Around the globe the Volkswagen Golf is regarded as the "Papa" of family compact cars with liftgates. The GTI version has few peers for the "benchmark of all hot hatches" title. Americans' allergies to hatchbacks enable the Jetta sedan to trounce Golf sales by a margin of four-to-one. Sales of the GTI makes up half of those.
So what on earth is Volkswagen thinking by bringing out a new version of its "uber" hot hatch for these shores, the Golf R version? "Drive...He Said" set out to uncover the answer as we were handed keys to a 2012 Rising Blue Metallic VW Golf R 3-door.
And what makes our $35,000 Golf R tester, without navigation, $10 grand dearer than the GTI?
The Parts Which Make the "R" in the Golf R:
- Three or Five-door hatchback compact. Length and Wheelbase are unchanged from the GTI at 165"/101"; Ditto cabin volume and cargo space at 94-cu.ft/15.2-cu.ft. Width is 0.3" greater, thanks to rocker panel cladding; Height falls 0.3" as a result of lower springs. Curb rises by 10% to 3300 lbs.
- 2.0-Liter (same as GTI) alloy head / iron block DOHC engine with 9:8.1 compression ratio, featuring strengthened crankshafts, variable control of intake valves and direct injection;
- a larger spool Borg Warner K-04 water-to air-cooled turbocharger developing 17 psi of boost, up 20% from the GTI
- 256 hp at 6000 rpm / 243 lb-ft of torque at 2300 rpm; a 2% improvement despite a 37% reduction in displacement from the 2008 Golf R32 VR6. Power/torque is 25%/20% greater than in GTI.
- a close-ratio 6-speed manual gearbox with a cable operated shifter; DSG is not available this time around. Final drive ratio is a shorter 3.24:1.
- standard 4-Motion all-wheel drive on demand. The Haldex Gen. IV unit features faster viscous clutch coupling; a locking electronic rear differential splits up to 100% of torque out back.
- 0-60 mph @ 5.8 seconds despite a non-fully defeatable stability control
- Combined fuel economy of 25 mpg
- Electrically-assisted power steering with a quicker 15.6:1 ratio
- Front strut / rear multi-link suspension benefits from stiffer bushings, quicker damping rates and higher spring rates.
- 225/40 Dunlop Sport 01 H-speed rated all-season tires mounted on 18" 5-spoked alloy wheels.
- 4-wheel disc brakes with single piston sliding calipers painted black; rotor diameter increase by 1.2" front and back to 13.6"/12.2;" Higher friction pads are fitted and rear rotors are now vented.
- Standard kit includes adaptive bi-xenon headlamps with white LED DRLs; Climatronic climate control, heated leather-trimmed highly bolstered sport bucket seats, a 300 watt Dynaudio sound system with touch screen, and some turned aluminum trim on the dash and doors with a smattering of "R" badges ans stitching.
The Sum of the Parts That Make the Golf R Go:
- Despite full torque coming on some 600 rpm higher than in the GTI, turbo lag is negligible. Dump the clutch at 4500 rpm. Heads jerk forward. The exhaust lets out a roar. A puff of white smoke is emitted as the tires grab. This mill sounds happiest between 4000 and 5800 rpm. Under 2000 rpm it feels lumpy. Along with the drivetrain.
- Watching the tach and speedo needles race each other is as cool as playing the Gran Turismo video game. Coincidence that the Golf R is offered on GT 5?
- The shift action in the manual gearbox requires concentration. Otherwise there can be confusion between fourth gear and sixth ( and vice versa). Locating reverse can be a test of patience. A clutch pedal whose effort is on the high side doesn't help matters.
- Charging out of fast bends the Haldex 4-Motion system acts like a rear driver with a limited slip differential. The front axle shafts are instantly de-coupled with all 100% of torque being split between the rear wheels. The locking e-differential sends up to 85% to one side. As the Golf R undesteers ever so slightly simply squeeze the throttle to correct direction.
- At speed the nicely weighted steering is linear. During parallel parking it feels as if the power assist has given out.
- The tires provide a good compromise between grip and quiet touring. On occasion, though, they were prone to tramline.
- Brake pedal feel is on the over-sensitive side for the first 2 mm of pedal travel. On the track the binders are so tenacious as to warrant respect. Credit the more aggressive pads. Any tailgater who get brake-checked by a Golf R risks becoming immured.
- The higher spring rates quell tail lift entering corners hard and reduce brake dive in this nose heavy-car.
- The Golf R's otherwise acceptable ride compliance deteriorates along with road surface conditions. Uneven pavement can produce some jitter and the worst heaves or holes impart a pounding that would be a mere thud in the GTI.
We Finally Got Our Scirocco R With AWD - well sort of:
- The more aggressive front fascia with horizontal slats for additional air flow and the more flared headlamp assemblies borrow heavily on those from the Scirocco coupe. Actually it's not too far-off in appearance from the Mk VII Golf.
