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2012 Volkswagen Golf is going, going, gone

The burning question is: Why would you spend $3,500 over a front-drive GTI, which is an exceptional vehicle in its own right? In a word: handling.

I might as well have had a bull?s eye printed on my shirt.

When VW Canada made the decision to bring in 500 examples of the 2012 Golf R, they had the likes of me squarely in their sights.

To elaborate, I?ve been a serial GTI owner since the Pennsylvania-built Rabbit GTI came on the scene in 1983, and over the years have spent more money on wheels, body kits, cams, throttle bodies, suspension bits and ECU chips than I care to admit.

So VW was right to assume there would be enough middle-aged, moneyed V-Dub nuts out there who would eagerly plunk down 40 grand for this all-wheel-drive uber Golf.

Except the ?moneyed? part, I qualify.

Ah, the money. For the few days I had this $39,675 Rising Blue Metallic hatch, I motored around completely unnoticed, and when the price was mentioned to the uninitiated, it elicited a blank stare.

The ultimate VW Q-ship, then.

Underpinning the Golf R is the drivetrain from the Audi TTS, which bestows a Haldex all-wheel-drive setup and a version of VW/Audi?s ubiquitous 2.0 L direct-injection turbo-four, making 256 hp (4,300-6,000 r.p.m.) and 243 lb.-ft. of torque (2,500-5,200 r.p.m.).

The Canadian models are all five-door hatches and fitted with a slick-shifting, six-speed manual transmission. To keep the price within the bounds of reality, the European-spec adaptive suspension and twin-clutch, six-speed DSG transmission are not on the option list.

In fact, there is no option list. The aforementioned price includes heated leather sport seats, bi-xenon headlights, 18-inch alloys (all-season 225/40×18 tires), sunroof, heated windshield washers, Sirius satellite radio, 300-watt Dynaudio, Bluetooth and media interface, dual-zone climate control, proximity key with push button start and touch-screen navigation.

Paint colour is the only purchase decision: Rising Blue Metallic, Candy White, Deep Black Pearl, Tornado Red or Carbon Steel Grey Metallic.

So the burning question is: Why would you spend $3,500 over a similarly-equipped, front-drive, 200-hp GTI, which is an exceptional vehicle in its own right?

One word: handling.

A regular GTI defaults to understeer when leaned on ? a Golf R doesn?t. Indeed, under normal driving conditions, the R operates mostly as a front-driver. But attack a series of S curves or put the hammer down mid-corner and, by gosh, you can feel a push from the rear wheels that has the Golf carving with an unerring neutrality that is most un-GTI-like, and very satisfying.

Adding to the R?s dynamic edge is its lowered ride height, sport suspension and a more favourable front/rear weight distribution, thanks to the extra 4Motion hardware in the rear. Through all this, the ride is firm but never harsh ? a very well-judged setup. Refinement is the overriding characteristic.

The Golf R uses electro-mechanical steering and, although this more-efficient and widely adopted system has sent steering feel to hell-in-a-hand-basket of late (even BMWs are hit-or-miss), the R?s helm is VW-classic direct, accurate and feelsome. They have something figured out in Wolfsburg that has so far eluded most other manufacturers.

As with the Audi TTR, there is some noticeable turbo lag in the Golf R because the added urge comes higher in the rev range ? it feels a bit flat-footed below 3,000 r.p.m. when compared to the GTI. The action starts above 4,000 and, unlike a typical turbo-charged engine, the 2.0 L four sails to its 6,500 redline with a vengeance and a purposeful snarl.

VW doesn?t release zero-to-100-km/h stats, but with its extra 132 kilograms to move about, I doubt if the Golf R is that much quicker than a regular VW GTI with six-speed manual.

This is where disciples of the all-wheel-drive turbocharged Subaru WRX STi and Mitsubishi Evo, bragging 305 hp and 291 hp respectively, will roll their eyes and question the sanity of anyone spending forty large on a wannabe Golf that will choke on the dust of their highly-focused Japanese rally-rockets.

Fair enough, but the Golf R is a different animal, despite the conceptual and mechanical similarities. The VW?s quality interior, civility and premium feel impart a sense of maturity that those other scrappers don?t have, and we?ll see a corresponding differentiation in buyer demographics.

Another thing the Golf R has in spades is exclusivity. All 500 of the 2012 cars are sold, with only 250 more coming for 2013. We can?t blame Volkswagen Canada for that ? it asked for more.

Yes, if I were in the market, I?d trade in my 2001 GTI for a 2013 Golf R pronto. The quality, utility, rarity and push from the back wheels has me sold.

What about those taunts from the STi/Evo crowd? Nothing an aftermarket ECU chip and some performance tires wouldn?t fix. . .

Uh oh.

2012 VW Golf R

PRICE: $39,675

ENGINE: 2.0 L direct-injected turbocharged inline-four

FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: 10.5 city, 7.9 hwy.

POWER/TORQUE: 256 hp/243 lb.-ft.

COMPETITION: Subaru WRX STi, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, VW GTI, Ford Focus ST, Mazdaspeed3

WHAT’S BEST: quality, handling, exclusivity.

WHAT’S WORST: all-season tires, already sold out in Canada.

WHAT’S INTERESTING: only three colour choices for 2013.

  • 2012 Volkswagen Golf is going, going, gone
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