seat passenger compartment with a pair of bolstered Nappa leather sport buckets up front flanking a console and a back bench which holds three but fits two best. There's a leather-bound 3-spoke sport steering wheel and R-specific instrumentation.
Stock equipment includes 12-way power for the driver's seat, heated front seats, keyless access with push-button start, a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, a 5.8-inch touchscreen radio with SiriusXM Satellite radio, a Media Device Interface (MDI) and Bluetooth connectivity.