2013 Volkswagen Golf R Road Test & Review
The car credited with launching the “hot hatch” category of automobiles, Volkswagen’s GTI occupies a prime parcel of mountaintop real estate in the minds of automotive enthusiasts. After all, the GTI proved a practical and economical car could deliver driving enjoyment too.
Still though, for some, the “standard” GTI doesn’t offer enough performance.
To appease this small, but influential group, Volkswagen brought back the “R” version of the Golf (the car upon which the GTI is based) for the 2012 model year. The previous “R” car offered for sale in the States, the Volkswagen Golf R32, was sold from 2004 through 2008. As its name implied, that car ran a 3.2-liter version of Volkswagen’s VR6 engine, along with all-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission.
Given the contemporary version of the car is running a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four cylinder engine, and given the alphanumeric “R32” sounds so much more powerful than “R20”, the numeric part of the suffix was omitted for the current “R” Golf.
However, the “R20” makes more power than the R32, even though it runs a lower displacement engine. This enables the 2013 Volkswagen Golf R to enjoy both a horsepower and weight advantage over its 2004 predecessor, while also besting it in fuel economy.
2013 Volkswagen Golf R Road Test & Review: Models & Prices
Starting at $34,195 ($34,990 including VW’s $795 destination charges) the two-door Golf R comes quite nicely equipped. For the first time, with this iteration of the R-badged Golf, Volkswagen is also offering an R car with both two doors and four — just as does the GTI.
Pricing for that four-door version falls right in line with VW’s GTI pricing. The company charges $600 more for a four-door GTI than it does for a two-door and the four-door Golf R’s pricing follows a similar pattern, starting at $34,795 ($35,590 with destination charges).
There are two Golf R trim levels: Golf R and Golf R with Sunroof and Navigation. The two-door with Sunroof and Navigation starts at $35, 915 ($36,710 with destination), while the four-door thusly configured starts at $36,515 ($37,310 with destination).
2013 Volkswagen Golf R Road Test & Review: Design
The Golf R’s performance potential is pretty evident simply from looking at the car.
Coming up in your rear-view mirror—aside from the pace at which it will be advancing upon you—you’ll know it’s a Golf R because the front bumper has a deep chin spoiler containing additional air inlets giving the car a decidedly hungry look. Further, its high-gloss piano-black radiator grille is framed by two sets of LED Daytime Running Lights integrated into the housings of the Bi-Xenon headlights. BTW, those headlights turn with the steering wheel to improve night visibility in corners.
As the Golf R passes, you’ll be treated to a view of gloss-black-painted brake calipers peeking from behind the spokes of a set of substantial looking 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, wearing low profile tires. These bookend the flared side skirts lacing the lower edge of the Golf R’s body.
And finally, when the Golf R passes, and you get a view of the rear of the car, the center-mounted chrome twin tailpipe array is framed by a racing-style air diffuser, which is also finished in gloss black. Hard-core VW fans will also note the rear spoiler is larger than the one fitted to the GTI.
2013 Volkswagen Golf R Road Test & Review: Comfort & Cargo
Building upon the already outstanding interior treatment of Volkswagen’s Golf and GTI models, there wasn’t a whole lot the product planners needed to do to make the Golf R a standout. That said, the overall Golf R layout is similar to both of those models.
The seats are firm, nicely bolstered and very supportive during the ground-based acrobatic maneuvers the Golf R so readily inspires. Similarly, the instrumentation and location of all the major controls is logically configured. You’ll also find a unique steering wheel—specific to the Golf R—as well as an exclusive shift knob and doorsill plates.
Fast though it may be, the Golf R is Volkswagen Golf nonetheless. This means a 60/40 split folding rear seat with a center pass-through. The Golf affords some 15 cubic feet of cargo space before folding that rear seat. And, of course there is the convenient hatchback tailgate to make loading objects easier.
2013 Volkswagen Golf R Road Test & Review: Features & Controls
Opening the doors of the Golf R you’re greeted with R-specific aluminum kick plates in the doorsills. You’ll also find the logo embroidered in the headrests of the front seats and gracing the shift knob. The R’s instrumentation is adorned with blue needles as opposed to the red ones in the GTI. More aluminum is employed as trim for the dash, door panels and the pedal set.
The centerpiece of the Golf R’s interior is without question the leather-wrapped flat-bottomed steering wheel. More than just a styling statement (although it is also highly successful at that task) the design helps you keep track of how much steering lock you’ve dialed in, based on the positioning of the flat part of the wheel.
The Base model Golf R comes standard with dual zone automatic climate control. A touchscreen audio interface conducts the eight-speaker stereo system, which also supports iPod connectivity and Bluetooth streaming for both audio and telephony. Opting for the Sunroof and Navigation package garners all of the above plus, yes; a sunroof and a GPS nav system — in addition to keyless entry and push-button start.
2013 Volkswagen Golf R Road Test & Review: Safety & Ratings
The suite of safety gear found in the GTI and Golf carry over to the Golf R. This includes driver and passenger front and side thorax airbags with Side Curtain Protection head airbags in the front and rear passenger compartments.
