Test: Volkswagen Golf R32
Feann Torr - 10/May/2007
Golf GTI has already proved beyond a doubt that the small car platform
is a great base
for a performance car. We've reviewed the Golf GTI - twice -
we love it to bits. It's one of the best performance hatchbacks of this
But can the Golf handle more
car maker seems to think it can, and so the Golf R32 was commissioned:
out with the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and in with a more
powerful and seriously sonorous V6.
only does it get a bent 6-cylinder engine matched up to a
6-speed manual or the acclaimed dual shift gearbox (DSG), but
the car also benefits from a neat 4WD system and
wheels, providing it with the kind of grip levels that kung fu heroes
can only dream about.
The Golf R32 is more expensive
than the GTI, and drinks more fuel, but that's pretty much where the
The range-topping, fire-breathing
Volkswagen Golf gets a more sophisticated interior than it's
little brother, a more
serious look with a meaner looking body kit, and when
the range starts at less than $55,000 people are going to stop and take
notice. It's in a similar price bracket as the Mitsubishi Evo
and Subaru WRX STI,
and though it's not quite as powerful as its banzai
Japanese rivals, it's also far less raw.
kind of car
that offers both enthusiasts and discerning drivers very serious levels
of performance, yet doesn't skimp on the finer
elements of modern day motoring. And it's built in Germany so
benefits from all the things you'd expect of a prestige
car, including solid build quality, good fit and finish and a fair
amount of luxury too.
But is it $15,000 better than
the Golf GTI? Let's find out:
Model: Golf R32
Transmission: 6-speed dual clutch
Engine: 3.2-litre, Vee 6-cylinder,
Safety: 8 airbags (driver/front
passenger (x2), front side (x2) and front and rear curtain airbags
(x4)), ABS, ESP, EBD, ASR, AWD
Volkswagen's Golf R32 is not
hatchback, powered by a lusty 250hp V6 engine
The Golf R32 does exhibit body roll when
hard, yet is a remarkably rewarding car to drive
has more Golfs than most butchers have sharp knives, and even this
range topping model is offered in four different versions. We
tested the most expensive model, the 4-door DSG-equipped Golf R32, and
I must admit I was hoping to drive the entry-level $54,990
This is because it's the
entry-level car is a 2-door model (more street cred) with a 6-speed
manual which I reckon would make for a more involving drive, as the DSG
can sometimes feel a bit 'artificial'. But hey, I'm not
complaining as this model is slightly quicker in a straight line thanks
to the DSG, and being a 4-door design it's more
expects sales of the DSG version will be proportionally
higher, so it's probably more relevant to you guys too.
it's more powerful rivals, the Subaru WRX STI and Mitsubishi Lancer
Evolution IX, the Volkswagen Golf R32 has quite
a supple ride for something
so sporty and I think this is where it will find a lot of new friends.
Drivers looking for a commuter in the week and an apex vampire on the
weekends must make compromises with the two abovementioned Japanese
cars, which have very stiff rides (and to the point of discomfort at
Fair enough, the
VW Golf R32 isn't quite as fearsome in a performance sense, but it
a far more relaxed everyday drive and is better able to absorb bumps in
the road, and while your lap times may not be as acute in the R32 as
perhaps the Evo or the STI at least you won't need chiropractic
attention every month.
For 6-cylinder performance
not too bad on the hip pocket either, returning a combined city and
highway fuel cycle of 9.8L/100km thanks to the efficient nature of the
DSG. Driving around urban and built-up areas is a doddle (thanks to the
intelligent automatic gearbox) and relatively smooth too, though the
car does stutter sometimes when slowing down to a halt when the twin
clutch system hesitates between 1st gear and neutral.
it's 4-cylinder cousins, the Golf R32 is an easy-to-drive car. It's got
fairly short proportions at 4.2 metres long and 1.75 metres
wide and the precise power steering takes the
tension out of parking. It's easy to navigate through traffic and its
large rear window gives a good view out the back for head checks, lane
It's also got an enthusiastic
nature that can be both seen and felt. The large wheels, Euro
sports body kit and the dual exhaust pipes give the R32 a thoroughly
modified look, while mechanical aspects such as its acute throttle
response, the loud bark of the V6 engine and impressive brakes ensure
you won't be left playing catchup through the
(by 20mm) the Golf R32 has a great stance, but also less body roll than
the Golf GTI and, kind of like the difference between fried and baked
chips, this stiffer suspension tune gives it a slightly
crisper feel when tipping into tighter corners. Okay, that was a poor
analogy, but you get the idea.
