Volkswagen's R32 is the ultimate Golf. This two-door hatchback has a 250-horsepower V-6, all-wheel drive and VW's slick Direct Shift Gearbox that lets the driver zip through the gears like a Formula One driver with paddles on the steering wheel.
The R32 was first introduced to the United States in 2004, and VW quickly sold all 5,000 of this limited-edition model. Now it's back, again in limited numbers, and it will likely prove to be as hot in the showroom as it is on the street. Zero to sixty miles an hour takes 6.5 seconds, according to Volkswagen.
The R32 is easily recognized by its 18-inch wheels, low stance and dual exhausts that exit in the center of the rear bumper.
The R32, with a base price of $32,990, is available in four colors: deep pearl blue, metallic gray, tornado red and candy white. The only option is a navigation system.
The R32's engine is a narrow-angle V-6 that muscles up quickly, and it cranks out power with ease. This engine pulls hard from low rpm, which is why it is so much fun to drive even when you're not smashing the throttle. The abundant torque can be felt the instant you toe the throttle.
VW's masterful DSG transmission is a manual transmission with two automatic clutches. It drives like an automatic unless you slip it into manual mode. In manual, shifts are made either by paddles on the steering wheel or by moving the gear lever to the side.
The DSG's lightning-quick shifts are faster than a driver can execute with a manual transmission. Even when the transmission is in automatic mode, a couple of quick flicks of the downshift paddle instantly drop the car into a lower gear when you need a quick blast of acceleration.
Putting 250 horsepower through the front wheels can be a challenge, so VW has chosen to equip the R32 with its 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. All-wheel drive is a benefit in all driving conditions, and the test car acquitted itself quite well in our recent snow despite its wide, low-profile tires.
The R32 rides on a fully independent multi-link rear suspension that sits wider and lower than Volkswagen's Golf GTI. The front McPherson struts and multi-link independent rear axle have been tuned to provide good road holding. The ride is firm but not abusively so. The independent rear axle yields a compliant ride without sacrificing cornering prowess. VW said that the fully independent four-link suspension, with coil springs, telescopic shocks and stabilizer bar, allowed engineers to create a large opening into the luggage compartment.
The electro-mechanical power rack-and-pinion steering system has good on-center feel and straight-line stability.
The R32's cabin reflects VW's skill at interior design. The fit and finish is among the best in the class, as are the materials and surfaces. The navigation system was easy to read, but the menu selections seemed overly complex.
The bucket seats are exceptionally comfortable because they are shaped to provide excellent lateral and under-thigh support. During sporty driving, the seats hold the driver and front-seat passenger securely.
In this country, hot hatchbacks have traditionally been less popular than small sedans, but for enthusiasts, the R32 should have no trouble turning that notion on its head. The R32 is like a GTI squared. Its dual-purpose personality, embodied by the folding rear seat and large rear hatch, is intriguing. This little car can swallow a lot of gear and still drive like a sports car. What's not to like about that?
Price The base price of the test car was $32,990. The test car was equipped with the optional navigation system. The sticker price was $35,430.
Warranty Four years or 50,000 miles, with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.