After the leaves on the trees have changed color and fallen, some of my favorite canyon roads to drive in the summer shut down due to the fact that they aren’t maintained in the winter. Thus, making the next 5-6 months, from late fall into late spring, a tad grim for those of us that consider canyon carving a favorite pastime. East Canyon, Guardsman’s Pass, Wolf Creek Pass, closed until the winter snow thaws out in May of next year. Kind of a bummer, I know. But this gives us true addicts an excuse and reason to get out of our bubble, and discover even more of this beautiful state that we call home.
The MK 7 Golf R isn’t exactly an old car, but with the release of the MK 7.5 facelift, and the fact that I have driven various renditions of MK6 and MK7 Golf Rs, makes this platform somewhat familiar. For those who don’t know me or my background, I work as a photographer and videographer at Integrated Engineering; a Volkswagen and Audi tuner shop in Salt Lake City. I tried to keep a level head and an unbiased opinion going into this project. But thinking about driving a fun and engaging road that is a 2 hour drive from home, I figured “What a better car to be in than a comfortable and luxurious car on the freeway, while still being fun and engaging in the twisties?”
Okay, so the road and the commute. UT-199 is a quick and twisty road that resides in the Stansbury Mountains overlooking Skull Valley. It sounds intimidating, but there’s really just not a lot out there. Lots of flat terrain with straight roads… Oh yea, and not a police officer, Sheriff, or Highway Patrolman for miles. The perfect place to pull over to the side of the road for an impromptu photo shoot, or to *potentially* test out the aerodynamic properties of the Strafe carbon fiber rear diffuser. The road in question is in a place that isn’t really well known for driving or any kind of recreation, seeing as it is so far from anything of real interest. It’s roughly a 2 hour drive each way going around the north side of the Oquirrh mountains, and then southbound to the end of the Stansbury mountains. Quite the trek I know, but worth the drive to experience something new. With a drive this long to a place so desolate, it’s always wise to bring a co-pilot. So, what better co-pilot to assign to this adventure than my gearhead girlfriend Brooke? She’s one of very few women I’ve met that actually likes me driving fast up canyon roads, and is also a sucker for new Volkswagens. Match made in heaven, amirite?
Another note about UT-199: this is the place where Tim Stevens of CNET drove the 2017 Ford GT supercar for on road testing, to show how the car rides on surfaces that aren’t a perfectly smooth racetrack, such as Utah Motorsports Campus. Packed with tight sweepers, S-curves, and canted corners, it’s unlike many other roads that we have access to here in Utah. The only other place I’ve experienced such a combination is in the hills of Malibu where it is almost impossible to go wrong on picking a fun canyon road. I was enjoying myself in a 320 hp Golf, I can only imagine what that road would be like in a 600 hp, mid-engined supercar, purpose built to handle such corners.
Let’s talk about the car. 2017 Volkswagen Golf R with a Cobb AccessPort V3, and Whiteline lowering springs that are (at this point of me writing this article) still a prototype product. The Accessport is simply running a Stage 1 Tune, putting it at 320 hp and 340 lb ft torque at the wheels. With a boost gauge as one of the many features of the Accessport, the highest number for boost that I saw was roughly 24 psi, which is about par for the course for the power output in cars such as this. That power is put to the ground via 6 speed manual gearbox, and a trick Haldex All-Wheel Drive system. For those that are unfamiliar, the system used in the Golf R is Front-Wheel Drive for 100% of the time under normal driving conditions. When the system detects loss of traction, or any potential for understeer, the rear wheels are engaged via clutch pack to help rotate the rear end of the car. The steering inputs feel electronic, but is still weighted nicely for a premium feel. Not necessarily a bad thing for daily use, or commuting to and from work, but I would have definitely appreciated more information from the front wheels while flying through corners on UT-199.
So, how did the car do on the UT-199? With swooping esses, and smooth pavement with no traffic, it felt like my own personal race course. With the sheer fact that the road is so desolate, it’s imperative to keep the sticky side down and to stay in the lane. I have to admit, I only kept to the former. With open curves and the ability to see around corners two or 3 corners ahead, cutting over the line and hitting apexes is only inevitable. The Golf R does what most Front-Wheel Drive based VW products do best. Super fun and engaging in the high speed kinks, but easily shoves if you enter a sharp hairpin on the quicker side of fast. Considering I had never driven this road before, and being in a car that isn’t mine, I felt fairly comfortable pushing the envelope more and more. I almost got a little carried away and Brooke had to tell me to reel it back a little (which never happens). The car always felt planted and secure; even hitting S-Curves nearing triple digit speeds.
With Brooke being a fan of all things Volkswagen, she is an absolute fan of the car. She loved the layout of the interior controls, she said that everything was laid out in a very coherent manner, and that the car has a very luxurious feel to it. Gathering from her giggles and her laughter, I can tell that she also loved the way the car delivers power and takes corners.
I only have two legitimate issues with the Golf R. I’m in no way a fan of the clutch and the shifter feel of the manual gearbox, and I also don’t care for how the car rotates around corners. As far as driving dynamics go the shift linkage is rubbery and vague, and the clutch is equally uninformative. The “catch point” of the clutch is vague, and not as defined as I would like. These can easily be fixed in the aftermarket with a different clutch, pressure plate, and a short throw shift kit. When it comes to vehicle rotation, I understand that the platform is based on Front-Wheel Drive architecture with a transversely mounted motor and transmission so I have to take that into account. But objectively regarding handling dynamics, the sheer fact that the Focus RS exists somewhat kills the appreciation of the Golf R for me. On the RS, the rear end just wants to pop in for a little visit. Ya know… Just a little meet and greet. Maybe have a spot of tea, and then carry on its merry way. The rear end on the Golf R just stays in its room and looks at memes all day, while the front dives and digs into the road, clinging on to any and all grip it can find. I mean, it doesn’t understeer like a Subaru at least… But it sure as hell doesn’t rotate like I want a canyon carver to.
Everything else about the car I appreciate. The sculpted exterior, the exquisitely refined interior, the way the engine produces power, the value per dollar on the aftermarket for bolt-ons. It’s all there. The car just needs a little more coaxing in the dynamics department, and then it’s quite the perfect car. Spacious, comfortable, reasonably quick, engaging, and also practical with having a hatchback and All-Wheel Drive. And for a mini road trip with the person you love, I feel that’s all you really need.
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