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Russ Devault's Test Drive

Rocket-ship zip in a small frame

VW tops Beetle, Phaeton with spunky Golf R32

Cox News Service

June 18, 2004

After coming out a clear-cut winner with its new retro Beetle and a financial loser with the super-luxurious Phaeton sedan, Volkswagen zips off in a totally different direction with its 2004 Golf R32 hatchback.

The R32, a subcompact two-door, is a little powerhouse. It has a 240-horsepower V-6 engine, a six-speed transmission and enough standard goodies to make options superfluous (except for buyers who absolutely must have leather seats).

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The R32, to put it simply, is a midget rocket ship, capable of briskly jumping away from traffic lights and many of the cars on the road today.

The V-6 is a fast-acting monster — rumbly exhaust is standard — and the six-speed shifts smoothly. It's virtually miss-proof when using up the 236 pounds-feet of torque the quick-spinning V-6 develops at 2,800 rpm.

The test R32 was much more fun to drive than the Beetle or the Phaeton, and high-revved launches aren't necessary to enjoy it. Just poke at the pedals and watch the speedometer climb. It's tempting to leave it in third or fourth gear.

Road & Track, while noting the performance enthusiast characteristics of the R32, goes on to say the hatchback is "about being the best Golf ever, a hot little hatch that cleverly combines speed, poise and everyday livability with the likable, unassuming personality of a Volkswagen."

Its positive attributes also include more occupant-coddling features than the Beetle and more practicality than the Phaeton. Fortunately, for potential buyers, its price is a lot closer to that of the $16,000-and-up Beetle than the $65,000-and-up Phaeton.

The test R32 totaled $30,625 with the only addition to its base price of $29,100 plus $575 delivery being leather seating for $950.

It came with a strong heater/AC and an eight-speaker CD stereo. Safety features included an electronic stability control system and smooth-stopping anti-lock disc brakes set off by blue-painted calipers visible through the 18-inch alloy wheels. Note that there is no spare for the 225/40 performance tires, just a temporary flat-fixing kit.

As might be deduced from that omission, there isn't lots of room in the R32, which has a 98.9-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 164.9 inches. It is 56.7 inches tall and weighs about 2,800 pounds, which helps explain why VW claims the R32 can leap to 60 mph in about six seconds.

It obviously benefits from VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive system; otherwise, it would be shredding front tires every time full power was applied.

There may be some question about who will find it most appealing, though. Is the R32 going to reel in mature enthusiasts who can still squeeze into a subcompact or younger buyers looking for an alternative to cars such as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Subaru WRX or even BMW's 3-Series?

Regardless of where they're coming from, shoppers might find the R32 an eye-opener. It's totally unlike anything VW has offered North America recently, but it's also totally likable.


Specs:

Test vehicle: 2004 Volkswagen Golf R32 all-wheel drive two-door wagon

Price as tested: $30,625 (base price: $29,100 plus $575 delivery)

Drivetrain: 3.2-liter V-6 engine (240 horsepower), six-speed manual transmission

Safety features: dual front and side air bags, front and rear head-protective side air bags, power anti-lock disc brakes with blue-painted calipers, side-impact beams

Other standard features include: automatic climate control, CD/cassette stereo with Monsoon sound system, height-adjustable and heatable Koenig sport front seats, rain-sensing wipers with heated washer nozzles, rear wiper, full blue/red lighted instrumentation, power heated mirrors, power windows and locks with keyless entry, cruise control, trip computer, height-adjustable telescoping steering wheel, alloy interior trip with "R" logos, glass sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/40 performance tires (tire repair kit replaces spare)

Option on test vehicle: leather seating, $950

EPA figures: 19 mpg premium unleaded city, 26 mpg highway

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