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2012 Volkswagen Golf R - Fast Forward

The R32 is dead--bring on the far-better Golf R.

Matt Davis
Apr 27, 2010

So, no MkIII "VW364" Scirocco R from Wolfsburg for us U.S. Desert Jackals. But we do get the MkVI "VW360" Golf R hot hatch with a touch more horsepower (at 266) and the same torque (at 258 lb-ft) as the Scirocco R. On the other hand, we have to do the long waiting game we've gotten so used to; our Golf Rs not arriving until the second quarter of 2011. What, do we need to dance for our damned dinner too?

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At least the Golf R with the fourth-generation version of Haldex 4Motion is a better all-around hot squirt than any like competitor on the planet and therefore worth the wait. It's not a retina-separating experience, no. However, it smothers the old 247-hp R32 V6 in all ways but exhaust sound satisfaction. And it's not far off there either.

And so I just roaded the 2012 Golf R in the snow-thick Austrian Alps with Continental winter tires and then with studded units-and whether with six-speed manual or DSG dual-clutch automatic (both designed and built in-house by VW), this trunkless range-topping Golf goes hard, yet kills softly with its song.

On American soil, the MkV R32 really was a bit of a legend, with breathless bulletin boards all a-gush with how it kicked so much damned ass.

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It didn't by much really. The 4Motion was the big draw for most R32 buyers, and then there was that turbo-less 3.2-liter V6. Apparently it just didn't matter how underpowered that heavy engine is/was for all the show and dough; it spoke to our American Pavlov-thing for "at least a V6, dude." That engine was never really any good in the Audi TT either and for the exact same reasons. But, boy, the thing could sing real pretty.

It's time for the exceptionally better TSI 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder strategy. First, 266 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque from a lighter, more fuel-efficient turbocharged transverse four is a lot better than 247 hp and 236 lb-ft from a heavy and fuel-sucking, turbo-less, wedged-in transverse V6. Then, after all my scientific-like 'rithmatic, I can't deny that 12.6 pounds per hp to haul around in the new Golf R is a lot better than the R32's 14.2 pounds per. Added-value info moment: the brand new MkVI GTI with latest "EA888" family turbo four burdens each horse with 15.8 pounds. Yes, it starts at $23,664, too, while the Golf R will probably crest $32k, but, well, the R support group knows what I'm insinuating. In isolated niche cases like the Golf R, take your "high price to pay" commentary and shove it.

This 2.0 TSI Golf R is exactly what is needed to stop the boy-racer criticism routinely scoffed toward smaller four-cylinder turbocharged cars in the U.S. The premium-ness in the build of the 2012 Volkswagen Golf R is not to be believed. All of the long list of subtler upgrades in manufacturing and NVH work have made the MkVI Golf family as substantial as an Audi A8.

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And then there they are: The latest 4Motion four-wheel-drive action felt through the GTI-style flat-bottom steering wheel helping throttle numbers and making playtime of snowy roads, plus the sheer quality of the interior design and feel that this time isn't compensating for any shortcoming in another department. And particularly as a four-door hatch, the new Golf R looks normal-ish, certainly if compared to the blatant sport stance designed into the Scirocco lineup or even the GTI. Normalness can sometimes be a great asset.

The weather in the Austrian Alps for my Golf R drive was perfect for testing the majority of the reasons for buying one. Though there are engineering and driving-hard reasons why I'd prefer a mechanical Torsen, no car built on the VW Group's PQ35 chassis has ever had anything but a Haldex.

No matter, this fourth-gen electro-hydraulic Haldex system is just right on this lighter package and its real innovation is that the new 435-psi-minimum oil pressure-activated system is always prepped to manage the driving forces and weight shifts much more quickly than the Haldex it replaces. The previous differential could also send 100 percent of traction to the front or rear axle, but this one just reacts now like swarming bees. Literally hammering around the local mountain roads or keeping revs around 6500 (redline at 7000) in the curves of an ice circuit on studded tires, the 2012 Volkswagen Golf R is always under control if you know more than half of what you're doing out there. And sometimes, I do.

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On the slick stuff at least, the Sport ESP will still intervene while I'm trying to be prom king, kicking sideways and hand braking and such tomfoolery. But this is not exactly a dumb move for a series-built car that is almost encouraged to seek out controlled sledding in the hands of over-excited dopes. It corrects things just enough to keep the less capable out of the snow banks.

There's a good chance that North American Golf Rs will be speed limited and henpecked by their wives to 130 mph like the GTI and others. But I wasn't in North America.

At 155 mph on no-limit autobahn with that loud rock-and-roll music playing on the way back to Munich airport, there's that low twin-exhaust hum that's very close to the R32 note (pauses between tracks), only the greatly improved cabin sound-proofing letting less of it in. The chassis stability aided by the Sachs dampers and Mubea springs-20 percent more rigid than the GTI springs and lower the car an inch-is once again a premium, solid feel in either Comfort, Normal, or Sport of the Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive suspension electrics. North American sources say we'll get DCC loaded in with the base price.

While my tester didn't have optional 19-inch wheels, it did have the optional broad-shouldered and high-thighed Motorsports seats that, simply put, must come available in the United States or I shall set myself on fire in front of VWNA HQ. As on the Scirocco R, too, these Talladega wheels slay me, being equaled in the present GTI lineup by the optional 18-inch Khartoum black units. Accelerating hard to 60 mph with the DSG gearbox and Launch Control with these seats and Continental treads, ContiWinterContact TS all around, still took just 5.4 seconds, one second faster than the estimate for the R32.

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For the everyday I would get the DSG. If I were slamming around a bit regularly and scaring carpool riders by shouting things like "Watch this!" I'd go with the diehard manual. Projections have two-thirds of Golf R buyers taking the DSG, in fact, and just over 70 percent going for the four-door. So send us the freakin' four-door this time.

VW North America is just a little nervous about bringing the Golf R in too hot on the heels of the new 200-hp GTI (quoted 208-hp SAE in Germany, by the way) that just arrived. But then VWNA has hesitated a lot over the past several years and that strategy has worked so well, hasn't it?

It will come, however reluctantly the business-case people on both sides of the ocean wring their Underoos. It would be a limited-issue edition of 3,000 cars max starting at $32,500 or so for a manual-equipped two-door.

2012 VW Golf R

Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

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2.0-liter I4, dohc, 16-valve, turbocharged

Six-speed manual; optional six-speed DSG automated manual

MacPherson strut configuration, Sachs dampers and Mubea springs, anti-roll bars

Single-piston sliding calipers with 13.58-inch ventilated steel discs (f), single-piston sliding caliper with 12.20-inch ventilated steel rotors

Peak Power: 266 hp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
0-62 mph: 5.4 sec. (DSG+launch)
Top Speed: 130 mph

By Matt Davis
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