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Road Test: Volkswagen Golf R32

Review by Feann Torr - 10/May/2007

Volkswagen Golf R32Volkswagen's 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 - and we love it to bits. It's one of the best performance hatchbacks of this era. 

But can the Golf handle more power? 

Germany's largest 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.

Not only does it get a bent 6-cylinder engine matched up to a slick-shifting 6-speed manual or the acclaimed dual shift gearbox (DSG), but the car also benefits from a neat 4WD system and significantly larger 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 drawbacks end.

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 IX and Subaru WRX STI, and though it's not quite as powerful as its banzai Japanese rivals, it's also far less raw.

It's the 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 it benefits from all the things you'd expect of a prestige European 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:

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Make: Volkswagen
Model: Golf R32
Price: $58,790
Transmission: 6-speed dual clutch automatic
Engine: 3.2-litre, Vee 6-cylinder, petrol
Seats: 5
Safety: 8 airbags (driver/front passenger (x2), front side (x2) and front and rear curtain airbags (x4)), ABS, ESP, EBD, ASR, AWD
Car Supplier: Volkswagen Australia

Drive: 4/5

Volkswagen Golf R32

Volkswagen's Golf R32 is not your average
hatchback, powered by a lusty 250hp V6 engine

Volkswagen Golf R32

The Golf R32 does exhibit body roll when pushed
hard, yet is a remarkably rewarding car to drive

Volkswagen 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 model. 

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 practical. 

And Volkswagen expects sales of the DSG version will be proportionally higher, so it's probably more relevant to you guys too.

Unlike 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 times). 

Fair enough, the VW Golf R32 isn't quite as fearsome in a performance sense, but it offers 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 engine it's 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.

Like 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 changing and what not. 

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 twisties. 

Sitting on lowered suspension (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 what the 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.

Not 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.

As 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 throttle once you've eyed up your line through a bend. 

When 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.

When using 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.

The 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 quick shifts, 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 attain. 

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 where peak 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.

As 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 electronic brain to recognise wheel slippage and then transfer power to the rear wheels. This AWD system is reactive, rather than proactive like some systems.

Engine: Volkswagen 3.2-litre, Vee 6-cylinder

The transversely mounted 3189cc V6 engine features aluminium alloy block and cylinder heads. Chain-driven dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) actuate a total of 24-valves (4-valves per cylinder) that feature 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 when filling the 60 litre fuel tank.

Fuel consumption: 9.8L/100km (combined cycle)

Max Power: 184kW @ 6300rpm
Max Torque: 320Nm @ 2500rpm
Max Speed: 248km/h
0-100km/h: 6.2 seconds

Volkswagen Golf R32

Nevertheless, it's still a good AWD system and only when compared to Audi's high-end Torsen system does it come across as less than perfect.

When stacked up against the competition, such as the BMW 130i M Sport, 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 twin exhaust system. I also think it's also got more grip through corners than BMW's pint-sized performance hatch, but in a straight line it's not quite as quick as BMW's 6-cylinder performance hatchback.

But is it better than the Golf GTI? For sure. 

It's 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 performance...

Engine: 4.25/5

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.

And 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?"

Just 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 Ferrari F430 Spider.

Suffice to say the Golf R32 is one of the best sounding factory standard vehicles on offer. 

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. 

In 'D' 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 gearbox even. 

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 wheel/road speed.

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 gets 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.

With a 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...

Exterior: 3.5/5

Volkswagen Golf R32

The German styling works well, communicating
the R32's performance capabilities with

Volkswagen Golf R32

The interior is typically Teutonic - everything
is where it should be and the sports steering
wheel and alloy pedals add a sporty tactility

Even 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.

The 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 4-cylinder Golf.

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.

At 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 credibly.

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 that it has chosen to wear a smart/casual suit and trendy sunglasses rather than tracksuit pants and an oversized baseball cap.

I 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.

Interior: 4/5

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. 

Some 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.

But 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.

There 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 ingress a right royal pain. It's all about priorities I guess; do you go for comfort or G-force support?

Like 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 tachometer. 

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 the 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 a 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.

Overall: 4.25/5

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 to be 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.

But is it $15,000 better than the Golf GTI? 

I'm in 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. 

The 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.



  • V6 Exhaust Note
  • Ride & Handling
  • High Grip Levels
  • Upmarket Interior
  • Tyres Sometimes Rub On Body
  • Underpowered

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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