Another busy week of traveling took me to two much warmer parts of the world. First up was San Diego, California, where I had the chance to drive the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R, which slots in above the GTI to provide turbocharged, all-wheel drive performance and sits at the top of VW’s sporty compact car line-up.
Why is the Golf R interesting?
– All-wheel drive gives it additional four-seasons appeal, plus it’s kind of the only turbocharged compact hatch out there right now with this feature ever since Subaru bowed out of the market by killing the five-door WRX.
– 292 horsepower instead of 220 from the Golf GTI Performance package, which is a nice boost. It’s also an almost entirely-new engine, as significant head work and an upgraded turbo can be found under the hood of the Golf R, sitting on a 2.0-liter block.
What are the downsides?
– It’s expensive. Expect $36k for a base version of the Golf R, and $40k for the top-tier edition. Compare this to the base GTI at $10,000 less, and that’s quite a gap. I know, I know, the Golf R also includes features like leather seats and HID headlights to balance out the price difference, but still, if all you care about is performance that’s a small consolation.
– No manual transmission until the 2016 model drops later this summer. I drove a Euro-market edition of the Golf R with a manual and it was much more engaging – if not as quite as quick – as the DSG-equipped versions of the car that were also at the event.
Next was a jaunt to Austin, Texas, where BMW had the 2015 BMW X6 M waiting for me to drive at Circuit of the Americas. I’ve actually driven an enormous, hyper-muscled SUV at this track before two years ago, when I hustled the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT around its many curves and straights. It was an interesting comparison: at the end of the same 3/4 mile straight the Jeep was doing 128-mph, whereas the mightier X6 M was up to 143-mph.
Why is the X6 M interesting?
– It’s ridiculously fast in a straight line, as only something with 575 horsepower can be.
– Half of all BMW X6 sales are M models, which I guess makes sense considering the clientele. They want the biggest, baddest SUV they can buy with a propeller on the hood, and the X6 M is exactly that.
What are the downsides?
– If I were to be honest, almost everything about this truck is a downside. It’s heavy, there’s almost no road feel, the sloping roof makes it much less practical than its X5 M platform-mate, and it’s very expensive. Yes, it’s fast around a track, but it relies on all-wheel drive and a bevy of computer algorithms in the process, which means driver involvement is dialed down considerably.
The best part of the experience was getting some one-on-one driving instruction from BMW factory driver Bill Auberlen, who was fresh off of a second place finish at the 24 Hours of Daytona. I learned a lot talking with him, and had the chance to put his advice in action in a follow-along session at COTA immediately afterward. I am incredibly fortunate to have these kinds of opportunities.
Check out my first drive review of the 2015 BMW X6 M at The Car Guide.