We cross shopped this '12 Golf R for a few months against both new '13's and some early introduced '14's --- namely the Golf GTI (second choice if we couldn't get the price down on the Golf R), Scion FR-S (great car but cheap materials and skimpy backseat w/o much practicality); Prius C (great mileage but cheap, cheap, cheap and no stick available); Fiat 500 Turbo (well put together, clutch a little balky, small rear seat), Focus ST (just wouldn't fit in the garage -- Recaro seats way too bolstered to be comfortable, nice looking though) and Fiesta (we were waiting for the ST but drove a Titanium w/stick; SYNC system just terrible, long throw shifter, cheap interior bits and smallish rear seat --- plus we sat in a '12 used one with only 30K miles on it and it was failing apart --- headliner falling down, cloth seats were pilling and weatherstrip on doors was already sagging ... not a good sign, perhaps it was a well used rental).
The GTI after all was one of the earliest hot hatches and the R model just takes it a step above (of course in our opinion); check out the R if you can find one ...
Rising Blue 2012 Golf R
This review is specific to the Golf R model which is a turbo 2.0 L with all-wheel-drive that we bought as a CPO with 13K miles. The Golf R is set apart from all other Golf's in VW's line by only coming (to the U.S.) with a manual 6-speed trans. It's a 'subtle' performance hot hatch that when new ismuch more expensive than a 'loaded' GTI. In our mind, it's not for everyone but it's a low volume (only 5,000 sold per year) fun car you simply don't see on every street corner. The engine pulls hard with quick acceleration and little to no torque steer as its AWD. The 6-speed has nice short throws and the clutch sweet spot lends itself to quick shifting. The engine/trans in the R is the same as what you'll get in an Audi TTS which is much more expensive but of course more sporty looking than the Golf R. VW does an excellent job with these small displacement 4 cyl engines --- quite smooth and way over built (you can easily add more HP in 'stages' and still not overstress the engine); quiet when cruising but plenty of power when shooting down a ramp or for passing.
Materials & workmanship
We compared this Golf R to a number of similar sized but different price ranges of hatchback 'performance' manual trans cars just to see if the fit and finish and materials were all that much different. We've owned a number of VW's in the past and their interiors never disappoint; we haven't spent much time in the recent U.S. made VW models but those made in Germany or Europe are always a touch or two above the Asian and domestic brands. The soft touch materials used, the way the doors close, the seat comfort and the 'gaps' in the hood, trunk, doors so a lot of attention to detail you simply don't find in others. To some (perhaps many) these aspectsdon't matter but if you do plan to keep your car for a number of years it will make a difference on how fast things may wear out or look after just a few years.
Driving position & visibility
Being more upright and no raked back windshield helps with visibility and the seat adjusts in height for a great driving position. Site lines out all 4 corners are great as well.
The Golf R model, adds horizontal LED DRL's built low in the grill, which has much larger openings as well as a a few piano black accents (door mirrors, rear valance, grill, etc.) very subtle and 'handsome'; not boy racer at all.
Warranty, maintenance cost
Lastly on the plus side; especailly with CPO and the remainder of scheduled maintenance -- all new VW's come with 3 years of 'free' maintenance, this car has two more scheduled maintenance under VW's plan at 20 and 30K miles as well as we get 2 more years or maintenance coverage so it's actually a bit better than just buying new. The program covers everything except 'wear' items so is quite good.
Price or payments
We would not have bought this car new -- the MSRP starts at about $35K and goes up from there but being a CPO we avoided the 1st year depreciation plus a bit and this made it almost equivalent to others we were looking at. VW's (other than some of the U.S. made ones) have not been known to be 'inexpensive' but we think they are worth the premium just not this particular model when new.
Audio & nav systems
We avoided getting the navigation system on this model (ours is a 'base' car) as the screen is quite small and not worth the extra cost (no rear camera bundled with it either although with the great visibility really not needed) --- the base radio is HD, has a slot for SD and comes with iPod connector and Sirius trail and so far it's decent but skip the navi.
the last aspect (also can be avoided) would be to skip the sunroof on this model; it's just too small for the money. We might add an ASC (American Sunroof Corp) later as we've done that in the past with two other cars we've owned but it would have been nice if they offered the one that comes on the Scirocco (not sold in the U.S.) but skipping it saves you a few bucks. With our being a '12 ours has auto climate control (works quite well and very felxible) but doesn't have the auto headlights which could matter to a few buyers but not us.