2012 Volkswagen Golf R
There are a couple of pronounced down sides to this whole transformation, and one of them is weight. At about 3,450 pounds, the Golf R weighs about 400 pounds more than a base VW GTI. While the R still gets the favorable power-to-weight ratio, the other down side comes into play: the powerband is a bit narrower, peak torque is reached at 2,400 rpm instead of 1,800 rpm, and there's a noticeably more turbo lag. And actually, we couldn't help but think that VW's DSG would be a better pick here for keeping the turbo on boost. So in all, the R doesn't feel that much quicker than a GTI—even if the R is faster in flat-out acceleration runs.
Which leads to one final price (and perhaps sanity) point: With pretty much an equivalent level of equipment, the 2012 Volkswagen GTI with the Autobahn Package totals $31,365. So the cost of the Golf R, and its 56 more hp, all-wheel drive, and numerous performance improvements, is only around $5,500. There—depending again on what you seek—it might be totally worth it. On the other hand, the base Golf R adds more than ten grand to the price ($24,675) of a base GTI.
A league above tuner cars
While the Golf R competes easily with the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Ralliart, it lacks the heavy-breathing edginess that characterizes the Mitsubishi Evo especially, and also the Subaru STI and even the front-wheel-drive MazdaSpeed3. But as far as interiors go, the Golf R feels an entire league above those lowly 'tuner' cars. Or, spend just a few grand more and you could have a base Audi TT.
In all, we can't help but think that the Golf R appeals more to a very special kind of Vee-Dub enthusiast, and less to the general go-fast crowd.
Perhaps that's for the best. And perhaps in admission of its price/appeal equation (and keeping in mind it's manual only), VW is only planning to move 5,000 of these over a two-model-year run (2012 and 2013), making it a relatively low-volume model.