2012 VW Golf R Gets Smaller Engine, Bigger Power

By Sue Mead, July 7th, 2012

strong>Quick quiz: What happens when you replace a compact car's bigger 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine with a smaller 2.0-liter four-cylinder? Answer: More power, less weight and more fun.

Manufacturer photo: The new 2012 Golf R represents intelligent downsizing
Manufacturer photo: The new 2012 Golf R represents intelligent downsizing

The big powerplant switch that Volkswagen pulled on the 2012 Golf R delivers a much bigger bang for the buck, thanks to a turbocharger and some clever engineering tricks. The 2012 Golf R packs 256 horsepower into a tidy two- or four-door hatchback -- and it just begs to be driven.

On the outside, this year's model, starting at $33,990, has the Golf's classic profile and sporty tailoring, yet it's smoother around the edges. The redesigned front end is anchored by three wide air intakes. The grille is a glossy black, accented with "R" badging, which is repeated very subtly on the glossy black brake calipers peeking from the 18-inch alloys.

The now-signature VW/Audi Bi-Xenon headlamps, with big slanted bulbs on top and smaller individual globes making a dotted line underneath, are framed Cleopatra-style in black. An adaptive front lighting system helps with visibility around corners by turning with the steering wheel up to 15 degrees.

The rear of the car is tagged with another "R" badge and has a reworked bumper and spoiler. Central twin pipes cap off the exhaust system. Inside, the cockpit is a driver's delight, with the look of a high-end video game console. Highlights include aluminum pedals, super-soft leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, with squared-off interior angles and glossy black accents. Rear seats split 60/40 and there's a pass-through to the trunk for longer luggage.

Manufacturer photo: The new 2012 Golf R represents intelligent downsizing

Dual-zone climate control and an eight-speaker sound system with aux-in and iPod connectivity are standard on all 2012 Golf R models, as is Bluetooth. Up-market models with the sunroof option add touchscreen navigation, a 300-watt Dynaudio sound system, and keyless entry with push button start.

Under the hood is what Volkswagen says is the most powerful motor ever put in a production Golf in the U.S. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 256 horsepower and 243 lb.-ft. of torque compared to the 200 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. that the previous six-cylinder delivered.

VW's engine is mated to a fast-shifting six-speed manual transmission with a Haldex clutch pack that continuously varies the amount of torque sent to the rear wheels. This means that the Golf R acts like a front-wheel drive vehicle on regular streets, but can send all the power to the back wheels under higher-intensity (accident-evasive maneuvers, for example) or sports-performance conditions. The ability to let front wheels do most of the driving helps boost fuel economy, which VW says is approximately 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg highway.

The suspension has been further tuned beyond the tweaks VW already does for the Golf GTI model, with lower control arms and a stiff, tubular anti-roll bar in front and multilink independent layout with coil springs, telescopic dampers, and an anti-roll bar in the rear. These two systems add up to a really responsive steering feel, as well as suppressing body roll during tight turns.

Power steering is tuned to be anything but spongy, but is still forgiving when you're parking or pulling three-point turns. Brakes are big vented discs -- 13.6 inches in front and 12.2 inches in back -- and are backed by an ABS system with electronic brake pressure distribution and hydraulic brake assist.

Manufacturer photo: The new 2012 Golf R represents intelligent downsizing

Stability control and anti-slip technology are standard in Golf R, and there's a hill holder function that activates the parking brake on steep inclines when the car is stopped. Additional safety features include front and side thorax airbags, side curtain airbags, plus an emergency crash response system that shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors and switches on the hazard lights in certain types of collisions.

Specifications

Base price $33,990
Curb weight 3,325 lbs.
Displacement 2.0-liter
Engine type 16-valve turbocharged 4-cylinder
Epa mileage rating 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 14.5 gal.
Horsepower (net) 256 at 6000 rpm
Overall length 165.8 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 243 at 2400 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD 2-door hatchback
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