San Antonio Business Journal - November 8, 2004

Business News - Local News

From the November 5, 2004 print edition
Auto Review

High performance Golf joins ranks of executive toys

Cathy Luebke

Volkswagen is touting a high-performance R32 this year as a limited-edition of its Golf hatchback, which is about a year away from a redesign that will take the little VW into its fifth generation.

That's "R" as in racing and "32" as in 3.2-liter V6 engine.

The two-door hatch looks sporty and squeals off the line. But while it gets the attention of boy-racer types around town, its $29,100 asking price and luxury surrounds make the R32 more of an executive toy.

Auto buffs may sense a similarity here to hot-rod sport compacts from Subaru and Mitsubishi. The R32, however, is not quite that wild.

Both the Subaru WRX STi and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution boast more horsepower and zero-to-60 times of 5 seconds or less, making them the fastest cars on the planet for 30 grand. They also look the part, particularly the STi with its snarly hood scoop and giant rear spoiler. And they ride like race cars, meaning your backside will feel every ripple in the road.

The Volkswagen checks in at 240 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, which still makes for a fast 6.4-second zero-to-60 sprint. Its road manners make for a far more civilized ride than the Subaru and Mitsubishi.

The R32 engine is a tweaked version of the 2.8-liter VR6 that powers the Golf GTi, a sporty ride in its own right that prices about $7,000 less, but cuts horsepower to 200. A slick six-speed manual transmission is the only choice.

In addition to being fun to drive, the R32 is wired for safety. The base price includes side airbags and head curtains, fog lights, daytime-running lights, all-wheel drive, electronic stabilization system and antilock brakes.

Leather seats are a $950 option, but the list of standards is impressive for this price range: heated seats, Monsoon sound system, sunroof, remote locks and rain-sensing wipers to name a few.

Although it doesn't have the extreme look of the STi, Volkswagen's R32 looks like it means business. Dual chrome exhaust, ground effects, rear spoiler and especially the 18-inch alloy wheels offering a glimpse of blue brake calipers tell the world this is a high-performance ride.

Inside, "R" logos are emblazoned on the highly supportive sport seats. A three-spoke steering wheel, alloy foot pedals and matching trim complete the package.

The R32 is small, making it impractical, but raising the fun factor with its light-footed agility.

Getting into the front seat over the door sills and high seat bolsters is no prize, and squeezing in the back will be a tough sell to your friends in this two-door hatch. At least the front seat flips forward with the touch of a button (which unfortunately came off in our tester).

The seats themselves are difficult to adjust with manual knobs and levers rather than power controls. On the plus side, there is a fair amount of room for cargo, especially if you fold down the rear seats.

The R32 is not a car for everyone, but Volkswagen is making a limited number -- no doubt expecting the attention-getting model also will lead buyers to the GTi.

Trivia tidbit: The Volkswagen Golf, a replacement for the old Beetle, dates back to 1974 in Europe and was introduced in the United States four years later as the Rabbit. Production topped the popular Bug in 2002 with 21.5 million units sold.

Cathy Luebke is managing editor of The Business Journal in Phoenix and can be reached at

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