EXPERT REVIEW

Mother Proof's view


I recently wrote a Kicking Tires article about finding the perfect second car. One of the second-car candidates could certainly be the 2012 Volkswagen Golf R, but what I wondered at the outset of my test drive was: Could this actually be a good first car, as well?

The 2012 Volkswagen Golf R has four doors, five seats and a six-speed manual transmission married to a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that’s perfect for anyone who loves to drive.

This all-new high-performance hatchback also can be had with two doors. All-wheel drive is standard, which helps set the Golf R apart from its less powerful Golf siblings and the GTI.

Zipping around in the Golf R made me feel young and sprightly, a task usually foisted upon the shoulders of a second car. The turbo engine and six-speed manual provided endless driving fun around town and on the highway. It really loved to zig and zag through the roundabouts in my town. The steering was tight but not stubborn, and the braking was solid. There was plenty of acceleration for this mama, and I thought that I could easily pretend to be in racing school while picking up take-out food.

The Golf R with two doors has a starting price of $34,760, including a $770 destination charge. My four-door test car cost $35,360.

EXTERIOR
The Golf R stands apart from the Golf with a grille that’s separated from the air dam by the bumper. Angled standard bi-xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights look slick. I especially liked the standard rear spoiler and dual exhaust pipes that made the rear look quite sporty.

This small car is big on access. It sounds hard to believe, but a four-door hatchback is great because there’s no sloping roofline, which is the source of aching backs and head bonks when loading kids into child-safety seats.

The doors with their simple pull-handles are easy for older kids to open, but younger kids may require some help. With its low step-in height, it was easy for my family to get in and out of the Golf R. What my school-aged kids really loved to do in it was open the hatch from the outside. The Volkswagen symbol tilts up to open the hatch, so they were excited to put stuff in and out of the cargo area. They also were excited that they’re finally tall enough to do it independently.

The cargo area was surprisingly adaptable. It fit my son’s hockey bag, which he could put in and take out by himself. The pass-through to the backseat also allowed him to toss his hockey stick back there without issue. I didn’t need to fold the seats down, but they’re split 60/40 in case a reason arises. I managed a small Costco trip and a grocery store run with the available trunk space. Any bigger trips could be handled with the seats folded.

The 2012 Golf R has a 256-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that’s paired to a six-speed manual transmission. It gets an EPA-estimated 19/27 mpg city/highway, and it requires premium gas.

SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair-Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On

INTERIOR
The Golf R’s interior looks like that of the regular Golf, but with upscale touches such as aluminum trim and pedals, leatherette door panels and leather seats.

The heated front seats are very welcoming. Bolsters hugged me in turns and kept me in place, and the tilt/telescoping steering wheel ensured that I was comfortable while driving. The multimedia system’s touch-screen radio and climate control system were easy to use; I liked the radius-layout of the radio that rotated through each set of preset stations. Nifty! What’s even niftier is the sculpted steering wheel. It sounds silly, but I felt like a racecar driver whenever I was behind the wheel.

The first row has two cupholders and a cubby ahead of the gearshift; it’s shallow, but it’d hold a gadget, a wallet and something small. The center console is small but deep, and it also contains a USB port.

Three can fit in the backseat but only two child-safety seats, and legroom is good overall. Two cupholders are found in the fold-down armrest, and each door had a bottleholder.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

SAFETY
The 2012 Volkswagen Golf has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To earn this safety nod, a car must receive the top score of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests. The Golf received a score of four stars out of five in a rollover crash test by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Golf R has two sets of lower Latch anchors in the outboard seats. They’re easy to use because they sit out in the open. A rear-facing infant seat fit easily in the Golf R, but my daughter’s wide booster didn’t fit properly in the seat. Find out how the 2012 Golf R performed in Cars.com’s Car Seat Check.

Standard features in the Golf R are all-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with traction control, adaptive headlights, active front head restraints and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows.

Get more safety information about the 2012 Volkswagen Golf R here.

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