My dental hygienist, of all people, had an interesting perspective on the collective psychosis apparently underway in the American public - which I like to localize to people's increasingly awful driving patterns and road rage.
It's all the antidepressants, she opined. They're making everyone nuts. I didn't disagree.
In instances of mass madness, my advice is to try to stay ahead of the zombie hordes, and if you need to do so in a speedy, agile and expensive-but-not-really-that-expensive kind of way, the new Volkswagen Golf R might just be the ticket.
As the new, sort-of replacement to the fearsome but low-volume R32 racer, the Golf R is indeed a mean little machine, with Volkswagen's ubiquitous 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine super-tuned to a feisty 256 horsepower. And with standard 4Motion all-wheel drive, the combination gives you plenty of tire-roasting blast to do your best to get out of the way of the nutcases.
Even better, working off of the very practical two- or four-door frame of the Golf, the little screamer still has a modicum of practicality at its core, though the gravity-defying cargo nets under the rear hatch are also a good sign that your groceries could otherwise go flying as you roar home.
Admittedly, 256 horses is small potatoes in a market where everybody's got a supercar engine - further adding to the mass psychosis, I imagine - but in the Golf's austere package (3,325 pounds, 101-inch wheelbase, 166-inch overall length), that enhanced boost is plenty. An enthusiast-friendly six-speed transmission was wonderfully slick and precise, as well, and is (happily) the only choice for the car.
Add the mid-bumper-mounted dual exhausts as a moderately noisy bonus and it's got "racer boy" written all over it. Should you choose to drive in that fashion, Golf R will reciprocate in kind, allowing you bursts of speed and daring acts of nearly magnetic cornering on those handsome 18-inch wheels. The AWD system can send all the torque to the rear wheels when needed.
Yes, there's significant turbo lag off the line, requiring the engine to be goosed to about 3,000 RPM to get a proper start, but beyond that, judicious use of the aluminum gas pedal always brings nice results. The engine tends to run with pretty high revs during regular highway cruising but is quiet when not being over-excited.
Golf R's driving feel is delightfully dynamic, which is a nice way of saying that be acutely aware of your local community's summertime paving patch jobs. It can be just a bit brutal. It's a sports car. That's the idea.
Holding you in place during your galavanting is a set of super-bolstered front seats that necessitated me scrunching myself into a rally driver position every time I sat behind the wheel. Casual drivers may find this a bit intense for non-combat-oriented driving.
The $36,360 price tag gets you a brightened but still generally basic cabin, with those shiny pedals, a flat-bottomed race-styled steering wheel, R-specific emblems on the seats and a bit of aluminum-ish trim throughout the cabin. Mine retained the seemingly navigation-ready but actually navigation-less touchscreen for the stereo system, plus an automatic climate system.
Outdoors, Golf's R edition gets a litany of aerodynamic add-ons, including extended side flares, a bit of extra nose work and very bright xenon headlamps and LED daytime running lamps.
The car is rated for as much as 27 mpg on the highway but I found that enthusiastic motoring turned in a number as low as 15; Golf R seems created with the enthusiastic motoring in mind.
Should you want to spend a bit more, you can also outfit the R with either a sunroof or an actual navigation system plus a 300-watt audio system.
An antidote to collective moral decay and societal breakdowns? Sure. And lots of fun to drive, too. Be careful out there.