Road Test

2013 Golf R

VW's understated AWD performance compact is a true sleeper

2013 Volkswagen Golf R
AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$39,675 base. $41,070 as tested.
FUEL CONSUMPTION
NR Canada (L/100 km): 10.9 city. 7.5 highway. 10.0 combined.
POWERTRAIN
Turbocharged 2.0-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine, 256 horsepower, 243 lb-ft of torque; six-speed man
Pros & CONS
  • A thorough all-round package
  • “Sleeper” looks
  • Everyday practicality
  • “Holy cow” price tag
  • “Sleeper looks”
  • No back-up camera or power seats for $40K?
Let’s get the price issue out of the way right off the top. More than $40,000 for a Golf? 

On the surface, and even beneath for most, that’s a lot of money for a Golf, especially one that doesn't look much different than a base unit costing half as much. 

On the other side of the equation is the issue that this is an extremely limited-edition car that was sold out before the first one rolled off the boat in Dartmouth, Nova Scitia on its ways to VW stores across the land. 

VW aficionados love the stealth appearance, but more importantly, appreciate the engineering and driving prowess hidden beneath that “sleeper” look.

Most expensive Golf

2012 Volkswagen Golf R - front 3/4 view.jpg
The 2013 Golf R is the most expensive Golf in history. It is also the fastest, most refined, best-equipped and the last of a line. The next generation Golf is on sale in Europe now and headed our way within a year. 

With 256-horsepwoer distributed through a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system and a standard equipment list so extensive no options are available, this is indeed the ultimate Golf, for now.

The Golf R replaces the R32 which had previously been the line-topper (2004 - 2008). That Golf, with its sweet V-6 engine and all-wheel-drive became a cult classic among VW fans as much for its ability to leave more expensive and well-known cars in the dust, as for its rarity. 

The 2013 Golf R comes in one form only – a five-door hatchback (our American neighbors can also chose a three-door) in Rising Blue Metallic paint. 

It has a turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine paired with a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission. Only 250 were allocated for the Canadian market.

What you get

2012 Volkswagen Golf R -rear 3/4 view.jpg
What you get for 40-large is a five-door Golf with very few visual clues that it is different from the run-of-the-mill Golf. 

This understated look is quite common for high performance German cars. In that country it is not uncommon for buyers to pay extra to delete any visual reference to engine size and/or trim level. The Golf R is the proverbial “wolf-in-sheep’s clothing”. 

Exterior changes are almost all related to or necessary for the high performance provided by the powertrain: big, gloss-black brake calipers visible through R-Specific 18-inch “Talladega” alloy wheels; a trio of large air intakes to feed the engine and intercooler; a pair of big centre-mounted exhaust outlets to get rid of spent gasses; and self-levelling Bi-xenon headlights for the added illumination and ability to turn up to 15-degrees in concert with the front wheels. 

There is also lower some lower body cladding, a diffuser beneath the rear bumper and a subtle spoiler to help with aerodynamics at the extreme speeds this car is capable of.

The only “unnecessary” visual aids to help discern this special Golf are black mirrors and the “R” logo on the brake calipers and LED daytime running lights.

Unrestrained interior

2012 Volkswagen Golf R - front seats.jpg
The team responsible for the interior obviously didn't share too many pints of lager with the guys and gals working on the exterior. 

There is very little sign of restraint once you open the doors. Here you will find thickly-bolstered leather-covered sport seats, the “R” logo embossed on the door sills and head restraints, a unique flat-bottom steering wheel, blue indicators for the instruments and aluminum trim throughout, including the pedals. 

Standard equipment includes dual-zone climate control, power windows and locks, adaptive heated power mirrors, power sunroof,  cruise control, tilt & telescope steering  wheel, leather interior, wireless connectivity, remote keyless entry with pushbutton start, navigation system with big touch-screen, 300-watt Dynaudio sound system with 30-GB hard drive, heated windshield washer nozzles and adaptive bi-xenon headlights.

All-round performance

2012 Volkswagen Golf R - engine.jpg
While the four-cylinder engine shares its basics with lesser Golfs, it has been thoroughly massaged with performance in mind. 

With the ability to access a hefty 243 lb-ft of torque from only 2400 rpm and get that power to the ground through all four tires, the Golf R is stout! 

But, like the exterior appearance, the available performance can be misleading. North Americans tend to like high performance cars that display their wares at low speed, during initial acceleration. Our laws make that necessary, so big engines, lots of torque and 0-100 km/h acceleration and drag-strip times rule.

In Europe, with its crowded streets and high-speed motorways, performance is judged differently. The R does not really begin to strut its stuff until well underway. In fact, it can be relatively lethargic until the needle on the tach passes 2000 rpm. 

But as torque nears its peak and the turbo has spooled up to speed, forcing air into the engine under its full 17 psi of pressure, things get downright lively. From that point on, this is a high-performance automobile – much more than a straight line rocket.

Everything from the engine and gearbox, to the steering, brakes, suspension and all-wheel-drive system has been artfully developed to make sure the R corners and stops as well as it goes. 

The latest version of Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is programmed to send as much as 100% of engine output to the rear wheels as long as grip is available under acceleration. 

The 4Motion system is transparent with no sense of the shifting of power between  front and rear as conditions and grip warrant. Obviously this system means you can enjoy the R year-round with the simple swap of tires.  

A true sleeper

2012 Volkswagen Golf R - back seats.jpg
Once you push the start button you become aware that  this is a different Golf. The first hint is a subtle, but not too loud, report from those big cannons beneath the rear bumper. 

The R has 56 more horsepower than the next most powerful Gols in the family, the GTi and as revs rise that point is evident to all, whether inside or out. 

As befits all that engineering work on the chassis, suspension, brakes, steering and engine there is a heightened level of alertness whether it is through the throttle, steering wheel or the seat. 

The throttle is linear, the electric steering provides some feedback, the suspension is surprisingly compliant and the brakes strong and progressive. The shifter works with ease through well-defined gates and clutch take-up is gradual. 

Despite all that performance, this is also a Golf in the normal sense – a very well-built and practical compact automobile, albeit a fast one. 

The front seats are terrific. The rear doors open wide for ready access to a surprising amount of space for a car of this size. There are almost 425 litres of space behind the rear seat and a whopping 1300 litres when it is folded down. 

A couple of glaring shortcomings for a vehicle at this price point – there is no rear view camera and the only power function on the seats is for recline. 

Visibility is excellent except for the rear three-quarters where it is blocked by the traditional wide Golf C-pillar. .
 
The Golf R may stretch the price issue. But for a few lucky souls who will appreciate the difference, this is a very special car. 

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