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2012 Volkswagen Golf R First Drive: VW's Hottest Hatch Yet

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author photo by Autotrader March 2011

Decontented. Detuned. Diminished. These are scary words to the Volkswagen faithful in the US. Previously known for its near-luxury appointments, the redesigned 2011 Jetta lost some of its luster in an effort to make it more competitive by shaving about two thousand of dollars off the price. The US version of the 2012 Passat is making a similar, though less drastic, compromise. As VW seeks to attract a wider audience, where will the enthusiasts who have long supported it turn?

The 2012 Golf R is a good place to start.

As the third iteration of the ultimate Golf, the Golf R has big shoes to fill. In 2004, the R32 was introduced to our shores as the GTI’s wilder brother – with all-wheel drive and a 3.2-liter V6 churning out 240 horsepower. The second generation R32 arrived here in 2008 with an extra 10 horsepower, the fifth-generation Golf’’s stylish shape and Volkswagen’s lauded DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Parked beside a standard Golf, the 2012 Golf R looks downright menacing. The front of the car is deliberately aggressive, with LED running lights, narrowed headlights and widened air dams. Out back there are unique taillights. The Golf R trades chrome trim for black to complete the sinister look. Add in the center-mounted dual exhaust and standard 18” wheels, and you get one seriously fast-looking hatchback.

And the Golf R has the bite to match its bark. Power from VW’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine has been boosted to 256 horsepower, up from 200 in the GTI. Where other automakers rely on bigger (and generally thirstier) engines to add get-up-and-go, VW continues to find resourceful and efficient ways to boost its cars’ fun-factor. Fuel economy ratings for the Golf R have yet to be released, but it shares many of its components with the Audi TT-S, so we expect it to achieve close to that car’s 22 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway (26 mpg combined).

For 2012, the Golf R is offered only with a six-speed manual transmission. The suspension is tight, but never harsh, and the all-wheel drive system gives the car incredible grip on winding roads.

The interior of the car is everything that enthusiasts love about Volkswagen. Soft-touch materials and leather abound, and the seats are bolstered snugly for spirited driving. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is chunky, and its squared-bottom screams, “race me.” VW’s dual-zone automatic climate control system is standard, allowing both driver and passenger to manage their own temperature settings. Only one optional upgrade package is available; it bundles together a sunroof, navigation system, keyless start and premium audio.

The Golf R’s competitors are well established among enthusiasts. Volkswagen expects consumers to cross-shop the Golf R against the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and BMW 135i. Base price is expected to be around $34,000, and production starts in November of this year. There are certainly faster cars for the money, but if you’re looking for refinement, practicality and cult-appeal, the Golf R is a jack of all trades after the enthusiast’s heart.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Volkswagen Golf R First Drive: VW's Hottest Hatch Yet - Autotrader