Like all VW models, the Golf R also features Electronic Stability Control as standard equipment. Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR), and an Electronic Differential Lock (EDL) are fitted to the Golf R as well. The Golf R’s hill hold function automatically applies the parking brake when the vehicle comes to rest and the brake is depressed in traffic. This prevents the Volkswagen from rolling uncontrollably while you engage the clutch to set the car into motion. The brake is released once you press the accelerator pedal.
Volkswagen's Intelligent Crash Response System shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and switches on the hazard lights in the event of a significant collision. In IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) crash testing, the Golf R’s GTI sibling earned a top rating of "Good" in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) awarded the GTI four stars (out of five) in its rollover testing.
2013 Volkswagen Golf R Road Test & Review: Engine & Fuel Economy
Producing 256 horsepower and 243 ft-lbs of torque, the 2013 Volkswagen Golf R’s double overhead cam 2.0-liter, inline four cylinder engine is turbocharged and features direct fuel injection — along with variable intake timing to maximize both low-end torque and high-end horsepower
The engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission — which in turn, feeds all four wheels through a Haldex clutch pack. In steady state operation, the majority of the engine’s output is routed to the front wheels, but this is infinitely variable. So infinitely variable in fact, the system is also capable of routing 100 percent of the engine’s output to the rear wheels instead of the front.
Some 56 horsepower more powerful and delivering 36 more ft-lbs of torque than the version of the 2.0-liter turbo four fitted to the GTI, this is the most powerful production Golf engine ever offered in the United States.
With it, Volkswagen estimates the 2013 Golf R does 0 to 60 in less than six seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 130 mph. Fuel economy is estimated by the EPA at 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Which, ironically also makes it the most fuel-efficient engine ever fitted to a U.S. bound Golf R model.
2013 Volkswagen Golf R Road Test & Review: Driving Impressions
The first thing you’ll observe upon setting off in the Golf R is the sound of the engine. The smooth muted growl of the intake, supported by the urgent burble of the exhaust note combine harmoniously to let you know right away the car got skills.
Acceleration, though exactly in the pin-your-cranium-to-the-headrests category, is quite satisfying. Further, the feel of the car on the move promises considerable cornering prowess — and it delivers.
The Golf R uses an upgraded sport-tuned suspension system and more powerful brakes than the GTI. It also gets a unique set of 18-inch wheels. Further, the Electronic Stability Control system has been re-calibrated to enable the driver more control.
The rear suspension is configured such that the shock and the spring work somewhat independently of one another, while they also work together. Located separately on each side of the car at the rear, the coil spring bears directly on the trailing link while the shock absorber is attached to the wheel hub assembly. This enables the generation of a toe steering effect to help maintain neutrality in the corners, making the car a bit easier to control in extreme situations.
This, you will very quickly come to recognize when you find room to run.
With 60 percent of the car’s weight in its nose, there is a bit of inherent understeer — however the all-wheel drive system keeps that nicely in check. Another benefit of the all-wheel drive system is the way it lets you get all the power down to the ground without worrying about torque steer as you would in the front–drive GTI…if it had this much power.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it here, when it comes to steering, a number of manufacturers would do well to reverse-engineer Volkswagen’s setup, as they get it spot on. VW’s steering system is one of the best out there and it is put to great use on the 2013 Golf R. What’s more, the company’s engineers specified a quicker steering ratio for the Golf R than even the GTI’s to improve the Golf R’s responsiveness and feel. The result is sharper turn-in while still delivering nicely linear reactivity with outstanding transitional abilities.
When it is time to convert speed into heat, the braking system demonstrates a willingness to do so repeatedly and predictably. The Golf R gets vented 13.6-inch discs up front, with 12.2-inch discs in the rear. This means the Golf R’s rear discs are only .1 of an inch smaller in diameter than the front rotors fitted to the GTI. ABS is standard, along with electronic brake pressure distribution (EBS) and hydraulic brake assist (HBA).
My only complaint performance-wise is the rubbery shift feel of the six-speed gearbox. You so have to pay attention, because its gates aren’t very sharply defined. Clutch take-up on the other hand is. You’d have to have two right feet (or otherwise try) to stall a Golf R.
2013 Volkswagen Golf R Road Test & Review: Final Thoughts
With the transition from R32 to “R20”, Volkswagen has made marked gains in performance for their halo car. While the version of the car we get is somewhat less capable than the one European buyers enjoy, the U.S. version of the Golf R still stands up as the most powerful performance model Volkswagen has ever offered in the United States.
Yes, in the Golf R’s $35,000 price range, there are quite a few other performance cars available. However, none really offer the exact combination of standard features, power, handling, sophistication, utility, and the all-important German pedigree embodied in the Golf R.
Happily, it appears we’ll get other R version VWs in the near future. Production of a Beetle R was recently announced. Hopefully, this will mark a trend for VW, wherein the performance potential of more of its models get unlocked and offered to enthusiast drivers here in North America.
2013 Volkswagen Golf R Road Test & Review: Pros & Cons
• Powerful, smooth and fuel-efficient engine
• Superior traction and handling from all wheel drive
• Strong performance coupled with remarkable practicality
• Upscale standard features
• Power seats would've been nice
• A DSG too
• $35,000 — for a Golf?
• GTI is almost as much fun — for about eight grand less
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