2012 Volkswagen Golf R Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Published on October 10, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on October 10, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on October 10, 2012

Published on October 10, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on October 10, 2012

As anyone who's had trouble with the law while driving an eye-catching sports car will attest, there's nothing better to go fast in than a sleeper. Volkswagen's Golf R development team must be in agreement, because the new super hatch might even be more subdued than the already low-key GTI.

There's no bright red striping or flashy GTI badging to alarm highway troopers, but rather an understated "R" and monochrome paintwork. Maybe it was the Rising Blue Metallic that kept things understated. No doubt Tornado Red would pull a few more constabulary eyeballs, although available Candy White, Carbon Steel Grey or Deep Black Pearl might be even more discreet. All VW has done to set the R apart is add a black double-slat grille insert above a deeper grilled fascia with nicely detailed aerodynamic touches at its lowest edge, plus adaptive bi-xenon headlights and LED running lights, not to mention a sweet set of 18-inch triple-prong 5-spoke "Talladega" alloys framing subtle black R-stamped brake calipers, and centre-mounted twin exhaust pipes. Hopefully that's just enough excitement for it to go completely unnoticed by all but true VW aficionados.

It's a good thing too, because behind its modified front bodywork is a much more powerful 2.0-litre four than what comes stock with the GTI. VW rates it at 256-horsepower and 243 lb-ft of torque, and unlike some in this class that strap too much turbocharged power to the front wheels, the engineers in Wolfsburg rightfully chose VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive system to keep the steering wheel from bolting to the side when planting the throttle. All that power gets down to the tarmac with barely a chirp from the 225/40 R18 all-season rubber, with speed ramping up quicker than in a GTI, although you can feel the extra 132 kilos brought about by the all-wheel drivetrain. Shifting takes place only one way, via a DIY 6-speed manual gearbox that goes through its motions in near short-throw perfection.

Despite the added weight, handling was sublime during my hot summer's test week. I'm guessing 4Motion would be blissful on a cold winter's day too, at least more so than the GTI's front-drive setup. The R's all-wheel grip comes via a Haldex differential that first reacts to a loss of traction before shifting torque to the appropriate wheel, while the R also makes use of the GTI's Electronic Transverse Differential Lock (XDS) that anticipates wheel spin before directing thrust to the outside tire for maximum traction. It works well, with what feels like a very un-Golf-like rear-wheel bias that should please traditional rear-drive sports car fans as it did me. Like lesser Golf models the R variant gets standard traction and stability control along with performance-tuned ABS-enhanced 4-wheel discs.

I found a favourite mountain road to test it out on, almost completely free of traffic this time of year. The R is brilliant on the binders, hauling down from high speed quickly and in complete control, and it'll do it over and over with little apparent fade. It doesn't quite turn on its axis like a Mitsu Evo, however, and doesn't accelerate quite like that overzealous Japanese super sedan either, instead delivering its power in a more linear fashion and providing more progressive turn-in from its lowered sport suspension when pushed to the limit.

Now that we're talking the king of performance compacts, the $43,348 Evo GSR is priced close to the Golf R that slots in just below at $41,040, including destination. And while I don't think it's wise to give an Evo driver the thumbs up at a stoplight (for performance as well as safety reasons), the Golf R's premium-level interior will downright embarrass the cheaply fitted Evo if you happen to pull over to compare. Of course, you'll be living with whatever you choose every day, so if it's between these two cars I can attest from experience that living with the Golf R will be much more comfortable. Not only is the ride more forgiving, the seats are slightly less bolstered, albeit more than enough for sport driving, and the overall ambiance is more Audi-like luxury than bargain basement economy. From the soft-touch door panels and dash to the top-tier switchgear, the cool blue needles within the primary gauge package to the herringbone patterned aluminum dash and door trim, the Golf R is a touch above the regular Golf that's already the best in its compact class.

Just looking at the features set, the Golf R comes fully stocked in Canadian specification. Along with the performance and styling upgrades already mentioned, all Golf Rs come standard with a meaty race-style perforated leather-clad steering wheel, ultra-comfortable and supportive 8-way partially-power adjustable heated perforated leather sport seats, a fabulous sounding 300-watt Dynaudio audio system, touchscreen navigation, proximity sensing access and pushbutton ignition, a powered moonroof, and the aforementioned adaptive bi-xenon headlamps. Add navigation and leather into an Evo and Mitsubishi will change the trim designation from GSR to MR while the price jumps up and over the $50k threshold. Added to the Golf R's total are most of the features that come standard with a GTI, which incidentally include those fancy headlights, the smart key system and Dynaudio 6-CD stereo that also features an aux input, iPod connectivity, satellite radio and Bluetooth, as well as dual zone automatic climate control, auto down/up windows at all corners, a multifunction trip computer, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, and a sweet set of brushed aluminum sport pedals. Only the lack of automatic headlights keeps the Golf R from totally pulling off premium.

So at $41k and change does the Golf R represent good value? I think so. All you need to know in order to answer that question for yourself is that the entire limited allocation of 2012 Golf Rs was sold out some time ago, including the press car in these photos. If you like what you see and want one for yourself, make sure you talk to your dealer ASAP so as to secure a 2013, and let's hope VW Canada acquires more than 200 this time around.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Volkswagen, VW, 2013, Golf R, $40,000 - $49,999,

Organizations: Volkswagen

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