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2013 Volkswagen Golf R: Turbo hatchback a smooth, powerful, fast gem

The new hot rod Golf R hatchback is for driving enthusiasts and is unchanged from its 2012 debut. Demand was strong for last year’s model, so Volkswagen said the R is being offered again in 2013 in limited numbers.

The R is the heir to the 2004 and 2008 Golf R32 models. It’s up against formidable rivals such as the BMW X128i, Ford Focus ST, Mitsubishi Evo, Mazdaspeed3 and Subaru WRX STI .

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The Golf R’s turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder is the most powerful Golf engine ever offered in the United States. It’s a gem that produces 256 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque. The smooth engine features dual overhead camshafts, 16 valves, variable valve timing and direct fuel injection. Throttle response is instant.

As a plus, the R also comes with a standard, advanced all-wheel-drive system.

The R is sold only with a slick, close-ratio six-speed manual transmission, which provides the fastest high-speed passing in third or fourth gear, although fifth gear also provides a decent 65-75 mph time if you’re not in a great hurry.

Clutch pedal action is light, but it has a long throw that can be tiresome in heavy traffic. No automatic transmission is offered. After all, this is a “driver’s” car—at least on open roads.

Sixth is strictly an overdrive gear, helping the R deliver an estimated 27 miles per gallon on highways. The in-town figure is 19, but you likely can add a few more mpg by shifting from first or second gear to fourth or fifth gear at 30 mph without lugging the engine.    I tested the Golf R two-door model, priced at $33,990. A four-door version costs $34,590. They have plenty of equipment, but you also can get the two-door R with a sunroof and navigation system for $35,490—or a four-door model with those features and a premium sound system and pushbutton start for $36,090.

Doors on the test two-door R were long with oversized outside handles. But getting in the backseat called for athletic moves, even though front seats slid forward to assist entry to the rear. And leg room behind the driver was tight, although the rear seats are nicely shaped.

Standard for the R are leather-covered heated front sport seats, automatic climate control, bi-xenon headlights, cruise control, adjustable multi-function wheel, backlit gauges with both a digital and regular speedometer, premium touchscreen audio controls with an 8-speaker sound system, easily worked climate controls, power windows with pinch protection and keyless entry.

Front cupholders are handily placed on the console, and doors have useful storage pockets.

The quick electro/mechanical power steering system can vary feel to suit speed and driving conditions.  Steering is controlled by a thick adjustable squared-off wheel and an all-independent sport suspension.There’s also the all-wheel-drive, larger disc brakes than those on the sporty Golf GTI model, 40-series tires on 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels and electronic stability control.

The ride is generally supple, but is on the firm side. Some roads cause a little head toss from side to side. The brake pedal has a nice progressive action.

Safety items include front/side air bags and side-curtain bags.

The Golf R has clean, minimalist lines, but a low front end for better aerodynamics can be damaged by parking lot barriers.

Giving the R a racier appearance are such items as subtly flared side skirts, a rear diffuser and a unique rear-roof spoiler. There’s also black brake calipers, mirrors, door handles and moldings.

Twin polished dual exhaust tips located together under the center of the new rear bumper help provide a race-car-style look.

The hatch glides up easily and has twin interior indents to help pull it down quickly without getting hands dirty on outside sheet metal. The cargo area is decent, and rear seatbacks fold forward and sit nearly flat to enlarge it. The pass-through opening from the trunk to the backseat is large.

With limited Golf  R availability, those who want an R may have to move fast to get one.

Pros: Fast. Fun to drive. Sharp handling. Supple drive. Standard all-wheel drive.

Cons: Tight behind driver. Manual transmission only. Long-throw clutch. Possible limited availability.

Bottom Line: Driving kicks with hatchback utility.

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.

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