Grip levels are very
good as well, due in large part to the chubby 225/40 R18
aspect ratio tyres at all four corners. The AWD system helps too,
ensuring that the car tracks keenly through corners when your giving it
a footfull of vengeance, and the ESP is a reassuring aid to
have when the heavens open up.
The steering feels
good at higher speeds and through quick corners, with enough
weight and feedback to give it a solid feel while conveying some of
road is doing underneath. At times there is some loss of feel due to
the variable electric power assisted steering system but generally
speaking it's a very predictable vehicle to steer, and piloting the car
through corners is a seriously enjoyable exercise.
unlike the small turbocharged AWD Japanese cars out there, the Golf R32
has scads of grip even when the tyres are screeching through
tightening corners, and the chassis communicates
fairly clearly when it's reaching the limits, so
you'll know when to ease off the throttle.
It has a
fairly good attitude through corners and once you're familiar with
its quirks (like the mild understeer) and adhesion levels,
it's a barrel of fun to crack the whip, sling-shotting from corner to
corner to the sound of squealing tyres and the buzz-saw blat
of the exhaust.
The R32's short footprint,
fat tyres, and strong V6 power delivery give it a surging tenacity not
normally associated with a Volkswagen, and the riotous exhaust note
adds immensely to the experience. It's not quite the super high
performance devil I was expecting, but I cannot deny
the entertainment levels that result from driving this car
hard and fast: the grin factor is almost off the charts.
mentioned the power
delivery is very crisp thanks not only to the DSG but also the direct
injected 3.2-litre engine, which gives the 6-cylinder Golf plenty of
character - but in a different way
to the GTI. Though the Volkswagen Golf GTI has a turbo kick that can
spin the front wheels at the drop of a hat,
the V6 has a more raucous personality and revels in its peak power
when pushed to beyond 7000rpm, and it's slightly more linear
and predictable through a corner than the GTI because it doesn't have
such a peaky power delivery.
There's a touch of
body roll when
tipping the Volkswagen Golf R32 into corners but once the suspension
loads up and gets to lean on its outside wheels it
can be literally slammed through corners: you barely need to lift the
once you've eyed up your line through a bend.
the beefy 6-cylinder Volkswagen Golf heads towards flip-flops and
S-bends in the road at higher speeds, these quick changes in
direction fail to upset the chassis (unless you're really
cooking it), and
generally speaking the R32 is a rapid and dexterous vehicle more than
capable of scaring the crap out of your passengers.
It'll accelerate through tight corners fairly linearly, and the power
from the engine hitting all four wheels feels very solid,
but I did note here and there that when pushed close to its limits at
9/10ths it tended to
feel a little less composed with a touch of body roll tugging at it and
then mild understeer creeps in.
the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters or the gearstick, gearing
down helps slow the car considerably thanks to the
engine's high compression ratio, as the
additional engine braking is very useful when you need to wash
off speed quick-smart (and is impressive for an auto gearbox).
Naturally the brakes are the main source of the cars deceleration, and
are more than up to the task of slowing the R32's fairly
flabby 1530kg mass, measuring 345mm at the front
and 310mm at the rear. After repeated blasts through our
favourite roads the brake pedal did begin to lose some of its feel, but
without braided brake lines this is expected and the brakes themselves
didn't exhibit huge levels of fade which was a good sign.
Golf R32 felt quite sure of itself through
even the most demanding of corners thanks to its short wheelbase and
after extended time in the saddle the car inspires impressive levels of
confidence and you can dive deep into corners before hammering the
brakes, then getting back on the gas as the 180kW+ engine
drives the car strongly out of the corners. Because there's naff all
clearance between the wheels and
the guards they tended to scrape and grind on the inside of
the wheel arches however.
This usually only
happens when you're tracking through corners with uneven
surfaces, but it's not what you really want to
hear when you're focussed 100% on the winding road ahead, hammering
through a corner by the seat of your pants, white knuckles gripping the
tiller like it's a life raft.
