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2012 Volkswagen Golf R

When it comes to constructing the “hot-hatch” Golf R, Volkswagen certainly knows a thing “R” two.

The automaker is able to call up the requisite firepower and related performance content from its parts bins to build the kind of machine that will attract new fans to the brand that might otherwise end up at a Mitsubishi, Subaru or BMW/Mini store.

Volkswagen has been down the high-output road with the Golf before, specifically for the 2008 model year with the short-lived R32 that featured a 250-horsepower V6 and all-wheel-drive. Now the automaker returns in early 2012 with yet another pumped-up Golf-based model designed to thrill and delight the masses, or at least those who appreciate a tightly proportioned vehicle that can haul like the dickens in every sense of the word.

The R comes it two- or four-door models with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 256 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque. By comparison, the GTI, now relegated to being the second sportiest Golf on the lot, also comes with a 2.0-liter turbo-four, but it’s rated at 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. Credit for the R’s extra spunk goes to the turbocharger system that delivers considerably more boost than the GTI’s. For strength, VW says that the R’s internals — including the crankshaft and connecting rods — have been beefed up.

The R also comes with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system that is not available as part of the GTI package, which is front drive. During ideal road/weather conditions, all of the R’s power is directed to the front tires, however when they begin to slip, up to 100 percent of the torque shifts to the rear wheels.

The R’s sole transmission is a six-speed manual, which is somewhat surprising given that the German automaker already builds a faster-shifting state-of-the-art paddle-operated manual gearbox for use in other Golf models. Still, VW claims that the stick-shift R will hit 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, which is quick enough for most folks. Be advised, however, that the R takes premium fuel. Economy is rated at 19 mpg city and 27 highway, but it’s doubtful that many buyers will be inclined to pussyfoot through the gears in an attempt to match those “official” numbers.

Obviously the R is a true driver’s car and that means a firm-riding, body-roll-reducing suspension, added braking power and a businesslike interior with well-bolstered front seats (covered in leather), aluminum pedals and a squared off leather-wrapped steering wheel (the latest trend these days). The R’s styling clues include a gloss-black grille, large air intakes below the bumper, a large rear roof spoiler and twin exhaust pipes. As a finishing touch there’s a set of unique 18-inch wheels.

For $34,800, including destination charges, the two-door model provides climate control, high-intensity (bright) xenon headlamps and an eight-speaker sound system with the requisite audio and communications connectivity. For $1,500 extra, a power sunroof, up-level 300-watt audio package, remote keyless entry (and start) and touch-screen navigation are added. These items are standard when the four-door R is selected.

Not to be undervalued is the R’s highly practical shape that, with the rear seat upright or folded flat, offers considerable stowage space.

Other cars might make more content available, from blind-spot warning systems intuitive/active cruise control, pivoting headlamps, and the like, but the Golf R is having none of it. It concentrates on enriching the driving experience through generous helpings of power without ballooning the price through indiscriminate applications of luxury fluff and superfluous safety gadgetry.

On that basis alone, the R is tough to beat.