2018 Volkswagen Golf R vs GTI: Which Should You Buy? [Video]

Is AWD and extra horsepower worth an extra $15,000?

Three years ago, I walked out of the showroom with my brand new 2015 Volkswagen GTI.  Ever since that fateful day, however, I have lusted after the more expensive, more powerful Golf R. The question still lingers in my head: What if? What if I had $15,000 more to spend on that day? Should I have walked out with a Golf R instead?

Now, we have a 2018 Volkswagen Golf R to test. This gave me the opportunity to compare both cars side by side and finally come to an answer. Ultimately, I landed on five reasons why the Golf R is the better choice, as well as five reasons the GTI comes out ahead.

The Golf R

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf R features Volkswagen’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system. It is front biased, meaning it will send power to the front wheels first, then to the rear if it starts to lose traction.

2018 Volkswagen Golf R vs Audi RS 3
Volkswagen’s Golf R manages 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. [Photo: Volkswagen]
Especially here in Colorado, having all-wheel drive makes the Golf R a vehicle you can drive year-round. Having that piece of mind is a big plus.

The next plus point for the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R is the sound. You want your car to sound as good as it looks and drives. In that sense, the Golf R excels. Volkswagen gave the R quad exhaust tips and a different augmented sound to the lesser GTI. The result is a much more throaty and aggressive engine note.

Unlike the U.S.-market GTI, the Golf R is built in Wolfsburg, Germany. For those who care about their Golf being German-built, that’s an important distinction, as the U.S.-market GTI is built in Puebla, Mexico.

Volkswagen sells the Golf R in one trim, loaded. You have a choice of transmission: a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Otherwise the Golf R comes standard with basically every feature available on the Golf. Adaptive cruise control, digital cockpit, navigation, an 8-inch touchscreen, adaptive dampers, and even more driver safety and convenience features are all yours for one price. That price happens to be around $42,000, but its nice that you will walk away knowing you missed no options.

Last but not least, the number one reason to go for the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R is the engine. The Golf R features the same 2.0-liter unit as the GTI. However, Volkswagen upgraded the engine, including fitting a bigger a bigger turbo. That brings the power up to 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque.

The Golf GTI

Number 5 for the GTI is the price tag. My 2015 model started at just under $25,000. That is $17,000 less than this new Golf R with the DSG. The GTIs price has increased a little since 2015, but the new base model starts at around $26,000, which is still a $15,000 difference from the Golf R with the manual.

Next is fuel mileage. The GTI is about 300 pounds lighter than the Golf R, as it doesn’t have to power the rear wheels. As a result, the GTI gets much better gas mileage. While the Golf R gets 22 mpg in the city, 29 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined, the GTI gets 25 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined. Three miles per gallon doesn’t seem like a lot to some, but that is a sold 10% difference in fuel consumption.

Number 3 has to do with the weight difference once again. However, this time we are talking about handling. The GTI, because of its lighter weight, feels a bit more responsive and tossable in the corners. While the Golf R feels planted, the GTI is a bit more exciting on the limit.

Ultimate GTI Buyer's Guide
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Then there’s the styling. The GTI has much more playful and youthful styling than the Golf R. There is a red stripe on the grille, red brakes, plaid seats and a golf ball shift knob! The Golf R is handsome as well, but a lot more serious in the styling department.

Number 1 is simply the three letters in the name: G-T-I. Those carry an important legacy for VW going back as far as the 70s. The heritage in that name and the car’s overall history have made it the daddy of hot hatchbacks. When you are comparing a new hot hatch, the comparison always starts at the GTI.

Would I have bought a Golf R if I could have? While I love the R, the answer for me is no. I think the GTI, at just $25,000, is too good of a bargain to pass up. You get most of the performance for 60 percent of the price.

Stay tuned to TFLcar.com for the latest news, views & real-world reviews and, of course, more videos on the Golf R and the Golf GTI