2013 Volkswagen Golf R 2-Door Down The Road Review By Carey Russ
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2013 Volkswagen Golf R 2-Door
Volkswagen's GTI has quite a reputation, and a fanatic following, but there are VW aficionados who want more that the 200 horsepower that the turbocharged and intercooled GTI produces. A few years ago VW satisfied them with the limited-production, 250-horsepower R32, in which the namesake 3.2-liter VR6 narrow-angle V6 engine was dropped into the engine compartment, with permanent all-wheel drive added to handle the extra power in a civilized fashion. That sold out quickly, to no one's surprise.
When a new generation of Golf debuted for 2009, there was no R32. VW had something else in mind -- rather than the added weight of the VR6, tune the GTI's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine for more power. The Golf R debuted in Europe for 2010, and made it to the US in 2012. It was so successful here that it has been continued for 2013, unchanged.
What differentiates a Golf R from a GTI? There are subtle styling changes. Both are offered with the choice of two or four doors -- which you want depends on how much the rear seat will be used. The Golf R's engine has the same 2.0-liter displacement as the GTI's, but it is based on the older EA113 engine, not the current GTI's EA888. The engine block and internals are strengthened to handle increased boost from an upgraded turbocharger. Power is noticeably increased, to 245 horsepower and 243 lb-ft of torque. The wheels are driven through any transmission you want, as long as it's a six-speed manual, and then on to the latest 4Motion all-wheel drive system. And the Golf R's suspension is stiffer than the GTI's, appropriate for its performance and mission.
The Golf R is almost mono-spec. The car has all you need, and then some, and my test car was of that variety. Or it can be had with a package that includes a power tilt-and-slide moonroof, keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, a navigation system, and a Dynaudio« premium sound system.
It's quick, fast, agile, and comfortable, as I discovered during my week. Interestingly, my test car was a well-used 2012 model with over 16,000 miles on it. (As mentioned, no differences for 2013.) Manufacturers usually pull their cars from press fleets long before that so they don't show signs of aging, and one journalist mille is worth several civilian miles. No signs of aging here -- the car was free of squeaks and rattles, and felt very solid. It had shifter kart reactions to steering, braking, and acceleration inputs but with all the comforts and versatility of an upscale compact hatch. Fuel economy, at 22mpg overall, was good for the performance level, and much better than you'll get from larger sports cars. If the Golf R looks good to you, act fast. Supplies, as they say, are limited, and there's no guarantee that VW will bring it back next year.
APPEARANCE: Stealth is good with the Golf R's performance potential. At a glance, the Golf R is simple and clean and doesn't look much different from a regular Golf or GTI. The main external differences in front are triple air inlets in the bumper fascia instead of the single ones in the regular Golf and GTI. At the rear, the Golf R has its dual exhausts centered, rather than at the sides, like the GTI, or both on the left as with the Golf. There is badging, a small chrome R in the right-hand side of the grille and another on the left side of the hatch.
COMFORT: Inside, as with many other VW products, the Golf R is a level or two above the norm for small cars. Materials and fit and finish are first-rate, more entry-luxury than middle class. The design is classic Volkswagen, elegantly simple and uncluttered. Seats are leather, and the aluminum trim is real. Instrumentation is complete and easily read, with an information display between the tach and speedometer. The flat-bottomed steering wheel has a thick rim covered with stitched leather for comfort and control, and audio and information system controls. It's adjustable for both reach and tilt. The manually-adjustable front sports seats are appropriately bolstered, very comfortably and supportive, and even the passenger's seat cushion is height-adjustable. The rear seat comfortably holds two medium-sized people. Access in the two-door is as expected -- if you carry more than one passenger often, or use the rear for cargo -- the rear seat folds 60/40 and has a ski passthrough in its center -- the four-door might be the way to go.
Interior storage consists of door pockets with bottle holders, a larger than average locking glove box, and connections and power for an audio player in the space under the front center armrest. There is a cover for the rear cargo area, and a space-saver spare tire under the cargo compartment.
SAFETY: The Golf R protects passengers with sturdy construction and front, front side, and side curtain airbags. The Intelligent Crash Response System shuts off the fuel pump and unlocks the doors after a collision, and can turn on the hazard lights. Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR) (traction control), and an electronic differential lock offer further protection to improve control in order to avoid an accident.
RIDE AND HANDLING: It's firm but not unreasonably so, all the better for high levels of maneuverability with control. The Golf R's fully-independent suspension uses struts in front and a multilink system in the rear, like the GTI, but with modifications to spring and shock rates for flatter cornering. The 4Motion all-wheel drive system ensures that the additional power gets to the ground in the best possible way, and negates torque steer. A Haldex┬« clutch pack is used to vary the front/rear torque split from predominantly front under most conditions to 100 percent rear when necessary. The electro-mechanical power steering varies assistance with speed, for easy low-speed maneuverability and good high-speed control. Brakes are upgraded compared to the GTI, with larger vented discs in front and vented instead of solid discs at the rear.
PERFORMANCE: It's quick, but not necessarily the quickest machine in its class. It just may be the easiest to live with, though, with a fine blend of speed, versatility, and ability. And it's hardly slow. 256 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and, more importantly for the real world as opposed to the dragstrip, 243 lb-ft of torque, peaking at 2400 rpm but nearly as strong from just off idle to the upper midrange ensures that. And that tap-dancing on the pedals and constant shifting is not going to be necessary, as great as the shift linkage is.
To handle the additional power, the cylinder block was reinforced, stronger connecting rods are specified, the compression ratio was raised, and a different turbocharger, producing more boost -- up to 17 psi - was used. Direct fuel injection allows this to work smoothly and efficiently. EPA mileage estimates are 19 mpg city, 27 highway. With little regard for economy and minimal use of boring highways, I averaged just over 22 mpg for my week.
CONCLUSIONS: The Golf R combines performance, comfort, versatility, and exclusivity in the best possible way.
2013 Golf R 2-Door
Base Price $ 33,990 Price As Tested $ 34,785 Engine Type turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with variable intake cam phasing, cast iron block and aluminum alloy head, direct fuel injection Engine Size 2.0 liters / 121 cu. in. Horsepower 256 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 243 @ 2400 rpm Transmission 6-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 101.5 in. / 165.8 in. Curb Weight 3325 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 13.0 Fuel Capacity 14.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline recommended Tires 225/40R18 92H m+s Pirelli PZero Nero Brakes, front/rear vented disc all around, ABS, EBD, BA, ESC standard Suspension, front/rear independent strut / independent multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine, full-time all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 27 / 22 0 to 60 mph 5.9 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Destination Charge $ 795