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Road Tests

Volkswagen green-lights 'go-fast' Golf

2003 Holden Vectra: First look
2003 Volkswagen Golf R32

2003 Holden Vectra: First look
The best looking and most powerful Golf ever

2003 Holden Vectra: First look
Three gaping air dams add menace

2003 Holden Vectra: First look
18-inch wheels are good; low stance is better

2003 Holden Vectra: First look
Twin exhaust system tuned for more power

2003 Holden Vectra: First look
VW V6 powerplant makes 177kW @ 6250rpm

2003 Holden Vectra: First look
Interior styling is more than pleasing

The hot hatch heirachy in Australia is somewhat limp at the moment. Unless you count the WRX hatch, which is more of wagon, there aren't too many hatches that will make you grin like a kid long after you've exited the vehicle.

There's the Renault Clio Sport, which is extremely good value for money, and the Barina SRi offers enjoyable handling, hindered somewhat by sub-par performance.

But for those wanting something to put the V8 brigade to shame, there aren't a lot of choices, save for warranty-voiding modifications.

But 2003 is shaping up well for lovers of the small-but-nimble pocket rockets and herein we'll look at what Volkswagen will be bringing to the table in 2004.

Before we touch on VW's exciting new R32 Golf, other notable entries into the market later this year will be the juiced-up Corolla Sportivo, which swaps its raspy 100kW 1.8-litre mill for the (Yamaha-built) Celica's 140kW engine.

Alfa Romeo will also weigh in with its aspirational 147 GTA (click here for a full rundown), which is looking like the hatch to beat, yet the front-wheel drive transmission may be a moot point for many enthusiasts.

While the Japanese and Italian hatches are due for sale in May and June respectively, VW will weigh in with its golf R32 in early 2004. Better late than never...

But will buyers be able to wait - perhaps they'll be tempted by other models?

Only time will tell, but it would be fair to say that the most powerful Golf yet produced is no shrinking violet.

To begin with, the Golf R32, which was launched in Europe last year as a 2002 model, gets a number of styling mods.

These not only fit in with the more agressive driving dynamics, but also to help reduce drag and better supply the engine with air.

The front bumper is much bigger than any other model, lower to the ground and incorporating three large air dams to supply the engine with ample amounts of air.

Combined with side skirts and a much larger and lower rear bumper, they also help to reduce turbulent airflow underneath the vehicle.

The R32 also gets a nice little roof spoiler, and at the rear the larger bumper incorporates two rather intense chrome-plated exhaust pipes.

The 'agro' image is bolstered by 18-inch multi-spoke "OZ Aristo" alloy rims, shod with low-profile 225/40ZR18 tyres, and it even gets subtle blue window tinting - though whether this passes Australian design rules is unknown.

The R32's suspension has been given the once over in order to keep things competitive with stronger anti-roll bars making the cut. Sitting 20mm lower than the stock Golf, body roll is claimed to have been significantly reduced, which is most likely due to rebound and compression damping tweaks.

Braking is provided by larger 334mm ventilated discs up front and 256mm discs at the rear, also ventilated. The brake calipers are painted blue - to match the paint job - and are hooked up to ABS, EBD and even an electronic stability program for linear braking characteristics in all conditions.

One of the more interesting features of the upcoming hi-po Golf is its 4Motion all-wheel drive transmission. Coupled with improved steering response (just 2.25 turns lock-to-lock), the new Golf is expected to offer a seriously capable and sure-footed drive.

Sure, the 147 GTA will pull killer - albeit FWD - burnouts, but the Golf won't be plagued by torque steer, though Alfa reckons it's got this well under control.

Providing the VW hot hatch with movement is a front-mounted naturally aspirated 3.2-litre V6, and combined with a custom exhaust system - reported to have a lovely burble from idle to redline - it puts out some 177kW of power.

This figure may be adjusted for the Australian-spec R32 for fuel issues, but if it does, rest assured it won't be by much.

The narrow angle, DOHC, 3189cc 24-valve V6 is quite the piece of work, it's heady 11.3:1 compression ratio and continuously variable intake and exhaust camshaft adjustment helping to provide one helluva fat power band.

Peak torque of 320Nm kicks in @ 2800rpm, while peak power of 177kW doesn't arrive until 6250rpm. This equates to a hefty 3450rpm power band - the distance between peak torque and power.

But even with such a wide spread of acceleration and all-wheel drive, the R32 posts a 0-100km/h time of 6.5 seconds and can reach 247km/h using the six-speed manual transmission.

While this is bloody quick in anyone's book, the R32s potential is hampered by its excess of bulk. At 1477kg, it's one fat little hatch - but on the flip-side, you do get the upmarket interior treatment.

While the Golf R32 is available in only one colour at present (metallic deep blue pearl), the matching interior upholstery gives the car more flamboyance; an almost show-car look.

The front sports seats were developed by a German specialist and for the first time in a Golf the head restraints are integrated with the rest of the seat. With pronounced side bolsters, for improved lateral support during high-gee manoeuvres, the R32's heated seats are suited to touring, as well.

There's lots of brushed aluminium adding a prestige air to the interior, though the drilled metal pedal cluster and three-spoke leather steering wheel hint at its performance potential.

While the two-door R32 is currently only available, a four-door model will release in the EU mid-2003, and Volkswagen is also talking up a DSG model, which is their semi-manual gearbox that uses clutches instead of a torque convertor, like traditional automatics.

Expected to arrive on Australian shores in February 2004, for around $65,000, the Volkswagen Golf R32 is just what the doctor ordered - an all-wheel drive high performance Golf that will really shake up the hot hatch segment.

It's a shame cars like the ultra-light Honda Civic Type R and others never made it here, but perhaps 2003 will renew interest in the segment. Skoda and Fiat are also looking at bringing in their own pocket rockets later in the year, and who knows, maybe the genre will be limp no more?

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