By: Derek Price
executives must have looked at the Subaru WRX and
Mitsubishi Evolution before coming to a conclusion:
"We want one of those!" |
And who can blame 'em? The WRX and Evo are two of the
hottest cars on the road, with frighteningly
powerful engines, grippy all-wheel drive, and
suspensions that make them corner like slot cars.
To match those Japanese hot rods, Volkswagen started
with the tried-and-true Golf body and added enough
performance upgrades to make it feel more like a
racecar than a commuter vehicle. In fact, there were
so many changes that VW decided to drop the Golf
name and call it the R32 -- R as in racing, and 32
as in a big, 3.2-liter V6 under the hood. More on
Unlike the competition from Subaru and Mitsubishi,
though, the R32 doesn't resort to cheesy styling
gimmicks like exaggerated hood scoops and monster
spoilers that loom over the trunk. Instead, it
relies on very subtle aerodynamic changes to improve
downforce and engine cooling efficiency.
Volkswagen says the R32 was freshly designed, but the
basic Golf shape is obvious. It only has different
bumpers, a larger grille opening, different side
skirts, a small rear spoiler, and darkened
taillights. The biggest and best-looking change is
that of dual exhaust pipes in back.
Inside, the R32 uses high-back bucket seats with
supportive side bolsters designed to hold you in
place in high-speed corners. It also comes with
alloy pedals, a leather shift knob, redesigned
instrument cluster, three-spoke steering wheel, and
plenty of badges to remind you what car you're
Despite the striking family resemblance to the Golf,
the R32 is no economy car -- not even close.
To start with, this lightweight body has a monster
powerplant. Volkswagen took a high-output version of
its six-cylinder VR6 engine and squeezed it into the
little R32, giving it a ridiculous 240 horsepower
and 236 pound-feet of torque. It's enough to reach
60 miles per hour in a neck-snapping 6.2 seconds.
Next, VW added its all-wheel-drive system called
4Motion. Not only does it help when the roads are
slick, but it also gives the car very neutral and
predictable handling at the limit.
Finally, engineers re-worked the Golf's aging rear
suspension into a fully independent design, one that
allows a crisp, precise feel without riding too
harsh over bumps. Throw in a six-speed manual
transmission, and you've got one radical Golf.
So how does it drive? I've never ridden on a rocket,
but I bet it feels something like this crazy
Acceleration is phenomenal. Stomp on the gas in any
gear, and the R32 surges ahead with confidence. It
has the kind of speed and agility that make you want
to zip through traffic and race from every
Better yet, it has the kind of real-world drivability
that both the Mitsubishi and Subaru lack. While both
those cars have rock-hard suspensions that can
rattle your spine, the VW's ride is surprisingly
supple for such a race-tuned suspension. It corners
beautifully, but it doesn't make you pay for it with
trips to the chiropractor.
Assuming you can live with the inherent comfort issues
in a high-performance compact car, there are only a
couple of downsides.
First, it doesn't stand out. While VW's designers
should be applauded for avoiding the outlandish
boy-racer look that plagues many sport-compact cars,
they nevertheless should have done something to
improve the Golf's boring hatchback shape.
And finally, the R32's $29,100 starting price is too
high. Sure, it's amazingly fast, but VW demanding
that much cash for a souped-up Golf seems just plain
arrogant, especially considering the basic Golf
starts under $16,000.
That said, the R32 is an impressive machine. It shows
that Volkswagen can compete head-to-head with the
headline-grabbing screamers from Japan, meeting --
and in some cases even exceeding -- their lofty
Boy, oh boy, is this thing fast! A high-output V6
engine coupled with a slick six-speed transmission makes
it one of the quickest cars around. All-wheel drive
helps handling, too.
Thirty thousand bucks is a lot to pay for a VW Golf,
no matter how fast it is, and the plain-Jane body
doesn't match its flamboyant feel.