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Red hot Golf shot

07 August 2004

VOLKSWAGEN'S Golf R32 is a very naughty little jigger with attitude.

This hot three-door hatchback, a latecomer from Germany, is forever encouraging a quick blat, forever suggesting there is more to motoring than A to B and back for a latte at barista John's hole-in-the-wall.

Bored on a quiet piece of country road? Drop back through the six-speed gearbox and run the V6 through to the redline. At least in second, elsewhere the redline may see illegal speeds.

Bored on the milk run to the shops? Drop the windows and hold a lower gear for maximum aural effects.

Bored on a Sunday morning? Roll the Golf machine out to the nearest bit of mountain road and allow the all-wheel drive chassis to impress.

Maybe the Golf R32 is ultimately not as engaging as Alfa Romeo's 147GTA. And maybe the new generation Golf at the end of 2004 will date this hot machine's style. Maybe $63,000 is a bit too much for a small, three-door machine with limited accommodation.

Then again, maybe we should all be driving fridges.

THE Volkswagen Golf R32 lives up to most of the hype as the fastest, most powerful Golf on the planet.

The 3.2 litre V6 pulls out 177kW at 6250rpm and loves going there. The twin-pipe exhaust note is tuned for enthusiasm, on a cruising throttle there is always this insistent, but sweet, drone drifiting in from behind the driver.

VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system brings out the best in the chassis. Unlike front-drive Golfs with too much happening up front, the all-drive here turns the Golf into a pleasant, very capable, drive car.

For all the go, the VW is big on understated show.

The fans recognise it, many give it nary a second glance, handy in some situations.

It sits low with front and rear spoilers and sideskirts, the exterior menace is left to healthy air intakes, the twin pipes and those so pretty 18-inch alloys hunched up in the flared guards.

There is a timeless sports style and just that discreet hint of muscle to the bodywork.

Inside is dark and German.

The seats are leather and Konig up front with plenty of support and adjustment. There are some bits of brushed aluminium here and there, airconditioning, CD player and stereo plus trip computer, cruise control and a meaty steering wheel for maximum grip.

There is little room in the back seat and some luggage space out back. It would do for a week for two.

The joy, the reasoning is in the driving for this R32 Golf has a decent degree of performance, from that willing engine to a compliant but balanced chassis happy to cope with hamfisted efforts to turn 320Nm of torque into go-forward motion.

It moves off the line without fuss, jumps from standstill to 100km/h in 6.6 seconds according to the factory. Top speed is an autobahn respectable 247km/h.

All the way through the gears the V6 is quick and flexible. From 100km/h in sixth gear, with around 2500rpm on board, the Golf accelerates with little drama; from 10km/h in first it rockets and then on and on, all the while with that sweet exhaust note.

Then there is the attraction of attacking corners, backed by all-wheel-drive, electronic differential lock, traction and stability controls.

The R32 can be tipped in with decent entry speed, little hint of understeer, and rocketed out with the right gear.

Perhaps that rack and pinion steering is slightly slower than the Alfa 147GTA but the upside is less front wheel fight and a softer approach where the Italian may bump harder.

For the biggest surprise with this tied-down Golf is the compliant ride.

For all its race-bred grip and handling there is a decent compromise on ride quality, the VW is smooth (if not always whisper quiet) over rough and nasty pieces of bitumen although it will still bump-crash into the potholes.

This compliance helps keep the Golf's wheels on the deck and helps keep front wheel fight at bay.

It is a controlled and composed package, always willing and hard to upset.

It takes some effort to unsettle the package although the short wheelbase here and there leads to some pitching.

The Golf is perhaps not as involving as Alfa's 147 GTA but it is a very credible street fighter, with a more relaxed approach than its rival.

Latecomer or not, the Volkswagen Golf R32 is a little (and expensive) bundle of motoring joy.

The Courier-Mail

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