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Volkswagen R32 rips to speed as all-wheel-drive sports coupe

Bob Plunkett
Date Posted: 5/10/2005

TALIHINA, Okla. -- We're cinched hard against the bolstered sport bucket in a cozy cockpit with hands pegged at three and nine on a padded steering wheel, feet tapping a jig across shiny aluminum pedals but eyes fixed squarely on the next bend on a squiggly ribbon of asphalt in the Ouachita Mountains of eastern Oklahoma.

Actually, we're screaming along this ridgeback route, which follows contours of the pine-studded hills over undulating pavement with dips and rises and incessant strings of esses and sweepers.

Big-time performance tires -- speed-rated 225/40ZR18 Michelin Pilot Sport rollers wrapped around 15-spoke O. Z. Aristo alloy wheels -- bond to the blacktop at all four posts, thanks to the electronically-controlled all-wheel-drive (AWD) system that's always engaged to keep the rubber sticking securely to any road surface.

And we've got so much power to play in this relatively lightweight machine, an aggressively-styled sports car cast in two-door hatchback coupe format off the chassis of a GTI VR6 Golf by Volkswagen of Germany.

It's badged under the simple alphanumeric name of R32.

That's 'R' for Racing and '32' for the 3.2-liter displacement of a uniquely designed V6 engine.

If you can recognize the shape of VW's Golf, a best-seller around the world, then the R32 will look familiar, although it's slammed and sculpted like a pumped up bodybuilder bent on steroids.

Those big wheels fill up the wheelwells and seem even more exaggerated because VW chops about an inch off the suspension to drop the body close to the pavement. Also, there's a low-down aerodynamic fascia mounted up front with curvy skirts on flanks and a wrap-around low bumper in back.

The smooth face, coated in monochromatic body paint, supports horizontal ventilation grilles with mesh inserts flanking oval multi-lens headlamp clusters.

At the lopped-off hatchback tail, a thick valence incorporates two round exhaust pipes tipped in chrome.

But the heart of this sports car beats below its swoopy front hood, where VW engineers managed to stuff a rather large aluminum-block engine into tight quarters.

This is the next-generation VR6 with displacement bumped up to 3.2 liters with variable intake and exhaust systems added and the six cylinders zigzagging in concise rows angled only 15 degrees apart to save space.

It spools up to 240 hp at 6250 rpm with the torque of 236 lb-ft peaking in a flat line between 2800 and 3200 rpm.

The translator for all of this power is limited strictly to one transmission -- a cable-shifting six-speed manual tied to a stubby little shifter stick.

All work well together to hurl the R32 down the pike to a speed of 60 mph in a fraction over six seconds.

And with this quickness comes a wily nature with superior performance traits tracing to a foundation on the platform of a fourth-generation Golf. It's composed of tailored blanks of sheet steel that vary in thickness. Through intelligent applications derived from computer modeling, the assorted metals are combined by selective means to increase strength of the platform and also reduce overall weight.

Further, laser welding and bonding of these materials in high-tech processes create a structure of unusual rigidity, which sets up a firm and stable foundation for attachment of suspension components.

The resultant chassis integrates energy-absorbing crumple zones fore and aft of a steel safety cage wrapping around the passenger compartment. Dual front air bags and side-impact air bags surround riders in the front bucket seats, and height-adjustable three-point safety belts hold them in place. Also, curtain-style air bags run along the headliner above side windows to shield riders in both front and rear seats.

Independent suspension in front with MacPherson struts and lower wishbones manages the impossible for front-wheel-drive (FWD) vehicles by virtually eliminating torque steer, whereby the car pulls to one side when rapidly accelerating or drifts to the other when braking hard. The effect is further tempered through the application of that AWD system.

The electronically-controlled AWD device by Haldex, a Swedish pioneer in traction management mechanisms, is an active-on-demand system with power split between front and rear wheels through a wet multi-plate clutch. Normally it's disengaged and R32 runs in FWD mode.

However, if on-board wheel sensors detect abnormal tire slippage, the coupling locks instantly and redirects up to half of the engine's torque to the rear wheels.

Power brakes, with ventilated discs in front and back, unite through computerized anti-lock controls (ABS).

In addition, brakes and engine tie to a traction controller, which VW labels ASR, for anti-slip regulation, and an electronic stabilization program (ESP).

The passenger compartment in R32 carries two Koenig sport bucket seats in front of a two-place jump seat with space behind in the hatch bay for gear. Rear seat cushions on each side flip forward independently as seatbacks also fold separately to form a flat floor and increase the cargo capacity.

Those Koenig buckets contain some of the biggest side bolsters in the business. Each envelops a passenger, pinning the torso in place during hard cornering maneuvers.

Analog gauges in the instrument panel revolve around a large tachometer and speedometer. The dials, girded by a silver bezel, flash a black face with white lettering and a red needle.

The center stack sets vents and climate controls above a boxy package for the audio kit and a trailing console with square metal clamp for the stick shifter's leather boot.

Premium stereo audio gear includes a Monsoon Sound System with CD player and eight speakers.

Also, Volkswagen maximizes equipment on the R32.

Items include VW's Climatronic automatic climate system, heat elements in both front seats plus windshield washer nozzles and side mirrors, one-touch up and down power controls for the two door windows, a power glass sunroof, anti-theft alarm and remote-control door locking, cruise control, a trip computer and rain-sensing wipers.

The MSRP for R32 -- constructed in VW's plant in Bratislava, Slovakia -- stands at $29,100, with leather seat upholstery the only option for $950.

    Description: Compact 2+2 sports coupe
    Model Options: Compact 2+2 sports coupe
    Wheelbase: 99.1 inches
    Overall Length: 164.4 inches
    Engine Size: DOHC 3.2-L V6
    Transmission: Auto/6
    Drive: AWD 4Motion (Haldex)
    Braking: Power 4-disc ABS/BA/ESP/ASR
    Airbags: 2 (front), 2 (side) , 4 (side curtain)
    Gas Mileage: 19/26 mpg
    MSRP Price: $ 29,100


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