By David Colman
I have never experienced a press roll out like this in more than 20 years of attending Volkswagen events in the United Sates and Germany, Usually, the occasions focus on one or two new models with long, complex drive routes scheduled to foster a maximum driving experience. This year, there were multiple models available, but in a three-hour window.
Here are my brief impressions from either a 15-mile or 25-mile Northern California loop that encompassed flat and hilly driving conditions in the Half Moon Bay and San Mateo areas:
2012 VW GOLF R
This baby is a “little bomb.” The Golf R replaces the Golf R32, which has come and gone in several iterations during the past decade. The R32 features all-wheel-drive and a VR6 engine displacing 3.2 liters (hence the R32 moniker). The Golf R, built in Wolfsburg, Germany, keeps the AWD, but loses the V6 in favor of a 256hp version of the GTI’s 2.0 liter TSI turbo motor. Suspension is recalibrated for the R, with new 18-inch alloys tacking premium Pirelli P Zero Nero rubber (225/40R18) to the ground. The R is the first turbocharged Golf sold in the U.S. With a base price of $33,990, it provides an enormous driving pleasure for minimal cost.
2012 VW JETTA SPORTWAGEN TDI
The station wagon variant of the Jetta is a family hauler, especially when you pair the practical body style with the ultra-efficient turbo-diesel engine which returns 42 mpg on the highway. Throttle response of the engine is immediate, linear and torquey. Interior space seems boundless, with 32.8 cubic feet of space available with all seats erect. This storage nearly doubles to 66.9 cubic feet if you drop the rear seat flat. Base price of the TDI wagon is $25,540. This Jetta is the only diesel wagon you can currently buy in the U.S. The huge sunroof turns the interior into a delightful greenhouse. Handling is competent, but ultimate grip is limited by the hard compound ContiProContact 225/45R17 rubber.
2012 VW TIGUAN
You sit high in the Tiguan with the horizontal steering wheel defining a not particularly sporty driving position. A freshening of the grill, headlights and tail lights for 2012 distinguishes the latest Tiguan from earlier versions. The front-wheel-drive model retails for $22,840. Pricier versions include AWD. Fuel economy improves to 27 mpg (highway) if you order the six-speed automatic gearbox. This automatic allows you to swap cogs via the floor mounted stick, but does not offer steering wheel paddles. On our short test hop, the power steering felt overboosted. Like the Jetta Sportback, the Tiguan also features an enormous, inviting sunroof. The Pirelli Scorpion Verde rubber (255/40R19) on our optionally fitted test vehicle clung tenaciously through the endless switchbacks entering Woodside.
2012 VW TOUAREG HYBRID
On the twisty drive route through the redwood forest, the Hybrid felt heavy and unwieldy. The regenerative brakes seemed to have a different engagement point each time I needed them. The Michelin Latitude tires (265/45R19) offered mediocre dry weather adhesion. But the supercharged 380hp gas/electric combination certainly has enough grunt to boot you up the backside with a memorable wallop. The cabin furnishings are first rate, but so is the sticker price of $61,980. For the price and indifferent mileage of 20 city/ 24 highway, the Hybrid will take years to compensate for its price premium over less expensive Touaregs like the 225hp TDI diesel version or 280 horespower V6 model. But if you’re looking for a poor person’s Porsche, this Hybrid V-dub is the answer. It shares much componentry with Porsche’s $69,000 Cayenne Hybrid.
2012 VW BEETLE
After having spent a full week earlier this year with the new Turbo Beetle, the base model of the same car was a pleasant revelation. I think its wingless shape looks better than the Turbo Beetle’s. Likewise, the response of its 2.5 liter, 170hp in-line 5 is less peaky and more predictable than the 200 horsepower produced by its turbocharged sibling. In addition, the base Beetle feels lighter and more nimble than the turbo model. In fact, on all those redwood bordered switchbacks, this Bug invited you to chuck it from apex to apex with abandon. The optional 6-speed automatic transmission worked optimally in sport (manual) mode, but the Beetle proved a resolute understeerer thanks to low grip Bridgestone Turanza EL (235/45R18) tires that accentuated the front end plow. Still, with a base price $19,795, plus an $800 allowance for a replacement set of sticky rollers, this latest redo of the Beetle proved itself an entertaining, worthy driving companion.