16V 2.0L swaps into Mk 1s. Slammed VR6s with zero-clearance airdams. Chipped 1.8Ts sitting low on H&R springs. Four grand worth of deep-dish BBS rims on a three grand car. Then one day you wake up with a mortgage and a kid and they’re playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the oldies station.
Everybody’s gotta grow-up sometime, even members of the Dubber cult, and while a pristine 1984 GTi is something of a collector item, you wouldn’t trust your offspring to its lightweight construction and quarter-century old safety systems. So hang up your flat bill, swap the hoodie for a blazer, dump the neon-laced skate shoes for a pair of Allen-Edmonds and buy a sensible crossover.
If your blood type is VW, you don’t have to, as Volkswagen has this for you: ein über-Golf. A 256-horsepower, turbocharged hot hatch that’s only available with a close-ratio, 6-speed manual transmission. It’s got signature 18” alloys, aggressive front intakes, R-logo’d black brake calipers and a centre-mounted twin-tip exhaust. Inside, there’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel, aluminum accents and more “Rs” than a pirate convention.
And yet, this is no hopped-up sauerkraut rocket suitable only for the saggy-panted boy racer crowd. It’s actually quite discreet. Yes, it’s more aggressive than a standard GTi, but only to those who know what to look for. If you’re not a slavering Golfist, it’s just a nicely-appointed four-door hatchback with a sweet stance. You could even call the interior Audi-ish. Perhaps all those Rs stand for reserved.
Also reminiscent of Audi is the price. At $39,675, the R also apparently means really expensive. A Subaru STI would be slightly less costly, and a regular GTi undercuts the R by almost ten grand.
In the dry, it’s hard to see why you’d pony up the extra Deutschmarks. The R is composed and certainly possessed of stonking mid-range oomph from its turbo 4-pot (nicked from the Audi TTS), but it’s heavier than the regular GTi and tends to suffer from AWD bog off the line. It’s less playful; fast, but not even a little bit furious.
Overall, it felt a bit more “hmm” than “woo!”
And then it rained.
In the wet, the R suddenly clicked. Yes, it’s very quick, but also incredibly stable and feels safe. There’s no hooligan wheel spin, no torque-steer, just controlled grip. It stays flat through the corners, yet is comfortable over rutted pavement. Sharing a platform with the four-door Golf makes the R a practical family choice as well – easy to pitch to a suspicious spouse.
With a six-speed manual as the only transmission, the R is a purist’s choice, but will be longer-lived than DSG-equipped cars and have better resale down the road.
To the uninitiated, you’ve made a sensible choice. Roll past a parking lot full of shaggy VW fans and, well, sometimes it’s good to be the king.
2013 VW Golf R
Base price: $39,675