This relates back to
the Golf R32 being a good daily commuter with a relatively comfortable
ride, and the drawback of this not-quite-rock-hard suspension means the
tyres sometimes grind the inside of the guards. There's very little
clearance between the wheel arches and tyres, and perhaps there's too
much compression damping give, but it's not a chronic problem
and only surfaced on really shoddy roads.
When all is
said and done, there's no denying that the R32 is a serious performance
car. It's not quite as demanding to drive hard, which is
often the case to get the most out of some high performance
small cars, yet it rewards drivers greatly with a pinned-down feel and
impressive acceleration thanks to the bent six engine. It's a very easy
car to drive fast as the DSG offers up very
and there's even a launch control system that is almost as
good as having a manual clutch when it comes to the traffic light duel.
And I think without it, the claimed
0-100km/h time of 6.2 seconds would have been difficult to
To engage the launch control system
you slot the upmarket leather-wrapped gear shifter into 'Sport' mode,
then turn off the ESP, hold the brakes and floor the throttle. This
allows very rapid takeoffs as the
engine then revs to about 3000rpm (which, conveniently, is
torque joins the party) while keeping the car in neutral until
you let off the
brakes – and then the car fires off like a gun shot.
well as giving the car a very rapid standing stand, the launch control
system also highlighted one of the shortcomings of the
AWD system, which employs a Haldex coupling. Like
most AWD models based on the Golf platform, the Haldex
coupling system won't engage the rear wheels until the front
wheels slip, which often happens when you use launch control. As a
result of the high revs during the launch control, the front wheels
sometimes spin momentarily and it takes a second for the car's
to recognise wheel slippage and then transfer power to the rear
wheels. This AWD system is reactive, rather than proactive
like some systems.
Volkswagen 3.2-litre, Vee 6-cylinder
transversely mounted 3189cc V6 engine
features aluminium alloy block and cylinder heads.
(DOHC) actuate a total of 24-valves (4-valves per cylinder) that
variable valve timing. The 6-cylinder engine features direct petrol
injection with a 10.8:1
compression ratio and will accept only 98 RON unleaded petrol
filling the 60 litre fuel tank.
consumption: 9.8L/100km (combined cycle)
Power: 184kW @ 6300rpm
320Nm @ 2500rpm
still a good
AWD system and only when compared to Audi's high-end Torsen
system does it come across as less than perfect.
against the competition, such as the
the Volkswagen Golf R32 compares well. It has a torquier feel lower in
the rev range than the Beemer and can
fire out of corners with more gusto. Another aspect in which it tromps
its competition is the amazing sound that emanates from the oversized
system. I also think it's also got more grip through corners
pint-sized performance hatch, but in a straight line it's not quite
as quick as BMW's 6-cylinder performance hatchback.
is it better than the Golf GTI? For sure.
bigger, stronger, and can hold a tighter line through a corner thanks
to its sharper chassis and
the naturally aspirated characteristics of the engine means the power
delivery is less peaky. But is it $15,000 better than it's
little brother, the Golf GTI? On performance alone, I'm not quite
convinced. But that $15,000 buys you more than just
The Volkswagen Golf R32 first came into being
in 1997 and has since developed a kind of 'cult car' status like the
Mitsubishi Evolution. One of the reasons for this emerging cult status
is the engine: the core of the car, the bit that makes it go.
it sounds incredible. Like a steroid-enhanced bulldog growling into an
amplified loudspeaker, the R32 has an angry growl, so much so that on
numerous occasions (mainly at night) drivers and their numerous
passengers in their tuned up EL Falcons and VT Commodores would lean
out the window and ask, "What have got in that mate?"
a 3.2-litre V6. But with an exhaust system that amplifies the sound to
levels that stir the soul like few other cars. There's
only one car that I've tested that sounds better than this,
and it costs about $350,000 more: the
Suffice to say the Golf R32 is one
of the best sounding factory standard vehicles on
But is its bite as powerful as its
bark? Volkswagen claims the car speeds from 0-100km/h in 6.2
seconds (or 6.5 seconds with the manual 6-speed gearbox) and with the
launch control system I find no reason to doubt this claim. It's plenty
quick off the line.
The engine develops 184kW @
6300rpm, and will rev out to 7300rpm if you really push it, and with
peak torque of 320Nm @ 2500rpm, it's a punchy little unit that
has a very strong mid range that allows you to hustle through corners
remarkably quickly yet with little effort. It's not quite as flat-out
powerful as I was expecting, but it's not far off the mark of the
quickest hot hatches in town.