- The extended rocker sills, rear roof spoiler, lower diffuser with twin tail-piper jutting out the center are illustrative of a "sleeper." Local constabulary are likely to take less notice of a Golf R than of a Subaru WRX STI.
How the Golf R Treats Occupants:
- A cabin penned more than 5 years ago is still at the top of the heap in this segment. You won't find this level of refinement in a Mitsubishi Evolution. Some monotone hard black plastic trim signals that funds was diverted to develop the Mk VII.
- A highly insulated cabin and muted exhaust make for interstate cruising as placid as in any other Golf.
- The beefy square-bottomed steering wheel is a good match for the body-hugging front sport buckets which do a fine imitation of Recaros.
- Instrumentation is still in keeping with VW's time honored paradigm of clarity. The blue needles add lustre to the white-on-black gauges. Some switchgear would cut it in an Audi A3. The steering column stalks would not.
- The Golf R multifunction display, nestled between the main gauges, can be a labyrinth. Do we really need to be able to control the intensity of the front footwell illumination?
- Those who plan on frequently transporting either extra adults or child-safety-seat-confined kids would do well to consider the extra $500 for the two rear doors. Six footers will be pleased with 35" of rear legroom and over 38" of headroom; that's mid-size sedan territory. Extra long doors in the three door and the high rocker sills can make egress a chore.
Worth the Dough With the Mk VII Golf On the Way?
One shouldn't expect a replacement Golf R until late 2014 at the earliest. Should ours still be assembled in Wolfsburg, Germany, a marked price increase is not out of the question.
For the driver who only now and again "opens it up" on public roads and constantly contends with daily stop-'n-go on chassis-jarring urban by-ways, the $10,000 lower priced Golf GTI may be as much car as you'll ever need.
GTI fanboys might deride the Golf R as a blowhard which won't outrun either the comparably priced Evo or WRX STI in a straight line. Our reply: They haven't tracked a 2013 Golf R on a real road course. A virtual Nurburgring Nordschleife doesn't count.
By George Straton, Chicago Now, December 21, 2012
Can you name a fun-to-drive sedan with a manual transmission that can transport five adults and their luggage comfortably while sipping fuel at the rate of 50 mpg? The answer is the Volkswagen Passat TDI – a German antonym for "range anxiety."
The past forty years have seen the Volkswagen Passat evolve from a three-door hatchback with a 1.5-liter engine (sold as the Dasher in the States) to a four-door near-luxury sedan boasting a 4.0-liter W8 a decade ago. I'm making the case that today's reasonably priced diesel-burning 2.0-liter TDI is the best, and most sensible, Passat ever built.
The turbocharged, direct-injected, 2.0-liter inline-four is a little stump puller. While only rated at 140 horsepower, it delivers 236 pound-feet of torque at 1,500 rpm. Launching from a standstill – even with a full load – was uneventful and it pulled confidently under all driving conditions (even though the acceleration numbers are far from impressive).
According to the EPA, the Passat TDI earns 31 mpg city and 43 mpg highway – but not on my watch. My city average was more like 35 mpg and 50 mpg wasn't difficult to achieve on the highway at 70 mph. With an 18.5-gallon fuel tank, its cruising range is just short of the moon.
Curiosity got the better of me one night, so I decided to run a 100-mile highway loop between Camarillo and Goleta on Southern California's coastal US 101. Following a few suggestions, I pumped the tires up from the recommended 32 psi to 42 psi (51 psi is the maximum on the sidewall of the all-season Continental ContiProContact tires), shut off the air conditioning and set cruise control at 60 mph on the highway. Driving at this "hypermiling" speed was painful, but it delivered an impressive 56.9 mpg according to the Passat's computer – that's a burn rate of just over one gallon per hour!
The Passat's cabin is huge. Almost limousine-like in the second row, it easily swallowed two adults and three teenage soccer players (with all of the associated gear in the trunk) during a long drive to a weekend tournament. Nobody complained about room, and the air vents in the second row kept the atmosphere fresh.
The cabin appointments on the 6MT model, Volkswagen's SE trim, aren't very luxurious. An upgrade to a sunroof, navigation, leather upholstery or even an iPod interface requires acceptance of the dual-clutch DSG automatic, which brings with it lower fuel economy and a less engaging driving experience. That's very frustrating.
On the odd side of things, the clutch pedal transmitted an awful lot of engine vibration to the driver's left foot and I noticed an unnerving sound of fuel sloshing around inside the tank each time the sedan came to a stop (keep the radio on and passengers won't notice). [Volkswagen says the noise I heard was the AdBlue urea solution sloshing around inside its 4.9-gallon tank in the trunk. One tank lasts about 15,000 miles - MH]
Even though the diesel is the perhaps the wisest choice in the Passat family, Volkswagen doesn't seem to want offer consumers any incentives to take one home. Unattractive lease and financing rates on the TDI often make its more expensive gasoline counterparts (or worse, its competitors) more attractive in the showroom. America's wildly fluctuating (but generally costlier) diesel fuel prices don't help, either.
By Michael Harley, Autoblog, December 21, 2012