Matt Davis, Correspondent
So, we're getting a 2012 Volkswagen Golf R with a pumped-up version of the VW GTI's turbocharged inline-4 engine with 266 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Fine. This almost makes up for the fact that we're not getting the 2010 Volkswagen Scirocco R, the super-sexed-up MkIII VW364 car, from Wolfsburg. On the other hand, we have to wait. While the rest of the planet gets its Golf R starting now, North America has to wait, because our Golf R won't arrive until the second quarter of 2011 as a 2012 model. Sigh.
Payoff being at least that the Golf MkVI VW360, known as the Golf R with the new fourth-generation version of Haldex 4Motion all-wheel drive, is a better all-round hottie than any like competitor on the planet and is therefore worth the wait.
It won't separate your retinas with its dynamics like a Ford Focus RS or Mugen-tuned Honda Civic Type R, neither of which will ever make it to North America (legally, anyway). However, the VW Golf R smothers the overrated old 247-hp VW R32 V6 in all ways but exhaust sound satisfaction, and we think it feels more a premium effort than the 263-hp Mazdaspeed 3 (it damned well should, of course, seeing as it'll probably cost about $8,500 more than the Mazda).
And so we've just driven the 2012 Volkswagen Golf R for two days, much of it on roads in the Austrian Alps that are thick with snow, and this trunkless marvel points, goes hard and soothes all at once.
R32 VR6-Withdrawal Group Hug
On American soil, the VW R32 with its VR6 engine and previous-generation Haldex all-wheel-drive setup became a bit of a legend, complete with breathless Internet bulletin boards all a-gush with how it kicked so much damned ass.
Which, it did, sort of. But not really. The 4Motion was the big draw for most R32 buyers — VW's survey says so, so we ain't just guessing here — and then there was that we-don't-need-no-stinkin'-turbo 3.2-liter VR6. Apparently it just didn't matter how underpowered and fuel-sucking that heavy, narrow-angle V6 has been, because it did the Pavlov thing for Americans, who could say, "at least it's a V6, dude." The engine was never really any good in the Audi TT either, and for the same reasons. But, boy, did VW Group make a lot of money on each one sold. Admittedly, too, the thing could sing real pretty through those pipes.
But, well, it's time to give it up, guys. (VW's R32 survey says you're almost all guys, as in males. Like roughly 100 percent.) The whole VR6 engine program has been scrapped already. It is time for the exceptionally better EA113 inline-4, in this case the turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0-liter TSI that we've recently driven with much delight in the VW Scirocco R.
One thing that should help us break this tortured sort of man-hug and move on to the better 2.0-liter turbo is the matter of 266 hp at 6,000 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque at 2,000-5,000 rpm. And you can't deny that 12.6 pounds of Golf R that each 2.0 TSI horse has to carry is much better than the 14.2 pounds that every VR6 pony had to pack. In fact, the brand-new MkVI GTI with the latest EA888 turbo-4 burdens each horse with 15.8 pounds.
A Man's Car
This VW Golf R with the 2.0 TSI is exactly what we need to stop the criticism leveled at small cars with turbocharged four-cylinder engines. There's so much premium-ness built into this car that it is not to be believed, and we mean that in the amazingly good way. A long list of upgrades in both manufacturing and anti-NVH development has made every member of the Golf MkVI family feel as substantial as an Audi A6.
And then there is the long list of features. Like the latest quick-acting all-wheel drive making snowy roads feel like dry roads, plus making serious acceleration numbers on dry roads and communicating in the corners through the flat-bottom R-type steering wheel. Like the sheer quality of the interior design that no longer seems as if it's compensating for shortcomings in another department.
The Golf R is a fully copacetic package, gents. And particularly as a four-door hatch, the new Golf R looks normal-ish, certainly when compared to the blatant sport stance designed into the Scirocco. No boy racers need even apply.
