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2004 Volkswagen R32











2004 VW Golf R32


Shahed Hussain

The Golf R32 is the ultimate evolution of the Golf GTI. AWD, 6-speed manual, 18 in wheels, and sport seats are part of the performance-oriented features that distinguish the R32 from lesser Golfs. Comparisons to the Lancer Evo and Impreza WRX STi show that the R32 is a slightly different animal. While the Evo and STi emphasize frantic performance from their highly boosted 4-cylinder turbo motors (2.0L/271-bhp and 2.5L/300-bhp, respectively), the R32 is powered by a robust 3.2L VR6 that cranks out 240-bhp. The VR6 is shared with the new Audi TT DSG6, but gives up 10-bhp to the Audi.

Like all Golfs, the R32 has the tall boxy profile that betrays its practical roots. The Tornado Red paint and aggressive front fascia announce that this is no ordinary Golf. Dual exhaust tips and 18 in. wheels shod with 225/40R18 performance tires further emphasize the performance intentions of the R32. Blue painted calipers attract attention to the huge vented front and rear brake discs.

The 3.2L VR6 now has a 24V cylinder head that allows the engine to breathe all the way to the 6500 RPM redline. Torque is plentiful above 1500 RPM, and the VR6 rarely needs to be wound to the redline for decent acceleration. A throaty rumble from the fat dual exhausts confirms the potency of the VR6. At full throttle, the engine note is simply delightful, and is best experienced with the windows down, and the Monsoon audio system turned off.

A close-ratio 6-speed manual is the only transmission available. The 6-speed shifts cleanly, with just a hint of notchiness. Transmission ratios are spaced to keep the VR6 in the fat part of its torque curve. Fifth gear is perfectly usable at 45 mph, with acceptable throttle response. The clutch engages abruptly in the last 20% of pedal travel. This is most noticeable when selecting 1st gear, where the R32 will lurch about or stall without smooth throttle inputs. In the higher gears, the engine and clutch engagement characteristics are smoother and less annoying. The R32 is equipped with VW's 4Motion AWD, which does a superb job of distributing torque evenly. Only the slightest hint of torque steer is noticed under acceleration over bumpy roads, where the steering wheel will twitch slightly when shifting gears.

Leather covered Konig sport seats are heavily bolstered and eminently suited for performance driving, and long road trips. Although the seats lack power controls, very few adjustments are needed since they are so comfortable. However, only the narrow hipped will be happy with these seats, since the bolsters will squeeze drivers with wider backsides. Polished stainless steel trim on the doors and console set off the dark gray hues that predominate the cabin. Gas, brake, and clutch pedals are rubber tipped stainless steel, and include a large dead pedal. The slick graphics of the HVAC controls can't disguise its needless complexity. It is baffling why VW cannot standardize its HVAC controls within the product line.

The R32 is equipped with low profile performance tires, and ride motions are predictably firm. Nonetheless, the R32's suspension damping is comfortable over nearly all surfaces, although large potholes will make the driver wince at the prospect of expensive wheel and tire damage. Tire noise is noticeable over concrete highways, but is never objectionable. Despite the tall Golf body, suspension roll is surprisingly well controlled. Steering effort is rather high, especially at low speeds. On the highway, steering becomes reassuringly firm and communicative. Even at speeds up to 110 mph, the R32 displays remarkable composure, and never drifts from its intended line.

There is no doubt that the Golf R32 is a superb enthusiast car. The real question is that if there are 5000 enthusiasts who are willing to pay for the ultimate Golf. These dedicated fans will appreciate the R32's performance in a sleeper package.

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