The MK7 Volkswagen Golf R, and why the Subaru STI should be scared

2015 VW Golf R

Volkswagen’s new Mk7 Golf R seems to be something special, something that ups the ante. In fact, it appears to have improved so much so that I think it will serve the Subaru STI it’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner with an extra smack in the face for dessert. And I say that as someone who owns a Subaru STI.

A Stagnant Subaru

But I don’t own a new Subaru STI, no, I own a 2004 STI, and the car that I bought back in 2006 was a very different car than today’s. The STI I bought was one that was legitimately, wheel to wheel, a Porsche 911, BMW M3, and Corvette competitor. The 2004 STI was a world-beater ten years ago. But here is where we come to the problem with the new STI… it has barely changed one bit since 2004.

2004 Subaru WRX STI 2015 Subaru WRX STI

For some reason, I find that many Japanese car makers don’t seem to grasp the idea of updating their products so that they stay competitive. Take the Honda NSX for example. Back in 1990 the NSX was a fantastic Ferrari 348 rival. But then Honda didn’t change it at all over the next 15 years, and demand faded off. You see in that 15 years, the 300hp Ferrari 348 became the 500hp Ferrari F430, whereas the 276hp Honda NSX only became the 290hp Honda NSX. But the NSX in 2005 was still around $90,000, and had the same sort of performance as a Nissan 350Z, or a Subaru STI for that matter, which could be had for around $30,000.

I fear the same problem is occuring with the Subaru STI at this point. Sure the new one has better steering and it stiffer and whatnot. That’s all fine and good, but the overall level of performance is exactly the same. Meanwhile the entire market has moved on, and the relative level of the STI has fallen bigtime. Look, don’t get me wrong here, I still love the Subaru STI for what it is. It’s definitely still a great car, but overall it has been stale since around 2008. And for the new 2015 STI to still be the same, yet another generation later, is just foolish. Now Volkswagen is exploiting Subaru’s complacency…

2004 Subaru WRX STI 2002 VW Golf R32

The Old Golf R-STI dynamic

Traditionally, R-model VW Golfs have always compared to Subaru STIs in much the same way. The STI was always dominant in outright performance, especially during the VR6 R32 years, but the Golfs were always nicer and relied on their more grown up appeal.

The biggest hit to this dynamic came with the introduction of the turbocharged Mk6 Golf R back in 2010. Now the Golf could finally compete with the Subaru STI and Mitsubishi Evo in terms of aftermarket modifications! The stock dynamic between the cars remained the same as before, with the Golf R only having a modest 256hp to the STI and Evo’s ~300hp. But with some basic modifications the Golf R could reach around 360-380hp or so, right in the same ballpark as the two rally cars with similar mods.

While horsepower was more even, the Mk6 Golf R suffered from a lot more understeer than the STI and Evo, and it’s stability control system really got in the way at the track (you couldn’t turn it all the way off without pulling the fuse). So there was still a lot left to be desired.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R Rear 2015 VW Golf R Interior

The Changes To The Golf R

The new Mk7 Golf R seems to have addressed every previous drawback without compromising any of its traditional advantages. The R is still the more grown up choice, with a far nicer interior and a less “boy racer” appearance. But now it is at the very least a performance equal to the STI in stock form. But then when we factor in aftermarket modifications, the Golf R becomes the clear winner.

In stock form VW claims the Golf R’s 2.0T engine puts out 296bhp, so it basically matches the STI’s 305hp on paper. But of course, we know better than to believe what the Germans say about their cars on paper!

Chassis dynos seem to show the Mk7 Golf R putting down 260-270awhp. So assume a 20-25% drivetrain loss for all-wheel-drive and you’ll find that the stock R’s 2.0T is making more like 330-360bhp… a good bit more than the STI.

Stock numbers are irrelevant, though, because for a few hundred extra dollars you can get a reflash for the Golf R’s ECU that will take you over 400bhp. Chassis dynos have measured nearly 350awhp on the high boost setting. That is with no hardware modifications at all, just software!

2011 Subaru WRX STI

For reference, to reach 350awhp in a Subaru STI you will need:

-A turboback exhaust

-A slightly larger turbo (or very aggressive methanol setup)

-A stonger fuel pump 

-Larger injectors

-A custom tune

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

In a Mitsubishi Evo 350awhp would require:

-A turboback exhaust

-An intake

-A boost controller

-Stonger intercooler piping (maybe a bigger intercooler too)

-A custom tune

For both the STI and the Evo we are talking about spending multiple thousands of dollars to reach the 350awhp mark. And now the new Golf R will do it with a simple ECU reflash on an otherwise completely stock car. That’s surely game/set/match for any buyer who’s looking to do just a few basic mods… which is most buyers out there for cars like these.

What’s more, the new Golf R has been celebrated by many European journalists for its much-improved handling prowess. It has a fancy torque vectoring system now, and it supposedly rotates much better in corners. Many have jokingly said that VW has made their own WRX… which is funny, unless you’re Subaru.

2016 Volkswagen Golf R Wagon

The Emerging Dynamic

I really do think that this new Golf R has the STI’s number, and of course the Evo is going belly up after 2015 so it doesn’t matter. Frankly, this new Golf R is at the level that the STI really needs to be at this point. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again. The STI really needs to come stock with at least 350bhp at this point, and the fact that it’s still stuck at the 300bhp mark is a big mistake. Honestly, the current STI is at the level the standard WRX should be at (and the WRX almost is, actually), and the STI should be up near the BMW M3 and Porsche 911 where it originally was.

But this article isn’t so much about trashing Subaru as it is about applauding Volkswagen. They seem to have picked up the perverbial torch, which I’d say Subaru dropped all the way back in 2008.

For Subaru, it is really time to start playing “catch up.” Being late is better than not showing up at all, or worse yet, quitting like Mitsubishi has with the Evo.

For Volkswagen, the Golf R marks a solid turning point. One where the Golf R is no longer just an all-wheel-drive GTI, but actually a higher model.

When it comes time to replace my 2004 STI, the Mk7 Golf R will definitely be high on my list of options… especially the upcoming Golf R Wagon you see above.

-Nick Walker

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7 thoughts on “The MK7 Volkswagen Golf R, and why the Subaru STI should be scared”

  1. I think there is one fatal flaw to the R you are not paying attention to. While you are obsessed with the engine output, there is one thing that is causing the dead Evo and the STI to still outclass the R on the track. The open diff is causing the R to get beat on the track even with the extra power. While Subaru was obsessed about power being applied to the ground, VW forgot that if you can’t get the power to the ground its all for not. What’s more funny is the GTI PP has a better chance on the track then it’s big brother the R.

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  2. I bought the MY17 Subaru wrx sti not because it was a better car than the VW Golf GTI R but because it was close to the same car but it had a larger rear seat, larger boot, cheap for “Me” to maintain ie huge array of aftermarket parts which gives me choice in using original or aftermarket. If it breaks it won’t hurt. Yeah sure the VW R is faster on paper but on the track and the street they are the same let’s be honest here. The Golf R is an awesome car with a solid interior but it doesn’t suite my lifestyle nor my budget.

    Has anyone checked how much a VW GTI radiator is? lols How about a headlight? Then you will understand.

    I have a family to take care of, the Subaru wrx sti has to come second, sorry.

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  3. I think the authors point is that Subaru could be more aggressive about product updates. The STI needs a serious update in the interior department.

    After being a first time owner 2016 GTI DSG owner I have had zero issues after a year of ownership. I plan to upgrade to an 2017 Limestone DSG R this week.

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