Few makers have been doing better in the U.S. market, in recent months than Volkswagen, which posted a solid 36% jump last month as new models like the 2012 Passat and third-generation Beetle rolled into showrooms. Anyone who wonders whether VW can keep the momentum going might just consider what else is in the product pipeline – starting with the 2012 Golf R.
The German maker is just making things formal, releasing pricing and specs on the mean little hatch – which we had a chance to spend a brief bit of time scooting around the Virginia countryside in a few weeks back.
With its well-equipped interior – and a 256-horsepower turbocharged inline-four – the Volkswagen Golf R is destined to change the perceptions of anyone out there who might think the German 5-door is just a gussied-up econobox.
First, the numbers: the 2012 Golf R will set you back $33,990 plus destination charges. That’s very definitely not econobox territory. This is a sporty compact for those who believe that very good things can come in small packages – if you’re willing to pay the price.
That little engine has plenty of tire-spinning torque, at 243 lb-ft and to put things into perspective, it will be delivering six horsepower more than the formidable Golf R32 VR6 that was one of the cult favorites of the 2008 model-year.
Yet the 2012 Golf R will do it while getting markedly better fuel economy – 19 City, 27 Highway, according to the EPA, compared with 18/23 in the old Golf R32 VR6.
Available in a three, as well as 5-door hatch configuration, the Golf R will feature a Haldex all-wheel-drive system mated to its 6-speed stick, the better to ensure all that power gets to the ground.
We discovered what that meant the moment we hammered the throttle leaving the base camp Volkswagen had set up in the farm country along the Virginia/West Virginia border. The Golf R quite literally leapt into action, racing along a tight and twisty course the maker had laid out.
To its credit, this wasn’t the sort of flat-and-level route some manufacturers try to pre-package hoping to disguise any potential flaws, especially in suspension and handling. There were plenty of hills, a fair share of tight turns and many an off-camber corner.
To handle them all, VW engineers have given the new Golf R a damper strut front with lower control arms and an oversized tubular anti-rollbar. The rear suspension features a four-link design with triple control arms, telescopic dampers and an anti-rollbar.
Steering is handled by the maker’s latest electro-mechanical system. For those who fret when they hear a maker like VW has shifted away from hydraulics don’t worry, as the old song went, be happy. It’s done perhaps the best job among all mainstream makers – rivaling even some luxury performance marques – in terms of squeezing the best performance out of an electric power steering system. And here, the new package is not just responsive but able to adapt its feel to the speed and driving situation.
The Golf R actually boasts a steering ratio quicker than that of the GTI.
That said we didn’t find it quite as well planted as the more familiar VW performance machine. It was clearly comfortable whatever we threw at it, but the GTI we drove down the same route was just a little more enthusiastic, better able to maintain its poise whatever it encountered.
If muscle memory serves us well, it also appears that the new Golf R is just a little less aggressive than the old G32 despite the added power.
The Golf R has plenty of stopping power, with 13.6-inch front brake rotors and 12.2-inch rear discs. By comparison, the GTI’s measure 12.3-inch up front, 10.7 in the back.
On the safety front, there’s a solid mix of passive and active systems, including Electronic Stability Program, Anti-Slip Regulation and an Electronic Differential. There’s also a hill holder function. The car features six airbags.
Visually, look for a new front bumper with integrated LED Daytime Running Lights and three large black air intakes, as well as a gloss black grille with framed “R” logo. Adaptive front lighting that can aim around corners is standards, as are new 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels. A new rear bumper wraps around the twin central exhaust pipes.
Open the door and you’ll quickly spot the special “R” sillplates, that emblem also adorning the special bucket seats. A flat-bottomed racing wheel rounds out the package.
For the money you’d be right to anticipate such standard gear as Bluetooth, dual climate control and a premium audio system.
Is the new Golf R a performance car or an entry-luxury model? It appears to be a bit of both. That should help it appeal to an unusually wide swath of buyers – at least those who can afford something that pushes up to $35,000 and above by the time you cover your taxes, fees and options. That may push it beyond the reach of traditional Golf buyers so it will be interesting to see if the new Volkswagen offering can nudge its way into the entry luxury market. It certainly deserves to get a closer look.