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2012 Volkswagen Golf R Review - Lots of Fast for Lots of Cash - By Larry Nutson


2012 Volkswagen Golf R (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Volkswagen Golf R

2012 Volkswagen Golf R
Lots of fast for lots of cash

by Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

Let me say this right off the bat, the fun-to-drive quotient of VW’s Golf R is very high. I didn’t even think about trying to get good fuel economy during my week-long test drive. As a matter of fact, while I had my right foot to the floor I had the AC cranking out as much as it could with Chicagoland temps pushing into three-digits. The Golf R’s on-board temp gauge once read 106ºF.

The Golf R is a pretty amazing little car. It drives superb with the 256 HP turbo 2-liter engine pushing through a 6-speed manual and putting power to the pavement through the 4MOTION all-wheel drive. Zero to 60 takes about 5.7 seconds and the R tops out at 130mph. All this can be had for around $35,000 of your hard earned cash.

Here’s where I give pause. Think about what happens in the lower price range of the car market where new cars…entry level, that is…are compared to really good used cars of higher-priced brands. In the case of the Golf R I ask myself should I spend nearly $35,000 for a really fast and fun VW that on the outside is a Golf, or do I buy a couple year old BMW 3-series, for example.

Now granted, to the enthusiast and the purist the Golf R will get noticed despite its understated appearance. This 2012 R is the successor to the 2004 and 2008 VR6 powered R32s of which VW only built 5000 of each. The plan is to do another 5000 of this new Golf R. Exclusivity does have a price.


2012 Volkswagen Golf R (select to view enlarged photo)

A change for the better on the 2012 besides more horsepower and better fuel economy is that you can get the R in a 4-door too. This helps you enthusiasts out there with young families who want to mash the gas pedal after you drop your kids at school, or to hurriedly drive to pick them up from soccer practice when you were held up from leaving work on time. The Golf R does seat five and has 15.3 cubic feet of storage space behind the back seat. And that rear seat is a 60/40 split-fold so you can also fit in the stuff from a run to Home Depot on the weekend. The Golf R is very family-friendly and at only 165.8 inches long is really easy to maneuver and park in a crowded city. And, it won’t take up much space in your garage full of the kids stuff.

A few more facts: The 2-door is priced at $33,990. With the sunroof and navigation package it’s $35,490. For 2012, the 4-door only came with sunroof and navigation priced at $36,090. But, for 2013 VW has added a “base” R 4-door priced at $34,590. Destination charge adds $770 and there are no options. The interior is black leather, only. And on the outside it’s Black, Red, White, Blue, or Grey. Easy, huh!


2012 Volkswagen Golf R (select to view enlarged photo)

Perhaps you’re thinking “maybe the GTI will be just fine” and I can save a few grand. Well there are some differences. The Golf R is fitted with the most powerful Golf production engine ever offered in the U.S. The engine is an up-rated version of the EA113 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine, rather than the EA888 engine used in the current GTI. It still uses direct fuel injection and double overhead camshafts with variable intake timing. Because the Golf R develops more power and torque than the GTI—256 horsepower and 243 lb-ft compared with 200 hp and 207 lb-ft—a number of changes have been made. The cylinder block is reinforced, stronger connecting rods are fitted, and a BorgWarner K04 turbocharger is used, boosting at up to 17 psi. EPA estimated fuel economy ratings are 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Premium fuel is recommended, not required, and the fuel tank holds 14.5 gallons…good for nearly 400 miles if you really soft pedal it.


2012 Volkswagen Golf R (select to view enlarged photo)

The only transmission on the Golf R is a close-ratio six-speed manual that features a magnesium selector housing and cable operation with very short lever movements. I found shifting fairly precise and clutch action is quite comfortable even in city stop-and-go traffic. The latest-generation 4Motion all-wheel drive is standard on the Golf R and uses a Haldex® clutch pack that continuously varies the amount of torque sent to the rear wheels, depending on whether slippage is detected at the front. In normal driving, the Golf R acts like a front-wheel-drive car, which helps fuel consumption. However, if needed, up to 100 percent of the torque can be directed to the rear wheels for traction on more challenging surfaces.

Brakes are also upgraded compared to the GTI. Golf R gets vented 13.6-inch-diameter front and 12.2-inch rear discs, up from the GTI’s 12.3-inch-diameter vented front and 10.7-inch solid rear discs. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are standard, along with electronic brake pressure distribution (EBS) and hydraulic brake assist (HBA). Steering is electric-assist and quite quick with just the right amount of feel and feedback.


2012 Volkswagen Golf R (select to view enlarged photo)

Many of you especially in non-snowy parts of the U.S. will question if the all-wheel drive on the Golf R is needed. Well, it does make a difference in getting the power to the pavement in rainy and also dry road conditions and does offer enhanced spirited driving in turns and on winding roads.

In the end, I think the Golf R is an interesting proposition with its understated exterior appearance, excellent driving performance, a comfortable and well-equipped interior, and lots of fun-to-drive plus the versatility of its hatchback design. By the way, it’s produced in Wolfsburg, home of the first VW.

The exclusivity may just be worth it.

© Larry Nutson.