Are you game enough to give Golf a spin around the block?
BY TOM INCANTALUPO STAFF COLUMNIST
Just as beauty, the line between excellent and excessive is in the
eye of the beholder. Volkswagen's newest and hottest Golf offers a case in
For a starting price of $29,675 with freight, the R32 pulls away
from other Golfs in more ways than one, with a 3.2-liter, 240-hp. six-cylinder
engine, all-wheel drive, specific suspension and steering, a lowered chassis and
seats and a rich menu of safety features.
The "R" stands for "Racing."
The "32" denotes the 3.2-liter displacement. And VW says zero to 60 happens in
6.4 seconds -- quick, though beatable by many other cars. Premium unleaded fuel
is recommended by VW. The R32 is a delight to drive, not just because it handles
with agility and grace, but also because it doesn't beat up its occupants with a
brutal ride, as do some performance models. You can take long trips without
concern in this sporty car.
To this beholder at least, the R32 is a
delight to look at, too, with its 18-inch alloy wheels and low-profile tires and
its front and rear valences and side skirts.
R32 Engine: 240-hp., 3,4-liter
V-6. Transmission: Six-speed manual, all-wheel
drive. Safety: Dual front, side and curtain-type air bags;
4-wheel disc brakes with antilock and electronic stability control;
daytime running lamps; fog lamps; shoulder belts in all five
seats. Place of Assembly: Bratislava,
Slovakia. Weight: 3,409 pounds. Trunk: 14 cubic
feet. EPA mileage rating: 19 mpg city, 26
highway. Price as driven: $30,625, including destination
next most capable Golf version, the six-cylinder GTi, begins at a more
affordable $22,645, with a 2.8-liter six, an older version of the R32's, that
makes just 200 hp.
The question prospective R32 buyers will have to
decide -- assuming they can find one of these very limited production cars -- is
whether the added capability and added features of the R32, some of which are
available in lesser Golfs, justify the extra $7,000 in price.
quite decide. The way the R32 launches from a stoplight and the absolutely
wonderful brrrrrratttt of the engine's twin pipe exhaust seemed worth a premium.
So did the R32's high level of equipment. Automatic AC, sunroof, Monsoon stereo,
rain-sensing wipers, telescoping steering wheel and power everything certainly
But once the car has reached cruising speed, it is difficult,
at least under American driving conditions, to sense much difference between the
R32's handling and that of a GTi, a fine car in its own right.
also a question, given that a new Golf is due here late next year as an '06
model, whether it's wise to invest so much money in an older
And if you can't or prefer not to drive a stick shift, this
whole discussion is academic because the R32 isn't available with automatic
VW spokesmen say 5,000 R32's are being built in the '04
model year for American buyers and that not all of them have arrived here or
been spoken for. But, they add, there won't be an '05 R32.
If you'd care
to bump your R32's price even higher, there is one factory option: leather
upholstery, which added $950 to my tester's pricing, bringing it to
Complaints? Just a couple. The heater/AC controls are small and
very low on the dashboard's center stack, making them difficult to locate on the
move, especially at night.
Combined with the large doors, the seats with
their huge side bolsters render it nearly impossible to slide in and out of this
car gracefully when there's a vehicle in the adjacent parking stall.
if this were an American or Japanese car priced at $30,000, it probably would
have power-operated seats.
A guest driver complained that the electronic
stability control and/or traction control jumped in to help uneccesarily, but I
never sensed either of them doing their thing. Once in those seats, though, they
cradle just as Mom did, and the front buckets are manually height
Overall, the R32's interior works well and looks good, with
alloy pedals and accenting. Safety features include curtain-type air
Competitors you might want to consider include the Mitsubishi
Lancer Evolution (271-hp., four-cylinder turbo, about $28,000), the Subaru
Impreza WRX STi (300-hp. four, about $31,000), Acura RSX Type S (200-hp. four,
about $23,000) and the Dodge Neon SRT-4 (230-hp. four, about
The Golf has gotten good ratings overall by the Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
gives the 2004 Golf a top five-star rating for frontal protection and a
four-star rating for side protection based on the government agency's crash
One final issue needs to be dealt with: While there is no
information publicly available about the R32's quality, Volkswagen and its
dealers have scored poorly in the last two J.D. Power and Associates studies
measuring customer satisfaction and dependability. And Consumer Reports rates
the Golf and similar Jetta much worse than average in reliability based on the
magazine's annual reader survey.
That's not encouraging when one is
considering a $30,000 car. But VW does warranty the R32 powertrain five years or
60,000 miles and offer four years or 50,000 miles of free roadside
@text: Aston-Martin has released more details about the DBR9,
the car that will lead the British automaker's planned return to racing in
Based on the production DB9, the GT racer is being prepared by
Aston's racing partner, Prodrive, based in Banbury, England.
Racing says it will make a very limited number of DBR9 racing cars available to
The company announcement gave no technical
information about the DBR9 and did not disclose the cost to build it. Production
DB9s, being offered now in two-plus-two coupe versions with a convertible due in
fall, start at $155,000. They are powered by 450-hp. V-12 engines. -- Tom
@text: 2004 Volkswagen R32
Engine: 240-hp., 3,4-liter
Transmission: Six-speed manual, all-wheel drive.
front, side and
curtain-type air bags; 4-wheel disc brakes with antilock
and electronic stability control;
daytime running lamps; fog lamps;
shoulder belts in all