We typically don’t review cars outside the Japanese world but we had to make room for Volkswagen’s new Golf R, in fact a lot of room!
At first glance, the hatchback isn’t going to drop any panties. While it has slightly cooler features than a standard Golf such as the more aggressive bumpers and a center-exit exhaust, it’s definitely pretty tame if you park it next to an Evo, STI or even an FR-S. But despite its subtle looks, it gives off the impression that it means business. That feeling comes to life after getting behind the steering wheel—we can attest to that! We spent a full week with the Golf R and we’re convinced this car is an incredibly balanced driving machine. The car doesn’t have any fancy tricks or high-tech gadgets but it accelerates, handles and stops the way a true driver’s car should. Truth!
Sold exclusively with a six-speed manual, the vehicle’s oomph comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter that pushes out 256hp and 243 lb-ft of torque. It doesn’t have significant low-end torque like a V6, but begs to live between 2,500rpm and redline. It’s a blast to drive whether you’re bangin’ through gears on a canyon road or full throttle down a long stretch of highway. The Golf R’s power delivery is buff yet, silky smooth—those Germans know what they were doing!
The handling of the R is just as polished with a stiff suspension setup and Haldex all-wheel drive system that allows 100% power distribution to either the front or rear wheels. This bad boy loves to rotate around corners! Stopping isn’t a problem either with the Golf R’s beefy 13.6/12.2” rotors. The brake pedal feel is also just right—not too sensitive but solid and firm.
If you’re simply looking at the Golf R in the showroom, it isn’t going to sweep you off your feet, but get off your ass and drive one. It’s got some pep to its step along with a neutral and nimble feeling. Add in its hatchback functionality and comfortable seating for five passengers (especially the five-door)…it’s definitely one of the best all-around cars we’ve tested in 2012. – Sam Du
We don’t expect all of you to know the history of the Golf R so here’s a little 411. Not to be confused with R-line (Volkswagen’s accessory line), VW R models are considered by many to be the equivalent of BMW’s M or Subaru’s STI. They surface every four years and feature more power, sportier looks and an all-wheel drive configuration. With this example, the Germans have introduced its third-gen R. The previous two (called the R32) came with a 3.2-liter V6 but the ’12 model is the real deal. While the grunt of the V6 might be missing, the new turbo Golf R feels younger, lighter and more refined than its predecessors while still keeping its integrity and practicality.
Volkswagens don’t usually float my boat—but I LOVE the Golf R, speaking strictly from a performance standpoint. It has everything I want from a sport car: quick, responsive, excellent handling…yet the minute it comes to life’s simple pleasures, like Bluetooth, I become discouraged as it’s nearly impossible to setup since it doesn’t connect through the car’s touchscreen unit. Good thing there’s an ‘on/off’ switch for things like that so I can focus on driving instead. Engine sounds and gear shifting are clearly the Golf R’s high points.
The Golf R is one of my favorite cars in recent memory for a couple of key reasons. First, it’s small and nimble with good power delivery. It won’t break your neck in a 0-60 but it has enough to get your juices flowing, and the handling is excellent, just like the standard GTI. Second, the interior of the Golf R is really nice. Much higher quality than you would expect from what is at its core, a Volkswagen Golf. And the last main selling point of the Golf R to me is the exterior looks — it’s a mean little hot hatch but it doesn’t scream for the wrong kind of attention.
[THAT NEW CAR SMELL]
2012 VW Golf R
Engine 2.0 liter inline-four DOHC 16v direct injection turbocharged
The Power 256hp at 6000rpm; 243 lb-ft at 2200rpm
Scale Tipping 3,325 lb
Layout Front engine, 4MOTION all-wheel-drive
Transmission six-speed manual, center limited-slip differential
Footwork & Chassis MacPherson strut front suspension; multi-link rear suspension; front and rear stabilizer bars
Wheels & Tires 18X7.5" alloy wheels with 225/40R18 tires
At The Pump 19/27 mpg (city/highway)
The Competition Audi TTS, Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart/Evolution
Deep Thoughts If there ever was a time to own a VW, it would be now. The Golf R delivers one of the most balanced packages of power, handling, comfort and practicality that we’ve ever driven.