2012 Volkswagen
Golf R

19 city / 27 hwy
2.0L, 4-cyl turbo, 256 hp

When it comes to uber performance, BMW has its M division, Audi its S designation, and VW its R moniker. We love the Golf R for its understated looks, which hides a beast under the hood.

By Tara Weingarten


Volkswagen’s new R is a raucous good time. Fast, faster, fastest among the brand’s extensive Golf hatchback lineup.

OK, so it’s not your typical mom car. But moms, just like flowers, come in different varieties. Who’s to say that a daisy isn’t just as lovely as a hollyhock? And so it is with cars. Some of us love the convenience of a sedan, or the utility of an SUV or minivan. Me? I’m a mom who loves sports cars. To me, the Golf R is the perfect mom mobile.

Before you write me off a as a nut case, please let me explain. I love to drive cars that handle tightly, that accelerate on cue, and that brake forcefully, on a dime. But I’m a woman. So that means I like style. I want a car’s interior to have soft, touchable buttons and dials, and to look sophisticated and contemporary. But I’m also practical, because, after all, I’m the point person in my family – I’m the one who does most of the grocery shopping, the schlepping, the errands. So I need a car that hauls people as handily as it does stuff. And why shouldn’t I have fun while doing mundane chores?

The Volkswagen Golf R is one of the few cars that combines sports car thrills with everyday utility. And that makes this mom smile.


The first thing I notice when I close the driver’s side door is the sound it makes . “Whomp!” Not “Tink” or “Plink”, nothing tinny. Rather, it’s a solid and satisfying “Whomp.” This tells me the build quality is there from the start. Then, I settle into the heavily bolstered leather seats. The side bolsters are there to keep driver and passengers in place while cornering, and they’re extra comfy because of it. No slipping and sliding on twisty turns.

Since the Golf R is VW’s sporty ride, everything inside is in keeping with the sport theme. There’s a super-soft perforated multi-function leather steering wheel (which is sculpted for an incredibly comfortable grip), a customizable sliding cup holder – because a cup’s circumference never seems to fit whatever size your car’s cup holder is – and aluminum foot pedals to make the R’s interior look extra racy. Oh, and there’s heated front seats, standard!

Gauges have brightly lit blue needles, that spring into action when the car is started. In all, the R’s interior expression is sport-minded. Stylish aluminum trim is contemporary and spare…no warm woods here. But overall, the R is very spacious, with room for five, and plenty of legroom for front and backseat riders, despite the car’s overall diminutive size. The hatchback trunk is plenty big for any large shopping expedition or road trip, but not commodious enough to accomodate a bicycle or other large piece of equipment, unless the backseats are folded down. Plus, the Golf R has five doors, counting the hatch trunk, which makes for easy access to the backseats.

Driving Experience

Here’s where the Volkswagen Golf R veers off the ordinary mom track. The Golf R is made for performance, pure and simple. If you love the smooth ride-feel of a Lexus or the large cocoon of an SUV, you can stop reading; the Golf R is not your style. But if you’re a speed junkie in need of a fix, your ride is waiting.

The R is sophisticated wheels. Very sporty but not rough or immature. Like other VWs, the Golf R is incredibly well engineered and feels solid and completely capable in tight cornering and in straightaways, where acceleration is wanted. It rides on beefy 18″ wheels.

The R comes in only one kind of transmission: manual 6-speed. Yay! For those of us who love to engage our left foot when we drive, hallelujah. And for the first time, the Golf R gets VW’s proprietary 4-Motion all-wheel drive, to make it stickier on the highway in wet or dry conditions.

Set alongside the gearshift, there’s a Comfort – Sport button. Pushing the Comfort button really does soften the ride, while the Sport setting stiffens the shocks to make the ride tight, and lengthens the shift times, so you can redline the RPMs and get all the power out of each gear. Of course, if you’re buying the Volkswagen Golf R, you know it’s not a Prius. In 211 miles of mixed city and highway driving, the onboard computer displayed an average of 17.8 mpg. Not bad for such fun performance, but not great when compared to ordinary car fuel economy. But this is no ordinary car…

When I exit the car, I take a glance back. The Volkswagen Golf R looks like an athlete. It is cut, muscular and reeks of that “I want to win” stance. With a 0 – 60 mph time of about 5.6 seconds (in the time range of much pricier BMWs and Mercedes), it has reason to look that way.


With all this power and performance, safety features are a must. The Golf R has six standard airbags, including side-curtain airbags. Six is good, but many cars in this price range are starting to offer as many as 10 airbags. The R’s brakes are performance-level, so they stop incredibly fast.

VW’s Intelligent Crash Response system jumps to action should the car be in a collision. It automatically shuts off the fuel supply, unlocks the doors and turns on the hazard lights. And a Crash-Optimized front end is designed to minimize injury to you and your passengers, should you rear-end the car in front of you.


Yes, for sure. It’s not the traditional choice, but we’re not all traditional. There is loads of room for five people and their gear. What more do most of us need?

Kid gizmos are few. There’s a complete sound system and that’s about it, as far as entertainment. There isn’t an option for a headrest TV screen. But frankly, I think some of us rely on them too much. Why is it bad for a kid to look out the window? That’s how imagination is developed, right?


Like all cars nowadays, the Volkswagen Golf R comes with certain expected electronics, including: Bluetooth, ipod cable, and a very cool-looking and easy to use touch screen for the audio system and optional navigation system. An optional 300-watt Dynaudio sound system with eight speakers sounds fantastic.

Other than that, the Golf R is pretty spare in its bells and whistles. Maybe it’s the Germans’ way of saying, “shut up and drive.”

Pricing and Trim Levels

The Golf R comes in only one flavor - great.

It is offered only in six-speed manual transmission, in two-door and four-door versions. Other than the navigation and premium audio systems, there aren't many options.

Two-door version: $34,760

Two-door version with sunroof: $36,320

Four-door version with sunroof: $36,920

Final Thoughts

All the utility of a hatchback and still all the fun of a sports car. VW is one of the few automakers that combines the two, and does it best with the R.

The engine, of course...oh, and the handling!

No compromise fun and practicality

Too few airbags. A car with this kind of performance should have more.

Wild factor

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9 Responses to “Volkswagen Golf R”

  1. jamie says:

    I have an 04 R32 best VW ever !! I dont like this body style but to each his own 🙂

  2. jamie says:

    I have an 04 R32 best VW ever !! I dont like this body style but to each his own 🙂

  3. Ronel says:

    Mmmmm I’m loving it…..and I want one please!!!!

  4. adrian says:

    I’m confused. It only comes in with a manual transmission so what does this mean:

    “left in Comfort mode, the shifts work to maximize fuel efficiency, and the car shifts more often into the highest appropriate gear”

    The car doesn’t shift, you do!

    • You are absolutely correct, and I have deleted that sentence. What was I thinking? I was channeling the GTI for a brief moment, and combined the two reviews. So sorry, and thanks for being an eagle eye!

  5. Sarah says:

    Great review! I’m thinking about purchasing one of these asap. My biggest concern, besides price to buy and own, is comfort. How is the back seat for passengers. I want to make sure my three-year-old can still fall asleep in the back seat. Thanks!

    • One of the things I love most about VWs is how small they are on the outside, yet super roomy on the inside. I am a big fan of the Golf. It’s sporty, fun, and still practical with the hatchback. And the backseat is plenty roomy for easy access to the car seat. I’d suggest bringing one to the dealership and a try it out. You’ll be surprised how ample the backseat really is.

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