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Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Golf R
Feature: The Volkswagen Driving Experience
First Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Golf R

Manufacturer’s Website
Volkswagen Canada

Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

Photo Gallery:
2012 Volkswagen Golf R

Sometimes a company can take understated design a little too far. Sure, some of you might be able to spot the differences between a GTI and Golf R at a glance, but if not for the unique triple-spoke wheels, I might not be able to pick this R out of a Golf lineup. I’m not saying it needs a 10-foot wing and a body skirt package that can’t make it over speed bumps, but the monochromatic 2012 VW Golf R seems to be lacking distinction even for my tastes, and I’m usually one to defend the subtle VW GTI styling. As an indicator of its attention-getting qualities, the only heads this turned were inside other GTIs.

2012 Volkswagen Golf R
2012 Volkswagen Golf R. Click image to enlarge

But wrap your fingers around the ergonomically contoured, perforated leather–wrapped steering wheel and you’ll begin to come around and understand the target audience of this ultimate Volkswagen hot hatch. First of all, forget about the STI and Evo—despite similar pricing, this is not a competitor to those loud, brash, and almost hooligan rally racers. Prospective Golf R customers could care less that those two rally-bred cars have almost 50 horsepower and handling advantages that will dust the Golf R on the track, no one is arguing that.

And by limiting production so aggressively, Volkswagen is precluding cross-shopping—if you want the Golf R, you’d have had your money down at the dealership months before delivery—at this point, they’re probably sold out, so forget about any of the remaining 2012s and cross your fingers that VW Canada will get more than a paltry 200 for 2013. This is a special vehicle for the legions of GTI owners and fans that might want a little more capability out of the box without turning to an aftermarket flash and perhaps some hardware upgrades.

2012 Volkswagen Golf R
2012 Volkswagen Golf R
2012 VW Golf R and 2011 VW GTI. Click image to enlarge

As to those hardware upgrades, the Golf R has unique front bumper and grille with R badge and larger, lower air intakes filled with horizontal black slats, LED daytime running lights, 18×7.5-inch alloy ‘Talladega’ wheels, black painted calipers, also with the R logo, and standard bi-xenon adaptive headlights. Personally, I’d go with the white for a ‘storm trooper’ look, and then the grille and intakes pop—then again, the same could be said for the GTI itself. In the Rising Blue metallic of the tester, the blacked out intakes don’t seem quite so aggressive, and the same goes for the dark grey and black. The one feature, aside from the wheels, that really sets the exterior apart is at the back: twin centre-mounted exhaust tips poking out of a glossy black diffuser—sharp.

Anyone who’s driven a Mark V or Mk VI GTI in the past 10 years will be familiar with the layout and feel of this vehicle. The steering is light and telekinetic, retaining a mastery of great driving feel at any speed, from sharp turn-in on tight turns to steady, progressive resistance on gradual turns and solid feel when cruising on the highway. Brake feel is also similar, with sharp, almost abrupt pedal feel that bring the car down from speed quickly. We did not have occasion to track test it, so cannot speak to their durability for track days.

2012 Volkswagen Golf R
2012 Volkswagen Golf R. Click image to enlarge

However, despite its common ancestry with the GTI, the R does have a few tricks up its sleeve, the foremost being all-wheel drive, and the second most noticeable difference being power delivery. While power is up 56 hp over the GTI, and torque 33 lb-ft, the added weight offsets much of the power, and the 1,508-kg Golf R doesn’t feel blindingly fast, it simply digs in and goes off the line, without commotion and without too much excitement, much like the lighter, 1,376-kg manual GTI.

Unlike the GTI, which seems to deliver seamless, if moderate, power, the R has a far more distinct kick in the pants approaching 3,000 rpm, an attribute VW would tune out of anything more mainstream, but have left intact for a delicious bite from this wolf in sheep’s clothing.

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