And Then on Ice and Snow
You can probably see that the weather in the Austrian Alps for our drive of a 2012 Volkswagen Golf R ablaze in Tornado Red proved perfect for testing the majority of the reasons for buying one. Though there are engineering and dynamic reasons why we would prefer a mechanical Torsen center differential, no car built on the VW Group's PQ35 chassis has ever had anything but a Haldex. Some say it's due to cost issues in having to beef up the chassis to properly mesh with a Torsen's reactive properties, especially when the engine is transversely mounted.
No matter, this fourth-gen pro-active Haldex system is just right on this lighter Golf. Its most important innovation is the way that the hydraulically activated system (435 psi) is always prepared to manage the driving forces and weight transfer in far less time than the Haldex AWD system it replaces. The previous differential could also send 100 percent of traction to the front or rear axle, but this one reacts now like the proverbial lightning. While hammering around the local mountain roads and circling a local ice-racing circuit with studded tires, we learned that the 2012 Volkswagen Golf R is always under control, even while drifting the racing circuit's curves at 6,500 rpm.
On the slick stuff, at least, the stability control still has a safety net engaged even when you switch off the system, so it would still intervene while we were trying to be teenagers for life, kicking sideways and using the hand brake and so on. But this is not exactly a dumb move for a series-built car that is expected to spend some portion of its life in controlled sledding under similar conditions. It corrects things just enough to keep the less capable out of the snowbanks.
Das Fahren auf der Autobahn
There's a good chance that the 2012 Volkswagen Golf R for North America will be limited to 130 mph like the GTI and others, which might make police-chase television shows seem a little like restrictor-plate NASCAR weekends if the getaway car is a VW. We weren't in North America, though, were we? No.
At 155 mph on glorious portions of no-limit autobahn on the way back to Munich airport, there is that low hum from the turbo engine's twin-pipe exhaust that's very close to the note of the R32, only the greatly improved acoustic insulation of the cabin admits less of it than the R32 did. Meanwhile, the stability afforded by the suspension is very much as you'd expect in a premium car, a benefit from a sport setup for the suspension's Mubea springs (20 percent firmer than the GTI springs), which lower the car an inch. In Europe you have the option of Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), electronic control of the Sachs dampers for Comfort, Normal or Sport modes. Our sources in North America say, "Chances are that our cars will come loaded, so DCC would be standard in the price." (It's Christmas every day of the year, isn't it?)
Our lipstick-red test car had the standard 18-inch wheels instead of the optional 19-inchers, but it did have the optional, broad-shouldered VW Motorsports seats that, simply put, must be available for this car in the United States or we shall storm the gates of VW HQ in Herndon, Virginia. As with the Scirocco R, these Talladega wheels slay us bad, almost as cool as the optional 18-inch Khartoum black units for the GTI.
The six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment for this car, but if we were expecting to drive the 2012 Volkswagen Golf R daily, we'd get the optional dual-clutch automated DSG manual. Then again, if we were slamming around a bit regularly and given to saying things to passengers like "Watch this!" then we'd go with the manual. Projections have two-thirds of Golf R buyers taking the DSG. Also, about 70 percent will choose the four-door version of this car over the two-door.
Accelerating to 60 mph with the DSG gearbox and launch control and 225/40R18 82V Continental ContiWinterContact tires under the fenders took about a second less than an R32.
Is It Coming? Really? Really?
No one in Wolfsburg or Herndon will go on the record as confirming or denying, but the definite majority told us that we would not be far off if we say that yes, the Volkswagen Golf R is coming to the U.S. Volkswagen of America is just a little nervous about bringing it in too hot on the heels of the new 200-hp 2010 Volkswagen GTI that just arrived.
But it will come, however reluctantly VW's business people on both sides of the ocean might be about it. The 2012 Volkswagen Golf R will be a limited edition of between 1,500 and 3,000 cars, with prices starting at $32,500 or so for a manual-equipped two-door. We might even get four-doors for a slight premium. As one executive told us after a couple schnapps toss-backs, "I mean, hell, we build a lot of these. If the U.S. would want more Rs, then we would just make some more."
Love that attitude.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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