It's a very smooth
engine too and when combined with the DSG, which is a twin clutch
automated manual gearbox that operates like a traditional automatic,
the car is very easy to live with.
mode the car acts just like an automatic gearbox, and is the most fuel
efficient mode as it changes up through gears as soon as it can to
reduce engine revs. Slot the DSG shifter into the 'S' (sports) mode and
the gearbox will hold onto gears for longer before changing up, and in
both modes the gearchanges are very quick - quicker than a manual
The DSG also uses the
information from the ABS sensors to avoid changing gears half-way
through corners which I reckon is rather clever, and when you
select 'S' mode and you really start tearing it up through corners with
lots of hard braking and heavy throttle, the DSG will also
blip the throttle during down changes to match the engine revs with the
This technique is employed
by racing drivers using manual
transmissions to avoid compression lockups or jerkiness when
downchanging, and because the DSG actually has two clutches,
(traditional automatics have a torque convertor) it works more
like a manual than an common automatic gearbox in this
respect. Simply put, the engine and gearbox have spiffy motor
sports inspired functions that add further level of fascination to the
car, yet won't hinder the less adventurous drivers at all.
Thanks to its low-end torque the engine rarely
bogged down, and when you're not using the tiptronic mode or the
steering wheel shifters, the gearbox is pretty good at picking the
right gear for the situation, and the 'S' mode is great for hard
driving due to the speed of the gear changes.
60 litre fuel tank the R32 has a good cruising range, and with a
claimed 9.8L/100km on the combined city/highway fuel cycle, it's not
too thirsty either. We recorded an average fuel consumption rate of
13L/100km, but we were giving it plenty of shtick and only on the
highway did the engine have a chance to relax. I blame the
addictive exhaust note and smooth power delivery...
German styling works well, communicating
R32's performance capabilities with subtlety
interior is typically Teutonic - everything
is where it should
be and the sports steering
wheel and alloy pedals add a sporty
your half-blind second cousin will be able to see that the R32 is a
Volkswagen Golf, and though it's not unconventional in its
design it is a fairly good looking motor vehicle.
overall body shape betrays its heritage clearly, but there are a number
of differences between the standard models and this one, the
fire-breathing hero of the range.
For a start, the
R32 sits on much larger wheels and together with 20mm lowered
springs, the car has an audacious road stance. Even though it's a Golf,
the lower ride height and large 18-inch alloy wheels give it instant
street credibility. This integrated design appears to fuse the
wheels with the body of the vehicle and is both visually appealing
yet also a warning to would-be predators: This is no
A much deeper front apron - sans fog
lights - ties the front end yet closer to the ground and together with
snug fitting side skirts and a good looking rear apron that
accommodates the twin exhaust system, the body kit is complete.
the front the most notable difference with the standard Golf models is
the silver grille with R32 badging, the large central air dam and the
xenon headlights. I reckon the front end of the car isn't quite as
sharp as the rear end - (and in some ways not as appealing as the GTI's
fog-lit front end), but it still conveys a sense of performance quite
Unlike some of the more hardcore Japanese
performance models that tend to
attract attention with their oversized rear wings and garish paint
jobs, the Volkswagen R32 Golf comes across as somewhat more mature. I'm
not saying that the R32 doesn't attract attention, it's just
has chosen to wear a smart/casual suit and trendy sunglasses rather
than tracksuit pants and an oversized baseball cap.
didn't fall in love with the R32's looks but it does have a stocky,
well-built stance and instead of going all out glam it uses style
subtleties to work it's Germanic charm. It did turn a number of heads
when we steered it through one of Melbourne's chic suburbs south of the
Yarra river, but methinks that was more due to the growl of the engine
followed by the odd popping backfire rather than the way the
car carries itself.
Where the R32 Golf gives ground to its
Japanese rivals in the performance stakes, it more than makes up for
this with its luxury features. And it's not too pokey either: we
managed to seat four adults in the vehicle without too much mashing of
knees and grinding of elbows, and the light beige leather interior
gives the cabin a prestige ambiance.
