TEXARKANA, Tex. -- Tires chirp to protest our quick first-gear acceleration in Volkswagen's 2017 Golf R red-hot hatch as we run the Stop Light Derby on State Line Avenue, a multi-lane slab bisecting the bi-state city of Texarkana.
This race-rigged 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 R from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. Mark it as the most powerful Golf ever offered in North America.
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 LED daytime running lights integrated into the bi-xenon headlamp housings and flashing U-shaped signatures.
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 standard 18-inch Cadiz aluminum-alloy wheels wrapped with 225/40 summer performance tires (or the optional 19-inch Pretoria aluminum wheels bound by 235/40 ultra high-performance tires) fill the wheel wells 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 2017 Golf TSI and 0.2 inches lower than the Golf 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.
And the rack and pinion steering system have electric power assistance which delivers excellent on-center responses.
Brakes on the 2017 Golf R consist of large discs (front 13.4-inch vented discs and 12.2-inch vented rear rotors) tied to intelligent electronic controls. The equipment includes an anti-lock brake system with electronic brake pressure distribution and VW's ESC switchable Sport electronic stability control unit for track driving.
The Golf R with DCC and Navigation also stocks Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking (Front Assist), Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert, front and rear Park Distance Control (Park Pilot), Lane Departure Warning (Lane Assist) and High Beam Control (Light Assist).
The heart of this smart car beats below its swoopy front hood, where VW engineers managed to stuff a powerful engine into tight quarters. The gasoline-powered 4-in-line turbo-charged and direct-injected engine displace 2.0 liters with dual overhead cams. 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 electronic no-need-to-think shifting if you choose, or the hands-on control of manual shifting via steering wheel paddles and engine rev-matching too to drop smoothly into down-shifts.
Also available is a tight shift-it-yourself 6-speed manual transmission.
Golf R also carries VW's 4Motion electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system with a 5th-generation Haldex coupling that keeps the rubber sticking securely to any road surface by continuously distributing the engine's power to the 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 comfortable cockpit, and you'll find a 5-seat passenger compartment with a pair of bolstered Nappa leather sports buckets up front flanking a console and a back bench which holds three but fits two best. There's a leather-bound 3-spoke flat-bottom sports 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 6.5-inch touchscreen radio with SiriusXM Satellite radio, Media Device Interface (MDI), Bluetooth connectivity and AM/FM/HD/CD/USB.
VW MSRP figures for the 2017 Golf R begin at $35,655.