I’ll admit it. My tastes in sporty cars can change as much as a schoolgirl looking for that perfect outfit before a first date. A while ago, I sang the praises of the rude and crude Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Consider this an eviction notice because I’ve become smitten with another high-performance, all-wheel drive sportster.
The apple of my eye (this month, anyway) is the 2012 Volkswagen Golf R. The spiritual successor to the 2008 R32, Golf R packs a powerhouse engine, sport suspension, and the company’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive. The R’s engine is pretty much the same as that of the far more costly Audi TTS: a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with 256 horsepower (the TTS’s engine produces 265). The R is notable for pairing this motor with a “real” 6-speed manual transmission instead of its costlier cousin’s dual-clutch automated manual.
Though not as explosive as the more-powerful Lancer Evolution, the R is much easier to handle in everyday traffic. The manual transmission and clutch are virtually effortless to modulate. Handling inspires more confidence than any car has a right to, with near-perfect steering, tremendous grip, and just the right amount of body roll.
Golf R absolutely slaughters the Evolution when it comes to interior design, materials, comfort, and refinement. It’s like being in a cut-rate Audi, and that’s not at all a bad thing. As a bonus, you can buy the R with either 2 or 4 doors.
Of course, there are a few areas that could use improvement. The R rides decently but might be a bit too firm for some. While the high roof line and hatchback body style translate into very good passenger and cargo room for a performance car, interior storage is rather poor.
It’s not cheap, either. The most basic 2-door model starts at $33,930, not including destination. Going for the version with the sunroof and navigation system adds $1,500 (2-door) or $2,100 (4-door). For 2013, VW has dropped the non-navigation/sunroof 4-door, so the only way to get that body style is to load it up.
In the end, though, the Golf R is a much better value for the money than a Lancer Evolution, and even many other like-priced sporty cars. They simply cannot match this car’s blend of performance, polish, and practicality.