A Dichotomy of $40k Germans (Part 1: VW Golf R)

As the bumper-to-bumper warranty on my 2014 Ford Fiesta ST comes closer to its end, I find myself curious, but not convinced, about upgrading to a new and different automotive experience. The Fiesta has exceeded my expectations of what a low $20’s hot hatchback can do; it’s fantastic fun as a daily driver and offers all the practicality, fuel economy, and edginess that the brochures and journalists have led me to believe. That being said, it hasn’t been the most robust track vehicle as it has already gone through a transmission (thank you Ford Canada for the generous warranty), a pair of front brake calipers, and even a brake pedal switch. The car has about $7,000 in performance upgrades but still has a number of shortcomings that would take much more money and effort to resolve; more than I would prefer to invest into what is in my opinion a flawed platform. I’ll try and cover these flaws in a later blog post but the bottom line is that they’ve left me feeling a little jaded about a true dual-purpose daily driver/track star and I’m hoping something out there (under $50k) can convince me otherwise.

Currently my garage consists of a scooter, a 250 cc motorcycle, a 2000 Supercharged Miata project car (very much a work in progress), and the Fiesta ST. However, given the fact that I’ve recently moved out of my parents’ house and into a small Vancouver condo with a single assigned parking stall, I’d prefer to keep the number of vehicles in my possession to a minimum. I’m not against the idea of a 2-door and don’t expect to have any children in the near future, but a pair of back seats would be a requirement for my dog and the regular shuttling of family/friends. This eliminates choices like a new Mazda MX-5, used Porsche Cayman, and a list of other interesting and daily drivable sports cars. The VW is an obvious choice for me in the practicality department and is a different enough experience in terms of luxury and performance to consider trading up.

Volkswagen Golf R

A slick automatic gearbox, AWD traction, and a very usable trunk are appealing but the Golf, in particular the Mk7 generation lacks the connected feeling I’ve grown to love on the Miata and the Fiesta. I briefly owned a Mk6 version of the GTI and comparing them side by side, the Mk7 feels significantly more refined but also a tad numb even with all the drive modes turned up to simulate a “sporty” vehicle. Perhaps it’s not fair to knock points off for how the stock car feels as I’ve never been able to leave any of my cars stock. I hearken back to a couple of weeks ago when I drove a friend’s stock ’14 Fiesta ST with the same mileage and noted how heavy and unresponsive the steering felt, how sloppy the shifter was, and how much wheel hop a car with stock bushings and no chassis stiffening had. The Golf R with nearly 300 hp stock and launch control/DSG is going to be far more fun to drag from stoplight to stoplight and it’s definitely worth mentioning that there is decent aftermarket support for these cars. A set of coilovers, lightweight wheels, sticky rubber, and wheel alignment could in theory dramatically improve the feel of these cars while still retaining the usability of a fast AWD hatchback.

Furthermore, at a price of approximately $42k CAD (before fees), the R is a pretty decent value and offers every bell and whistle I really want, even without the optional tech package. I love the fact that you don’t have to pay extra for features like Android Auto, a backup camera, navigation, proximity key, and bi-xenon/LED headlights. These features border on being necessities rather than luxuries for me if I’m going to be buying a brand new vehicle in 2016/2017. This car ticks a lot of other boxes for me as well: the interior materials are excellent, I love the look in Lapiz Blue, and the roomier back seat is very welcome. Where the Fiesta lacks in refinement, the R makes up for in spades. AWD traction would also be nice to have in Raincouver, especially if I wanted to drive moderately quickly in the wet, but frankly isn’t necessary as the Fiesta does pretty well year-round as long as you have a good set of tires (I have excellent Summer and Winter tire setups).

Sounds great, so why aren’t I heading straight to the dealership and placing an order for the Golf R? There’s 0% financing right now up to 5 years so it’s a pretty good time to pick one up. But there’s the kicker, financing is still financing and a significant commitment. With the Fiesta, the car was affordable enough to pay cash in full; I owe nothing on it and it’s reasonably cheap to run/maintain. While the R feels like a practical choice and a meaningful upgrade in many ways, it would put a bigger dent in my savings account than is necessary. Even with depreciation, every year I drive the Fiesta instead of the R is a couple extra thousand dollars saved. What may change my thinking significantly would be if Uber finally makes it to Vancouver. The Fiesta with it’s chunky Recaros is far too cramped for shuttling passengers and doing rideshare for a couple of nights a month would be a fantastic way to cover the payments for the R and then some. There doesn’t seem to be much progress on this front so I’m not ready to gamble on whether ridesharing will come to the Lower Mainland.

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