Though you can
option different trims, our test model featured woodgrain
trim which looked average in my humble opinion, but overall the
interior does have an overriding sense of luxury.
of the standard features include cruise control, electric windows and
mirrors, climate controlled air-conditioning, eight airbags,
rain-sensing windscreen wipers, a 6-stack CD stereo with 10 speakers, a
bottle opener, and of course lots of luxury leather.
as well as being the range-topping, built-in-Germany, luxury Golf, this
is a drivers car and understandably the driver gets a lot of cool stuff
to use. Like a flat bottomed sports steering wheel, shiny
alloy pedals, sports seats, chrome rimmed instrument dials and a
high-quality leather-and-metal gear shifter. From the drivers seat,
everything feels good too, from the chunky steering wheel, to the
smooth shifting gearstick and, though the seats would benefit from
larger side bolsters, they are nonetheless very comfortable with
supportive cushions upholstered with medium quality leather.
is a $3,990 option to stick Recaro bucket seats in the front, similar
to the items used on the Audi
RS 4, which amp up the car's cool factor
considerably. These bucket seats stop your body from moving around as
much under compelling cornering forces, but they also make egress and
right royal pain. It's all about priorities I guess; do you go for
comfort or G-force support?
all VW Golfs the R32 has a roomy and comfortable interior and in a
similar vein to modern Audis it's quite ergonomic too. The 6-stack CD
player is located underneath the central armrest, so while storage
space is reduced it means that drivers can access the CD player. Most
of the car's features are where you expect them to be and fall
to hand easily, and the context sensitive steering wheel controls -
while taking time to get used to - allow you to display lots of
information on the small screen between the speedometer and the
The dashboard looks fairly
modern and the soft rubbery dash plastics are good. The instrument
dials looks great at night, but looks pretty much like the Golf GTI in
daytime. After dark the speedo and rev counter are backlit white and
have blue dials,
while everything else in the car such as the centre console and HVAC
controls are back lit red, creating a sporty aura
within the cabin.
Boot space is average for
hatchback at 275 litres, which is enough to room to stow a small
microwave and a several garbage bags full of cash. Fold the seats down
however, and the boot space explodes to 1230 litres, which is almost
enough room to squeeze a couple of pairs of skis and stocks around an
esky full of food.
There's nothing glaringly negative
about the interior of this car. It's got plenty of luxury, is fairly
spacious for a small car, and is practical too.
The A-pillars at the front are quite thick and sometimes
hinder front-side visibility, and though the rear C-pillars are thick
as well, the large central mirror ensures a good and
wide rear view.
Going hand-in-hand with its luxury
aspirations the Volkswagen Golf R32 features a strong safety package,
the focus of which is it's strong safety cell which helped it towards a
5-star ANCAP rating (ANCAP = Australasian New Car Assessment Program),
scoring an impressive 16 out of 16 in side impact crash
testing. It's also got a bevy of electronic driving aids such
as ESP, EBD, ABS, ASR and of course AWD, and there are eight
airbags to protect both front and rear passengers.
There are only a handful of cars
out there for less than $60,000 that offer the addictive combination
of luxury, performance, and
aggressive styling - and the few that do can't hold a candle to the
evocative noise this thing makes. The engine acoustics alone are worth
the price of admission...
If there are any complaints
levelled at the car, I would say that it could do with some more herbs
under the hood. Don't get me wrong, this thing isn't slow, but some
high lift camshafts or perhaps even the newer 3.6-litre V6 engine would
give the car
the balls to saunter up and slap the Impreza WRX STI and the Lancer
Evolution models in the face.
Though a larger engine would probably come at a premium.
$15,000 better than the Golf GTI?
two minds about this, because the GTI is such an impressive sports
hatch in every respect.
From a performance standpoint, the R32 doesn't feel dramatically
quicker in a
straight line, but does have more mid-corner grip than its little
brother, and has a more planted feel on the road with its AWD traction.
It's got a more
luxurious interior with a few more bells and whistles, and because it's
not a turbocharged car the insurance premiums may
not be quite as steep for some buyers.
At the end of
the day, I reckon it just scrapes over the line when you add things
like leather, xenon headlights and an AWD transmission as standard. So
yes, it is $15,000 better than the GTI.
Volkswagen Golf R32 has a visceral motor sports feel to the
way it drives thanks to its strong performance, advanced gearbox and
military engine note, which ultimately
makes driving the
Golf R32 a highly memorable experience.
Sometimes Rub On Body
the review? The Car? Your Car? Email