Hard charging the APR Stage 3+ Volkswagen Golf R sucks your skin to the seat and blurs every cell in your brain that’s not dedicated to driving. By the time you catch your breath, the only things sputtering around your noggin will be awe, incredulity and “how is this a freaking Golf?”
Now a Golf R on Pilot Super Sport tires can shred through corners like a lion pulling packaging off a steak, but APR’s Stage 3 Plus tune is really about the roar from corner exits. Three days after driving this car they call “Gonzo,” thinking about it still makes my palms sweaty.
(Full disclosure: VW tuner APR’s PR agency Kahn Media contacted me and offered me a chance to drive this vehicle for several hours, but the catch was I had to also drive a $150,000 Shelby Mustang reproduction. The valley hadn’t caught fire yet, so driving up to Kahn’s office to play with these monsters was a pretty easy sell.)
APR is one of the better-known Volkswagen and Audi tuners in America. Headquartered in Opelika, Alabama, the outfit has been boosting the output on German performance cars for two decades now, and today the company’s slinging parts all over the country. You can get APR upgrades at speed shops, and even some VW dealers.
APR warranties its own parts and dealerships are supposed to take care of you if your bought-new VW with APR parts breaks, but as an important side note, beware of what you’re wading into when you mix aftermarket equipment with an OEM warranty. More on that later.
This year the tuner’s taken a car that needed no improvement, the sneaky-quick all-wheel-drive Volkswagen Golf R, and turned it into a five-passenger missile capable of meteoric acceleration with a stirringly alien exhaust note to match.
Most people consume APR’s products piecemeal: get an intake and exhaust for your GTI, spend a couple thousand, get some horsepower and sound. This car was built to showcase the company’s entire catalog, which includes a 2.0T crate engine that bumps up the bore and beefs up internal components to survive the strain of a gigantic turbocharger. On California’s 91 octane pump gas, engine output is rated at 470 horsepower and 425 ft-lbs of torque. If you can get your hands on some super high-test race fuel, that figure can move all the way up to 536 HP and 475 ft-lbs according to APR.
The Golf R’s stock figures of 292 and 280 respectively. That means this little hatchback is now belching out almost twice the energy it had out of the box.
For about $18,000 and a few thousand more for installation, you could trick your R out just like this demo car. Here’s the whole build sheet, so you know what we’re working with:
- Stage 3+ ECU upgrade
- DSG Software Upgrade
- Crate engine
- Oil catch can
- Catback exhaust (Not officially released yet)
- Carbon fiber intake
- Stage 3+ turbocharger System
- Brembo brakes
- APR Flow-Formed 19 x 8.5” wheels (not officially released yet)
- Lowering springs
- Rear roll-control stabilizer bar
Of course I hadn’t bothered to read any of that before I pointed this car toward my favorite Malibu mountain road.
I had been sitting on the highway for half an hour though, having my brain massaged and blood pressure steadily nudged up by the full-bodied drone of the APR Golf R’s exhaust.
On the highway, the sound of the engine fills the cabin. It’s not so overpowering that you can’t drown it out with music, but the deep-bellied hum is hard to fully escape.
“Sure is noisy,” I said to nobody. Otherwise, the car was just as comfortable and well-behaved as a standard Golf R. Which is to say- exceedingly. The car’s clean interior is pleasant to be surrounded with and its ergonomics are excellent.
Finally, the dawdling Mustang I had been following pulled off. The road was open. I triple-tapped the downshift paddle on the left side of the steering wheel and released my pent-up excitment onto the right pedal.
Of course I imagined the car would squirt off for a second, I’d reel it back in and carry on with my cruise. But the launch I got was so much more extreme than anything a friendly-looking hatchback has any kind of right to.
There was a boom like a Blade Runner 2049 cutscene. All my organs were sucked aft against the seat and the car exploded, dead-straight, with so much intensity I felt like I had accidentally stumbled into NASA tryouts.
With my fists anchored to the steering wheel, I pressed two right fingers against the up-shift paddle as the car approached the end of whatever gear I was in.
Farting a quick BRRRT I could feel in my chest, APR’s Golf R climbed a gear with just a thin seam in the surge of power I was riding.
At this point the car had to be calmed back down before it launched itself off a cliff, and an enthusiastic boot in the Brembos undramatically brought the car back to a gentle canter.
Looking around the cabin, which is just slathered in Volkswagen’s clean blandness, is kind of a mind-screw after running Gonzo at full-throttle. Besides the Golf R’s stock D-shaped steering wheel, there’s really nothing to suggest you’re driving anything more interesting than a decent-spec economy car. And yet...
I won’t claim that is car felt as fast as the 800-plus HP Dodge Demon, my benchmark for bone-snapping acceleration, but the strangely pleasant sickness the APR Golf R put in my gut was actually pretty close close to what I’d felt in Dodge’s magical drag machine. And that’s a sensation you can only experience in the most elite ass-hauling cars.
The shock and awe this 470 HP Golf was capable of delivering in the form of pure thrust never wore off, and I couldn’t come close to breaking the car’s composure on corners.
APR’s Golf R only became noticeably unsettled over rough roads. Hit a lump in the asphalt or a tall tar snake and the suspension had a few moments of feeling surprisingly soft and wobbly.
My only other complaint would be the tone and volume of the engine and exhaust, which becomes tiresome pretty quickly in gentle driving. I must admit I’m a little conflicted though, because the sounds this car makes when it’s cut lose are so freaking glorious it might be worth popping in ear plugs for your commute.
But regardless of your tolerance or preference for engine, it’s important that you understand as much as you can about your car’s warranty situation if you start adding aftermarket parts. Even ones like these APR bits that are installed or blessed by a dealership. As Jalopnik’s car buying expert Tom McParland explained to me: “There is a common myth circulating around that if a dealer installed your tune then your warranty is fine. [That’s] not totally true.”
VW will not explicitly deny your warranty because you have a tune as that is covered under Moss Magnussun Act, however, if you do have a warranty claim that has anything to do with the engine or transmission VWoA may deny your warranty repair due to an aftermarket part. If you’re still curious, automotive lawyer Steve Lehto has a lot more to say on the subject.
One of the Golf R’s greatest talents is discretion, and this APR car shatters that with its graphics kit but if you peel’d off the decals... it just looks like a regular old a blue bubble. The interior is true to stock, too. Read: practical.
Meanwhile, APR’s PR rep promised me this car could run a quarter mile in the 10’s. My own guts can confirm it’s fast enough to warrant mounting barf bags in the seat pockets.
I guess what I’m saying is that a Golf R with $18,000 in APR upgrades feels like freaking four-passenger supercar disguised as a hatchback. It’s more speed than you need, probably more noise than you want to put up with, but holy hell is the drive unforgettable.