First Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Golf R

The questions start almost as soon as the 2012 VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R presentation begins.

Why doesn't it have more power?
Why target the Subaru WRX STI and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution?
Why does it cost so much?
And why do the Euros get all the fun stuff (again)?

Let's take it from the top.

"This will be the most powerful VOLKSWAGEN GOLF ever offered," says Andres Valbuena, VW's VOLKSWAGEN GOLF product manager. "The last was the 250-horsepower VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R32 [released in 2008]. The 2012 VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R will have more power and greater fuel efficiency."

How much power? The exact output has yet to be determined, but the VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R should make around 260 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque for North American markets. That's a huge bump in output over the GTI (200 hp/207 lb-ft), given that they both use essentially the same 2.0-liter direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder. It's also an impressive pop over the last-generation R32, which made 6 fewer horsepower from a 3.2-liter V-6.

But some of the shine dims when we learn European VOLKSWAGEN GOLF Rs will come with 270 horsepower. Why? VW considers America a "hot market" with climate conditions that could prove disastrous for the over boosted 4-banger (R boost pressure is 17.1 psi vs the GTI's 11.7 psi.) Bummer.

 Then Valbuena mentions the VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R's competitive set and alarm bells really start ringing.

STI? Evo? Are you kidding?

Apparently not. For the first time VOLKSWAGEN GOLF history, VW's vaunted 2.0T powertrain will be paired with 4Motion all-wheel drive (aka Haldex-4). Along with the traditional two-door hatchback, VOLKSWAGEN GOLF Rs will also be offered as a four-door hatches for the first time in U.S. markets. This combination of turbos, cylinders, driven wheels, and doors clearly invites comparisons with Japan's elite rally racers.

Valubena and Co. not only welcome comparisons, but claim they're ready for them. "The VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R promises to be more like a Subaru WRX STI or Mitsubishi Lancer Evo than an R32," he says.


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