- Helping you drive happy

2012 Volkswagen Golf R Review (video)

2012 Volkswagen Golf R | Photo: Sébastien D'Amour
Get the best financial rate for your car loan at Automobile En Direct
Michel Deslauriers
The cult hero
A high-performance Golf beyond the fun-loving GTI isn't a novelty. Back in the '80s, the Rallye Golf sported four-wheel drive and a 160-hp supercharged G60 engine. During the last decade, the Golf R32 had AWD, a 240- or 250-hp 3.2L VR6 as well as VW's DSG gearbox.

And now, we have the 2012 Volkswagen Golf R. Using a more powerful 2.0L turbo engine and all-wheel drive, the R is the most potent Golf to ever hit the streets.

For hardcore VW fans, this car may represent the ultimate hot hatch, the most desirable Golf and a social-status winner, as only about 600 copies will be sold this year in Canada. For the rest of us, it's just a more expensive GTI.

Buckets o' torque
Already an amazing little engine on duty in various VW and Audi products, including the Golf GTI, the turbo 2.0L four in the Golf R provides a healthy supply of power: 256 horses as well as 243 lb-ft of torque, all present and accounted for from 2,400 all the way to 5,200 rpm. A 6-speed manual is the only gearbox offered in Canada and the U.S.

However, with about 290 lbs more to haul over a base 5-door GTI, the R isn't all that much quicker. We measured a 0-100 km/h of 6.4 seconds which is fast, but not better than a DSG-equipped Golf GTI. What's really impressive is the ever present amount of torque that provides a rush of forward motion.

The Golf R always makes you feel like someone's pursuing you, and that you've gotta shake them off your tail. Despite our heavy right footwork, fuel economy over the week's test was 10.1 L/100km. (That's premium fuel, by the way.)

And while it may not be as nose-heavy as the last Volkswagen R32 we tested, the extra weight does make itself felt. The Golf R does feel more buttoned down, partly because of the all-wheel drive system which also rids the car of the front-drive GTI's admittedly minimal torque steer.

Fully loaded
There are no available options for the Golf R. It includes a power sunroof, 18" wheels, an intelligent key system, navigation, a 300-watt Dynaudio sound system, and leather-clad sport seats, all of which require extra coin to obtain in a GTI.

The R also gets an exclusive alloy wheel design, unique front and rear bumpers, black brake callipers with the R logo, a stiffer suspension and centre-mounted exhaust tips. The Golf R looks hot, and certainly drew attention from VW lovers. People driving vehicles other than Volks didn't seem to care so much. Hell, they clealry had no idea that I was piloting a limited edition, high-horse Golf.

Wonderfully supportive seats keep you sitting straight when the R isn't going straight, a great driving position is easy to find, and outward visibility is only hampered by the rear-seat headrests.

What's great about the Golf R is that it's just as versatile as a $20,000 Golf. Five doors make loading up the spouse and kids a piece of cake. There's 413 litres of cargo space, which is more than you'll find in just about any sports car, and its relatively subtle looks suggest a mature sportiness. Tasteful is the word here.

Still a GTI
As wonderful to drive as the Golf R is, to me it isn't that far away from the driving experience you'll get out of a GTI. Ah, but during the snowy season the R does score many more points as pointed out by my colleague Matt following the Golf R's launch in the north of Sweden.

I like the GTI. A lot. However, I wouldn't pay extra for its optional features; a base car is fine with me. That's why I find the $10,000 price gap hard to swallow for stepping up to the Golf R. Sure, it's exclusive and VW fans -- you know, that cult -- will envy you. And sure, if leather and navigation is your cup of tea then the R is only $3,500 more. OK, worth it.

At $39,675, the Golf R is more expensive than a base Subaru Impreza WRX STI, and about two grand away from a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR. That's pretty muscular competition, and two cars that draw more attention than the VW.

The 2012 Volkswagen Golf R is, for those who can afford it, a fine piece of machinery. It may be a hero for those with affection for VWs. However, it's not enough for me to consider it over a regular, and just as fun, $30K GTI 5-door.
Michel Deslauriers
Michel Deslauriers
Automotive expert