2012 Volkswagen Golf R review: Taming the hot hatchback

That close-ratio six-speed does not help much on the freeway, either. In sixth gear the engine speed pushes 3,000rpm at 65 mph, leading to the car's 27 mpg highway number. City EPA mileage is all the way down at 19 mpg, so don't mistake the Golf R for an economy car. I found that, over a course of driving involving freeways, pounding down mountain roads, and not too much stop-and-go city traffic, the car turned in 23.6 mpg. There are other cars you should look at if fuel economy is your top priority.

No nav, no problem
CNET's two-door model lacked the navigation option, which is also oddly tied to the sunroof in a package. The basic head unit in the car included a full range of digital-audio inputs plus full-featured Bluetooth hands-free phone integration, which might be all you need if you use your phone for navigation. To make using the phone and stereo easy, VW puts a touch screen in the center stack, standard.

2012 Volkswagen Golf R
Even without the nav option, the VW Golf R still features this LCD touch screen. James Martin/CNET

The interface for this system is straightforward, with buttons on the bezel for radio, local media, and phone. Once I paired my phone with the car, I had access to my contact list on the touc screen or through voice command.

Pairing up a phone with the car enabled Bluetooth audio streaming as well. However, I did find that, using an iPhone 5, the stereo automatically switched to Bluetooth streaming even when I plugged the phone into the car's iPod integration cable using Apple's 30-pin-to-Lightning adapter. For more detail on iPhone 5 integration with the Golf R, read " Volkswagen versus iPhone 5 ."

With an iPod cabled to the Golf R, the touch screen shows a music library interface, through which you can browse music based on album, artist, and genre. This system works, but does not show extras such as album art. Voice command includes some control over the stereo, such as next track, but it does not let you request music by name.

The iPod cable in the Golf R is actually an adapter for a proprietary music system port, not a USB. VW makes other adapter cables available for USB drives, Mini-USB, and a simple auxiliary port, although the Golf R comes with latter input mounted in the console. There is also an SD card slot below the touch screen, if you want to go that route.

2012 Volkswagen Golf R
The Golf R requires this adapter for integration with Apple's new Lightning connector. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The navigation and sunroof package includes an upgrade to Dynaudio speakers, but I found the base system offered reasonable sound. It comes with eight speakers standard, with nice, clear audio. This system could be improved with more bass and a more powerful amp, which it might be better to get from the aftermarket then the upgrade.

If you were to get the navigation option, it would be VW's RNS 315 head unit, a flash-memory-based system. Although in other VW models I've found this system performed well, it does not have much in the way of features. For example, the lack of real-time traffic data is a big miss in any modern navigation system.

At a good bit over 30 grand, the Golf R is a pricey, albeit unique car. It makes for incredibly fun driving on back roads, while at the same time exhibiting a reasonable character around town. VW's tech options are solid, if basic. For a bit less money, you can have almost as much fun in the VW GTI. And anyone considering the Golf R should also take a drive in the Ford Focus ST, which has a similar handling character and practicality, and better cabin tech.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Volkswagen Golf
Trim R
Power train Turbocharged direct-injection 2-liter 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission
EPA fuel economy 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 23.6 mpg
Navigation Optional flash memory-based system
Bluetooth phone support Standard with contact list integration
Digital audio sources Bluetooth audio, iPod integration, SD card, USB drive, Mini-USB, auxiliary audio input, satellite radio
Audio system Eight-speaker system
Driver aids None
Base price $33,990
Price as tested $34,760

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  • Trim levels 2dr
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About The Author

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET. Prior to the Car Tech beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine. He's also the author of "Vaporware," a novel that's available as a Nook e-book.