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VW Golf R is small, fast, but worth extra cash? –

The 2012 Volkswagen R is an extraordinary small car, one that will let us say in hindsight that these were the good ol’ days.

It’s a superb driving machine, almost unbelievably satisfying in most circumstances.

And it’s remarkably expensive. But, then, the limited-edition R comes round only once every four years. VW will build 5,000 of the new one, then quit. Period.

In another four years there’ll be an R version of that generation Golf, VW says. Just as there were 5,000 of the 2004 Rs, and 5,000 2008 Rs.

So, maybe you’re getting sufficient exclusivity for your $35,000 or so to justify spending that much on a VW economy car that’s been force-fed the industrial equivalent of steroids.

The Golf R is no relation to VW’s confusingly named R Line, a cosmetic package it sells to tweak the look of various models. The R Line includes no high-performance hardware, just visual gimcracks.

What makes this Golf R differ from its two predecessors:

•It is powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder instead of the V-6 in the 2004 and 2008 Rs, which has caused some initial grumbling among the faithful.

•It is available as a four-door, not just the two-door model of the earlier Rs. That’s an attempt to let the household’s lead-footed patriarch or matriarch justify buying a Golf R —because it’s a four-door and thus family-friendly, right?

In truth, the R does have a fair amount of room in back for the overall size of the car. So it could be the family buggy until the kids grow to basketball-star size.

Golf R comes only with a manual transmission and all-wheel drive. The clutch action is light and engagement is gentle. The gear lever moves with a casual precision that leaves you with a sly smile simply from moving it through the gears.

The test car never became tiresome in traffic, never jerked and bucked from too-little low-speed power as you engaged the clutch.

A four-cylinder with turbocharger and stick-shift is an invitation to stumblebum behavior in stop-go situations. Such engines…

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