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VW Golf R: The Hotter Hatch

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On: Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 11:48AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

VW Golf R:  The Hotter Hatch

Fans of the Volkswagen GTI have seen their prized steed come a long way in its time. It wasn’t long ago that those three letters brought about an image of a 20-year old with a shaved head and bad attitude behind the wheel of a stripped down hatch with fuel-rich burst of exhaust buzzing down the highway, held in place by a racing harness beneath a roll cage and a 10,000-watt stereo system.

Those were interesting days, to say the least. But it seems that Volkswagen, its drivers, and its GTI have all matured together, realizing that speed can be synergistically combined with modern creature comforts, technology, and style to create a car that is more than the sum of its trade-show parts. 

Realizing that its owners wanted something a bit faster, VW decided to offer a total package starting in 2004 with the R32, and then again in 2008. It was successful, to some extent, and managed to turn some heads with its aggressive stance, powerful but not wildlife-frightening exhaust note, and balanced power. But, sadly the R32 was discontinued after only a year each time it debuted, and VW has been without a true power player until four years later. However, loyalists need wait no longer; new for 2012 is the Golf R that is, of course, better and faster than its predecessor.

Whereas the original R32 had a naturally aspirated 3.2-liter V6 (hence the namesake), the new R will retain the letter, but lose the numerals, for obvious reasons. The engine will be a more traditional turbocharged and intercooler 2.0-liter four-cylinder making a very healthy 256 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque that is once again driven through all four wheels via VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system.

Gaining only nine horsepower, yet dropping more than 200 pounds off the 2008 R32 (for a total of 3,353 pounds), it is no surprise to see the new R outrun the old R32 by nearly an entire second to 60 mph (5.7 vs. 6.5). The R more than likely tops out around 160 mph flat out, but it will be electronically limited to 130 mph. All of the fun, however, is available only with a six-speed manual. Although the dual-clutch auto is rumored to outgun the manual for speed, it is available only in Europe.

It will, however, take a keen eye to spot one of these incognito hot rods unless it is sitting beside a regular Golf. The Golf R has a wider front bumper to allow the intercooler to breathe, a slight lip-spoiler above the rear bumper, twin exhaust tips mounted center stage below that same bumper, a slight reduction in ride height for better handling, and small ‘R’ badging on the front grille and rear tailgate complete the external differences. Obviously the sound of a 250 horsepower turbocharger will also be a tell-tale sound that the Golf that just smoked you off the line was no garden variety VW.

Although the Golf R does have all the performance parts that every hot rodder could dream of, VW does not want anyone to confuse its modern-day masterpiece with that old stripped-down noisemaker of the past. For a base price of about $33,000 you won’t get the fastest import for the money (the base WRX will run away from the Golf R in almost any measurable test for ten grand less), but what you will get is a phenomenally balanced car that does haul ass in style and provide its driver with a mature, year-round exciting ride that gets 20 city and 26 highway mpg.

The 2012 Golf R has grown up with its fan base, and starting in about a month all of those hardworking 20-somethings can now sell their old hatch and use some of that adult money to buy something a little more … Their speed.

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