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2012 Volkswagen Golf R 2-door Review By John Heilig

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Model: 2012 Volkswagen Golf R 2-door
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4
Horsepower/Torque: 256 hp @ 6,000 rpm/243 lb.-ft. @ 2,400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 101.5 in.
Length/Width/Height: 165.8 x 70.3 x 57.5in.
Tires: P225/40R18
Cargo volume: 14.8 cu. ft.
Fuel economy: 19 mpg city/2 mpg highway/ 20.1 mpg test
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gal.
Curb weight: 3,325 lbs.
Sticker: $36,260 (includes $770 destination charge)
The Bottom Line: As the spiritual ancestor to the R32, but with a smaller, more powerful engine, the Volkswagen Golf R fits the definition of a pocket rocket to a T (or to an R). It is a fun-to-drive small car with a ton of performance.

There's always some trepidation when I get a small car with a turbocharged engine to drive. Far too often, even with modern technology, these small cars tend to be overwhelmed by their engines. They go too fast, and when the turbo kicks in they often want to turn to the right or left, thanks to turbo steer.

And since small cars have less-than-ideal ride characteristics to begin with, they get worse when they're "hopped up."

This isn't the case with the Volkswagen R, which seems to have been done right. Take the engine, for example. The R replaces the R32 in the VW lineup. the R32 had a 3.2-liter engine; the R has a turbo 2.0-liter four. There's more power, though; 256 horses in the R. The engine wants to go on forever, and there's no turbo steer. It was fun playing with the short throw 6-speed manual transmission to extract the most from the engine. This isn't a case where the manual is needed because the engine is underpowered. No, it's there to get maximum performance, and you can actually leave it in a lower gear if you so choose.

My only complaint was that the transmission linkage was vague at times. I couldn't always find the right gear and several times went one over in the shift pattern. An aid is the listing at the top of the information panel in the instruments that tells you what gear you are in, and which gear you should shift to.

In general, the instruments are standard, but the blue pointers on the dials are hard to see if you're wearing sunglasses.

The engine is also noisy, and you have to turn the audio system up a bit to hear what you want to hear. I guess if I was a teenager that wouldn't be a problem, but Mozart's Clarinet Concerto loses something when the volume is up.

Similarly with the suspension. The Golf R is hard-sprung, which leads to excellent sports-car-type handling. Therefore, it's rid equality is less than ideal. The trade off, of course, is in the handling. You pays your money and you gets your choice, as they say. With the narrow 40-section tires, you tend to feel every tar strip on the road.

Another side of the performance equation is the brakes. If you have a car that wants to go, it should also want to stop. The four-wheel disc brakes on the Golf R are excellent. They stop the car quickly without the tackiness you find in some performance brakes.

The audio and navigation systems are very good. In programming the navigation system, the order is state, city, street, house number, which seems to be to be a very logical way to set it up. Also, the directions on the screen are clear.

We drove the Golf R in some hot weather, and appreciated the way the air conditioner kept us cool.

The front seats are comfortable with excellent side support. They are clearly marked "R" to let you know what you're driving.

The rear seats are easy to get into with the front seat slid forward. Rear legroom is tight, and there's a high center hump which would make it uncomfortable for a middle passenger. There are assist handles over both doors plus over the rear windows.

In addition, the trunk is a good size.

The Volkswagen Golf R is a nice pocket rocket with compact dimensions but a big heart.

© 2012 The Auto Page