For the 2004 model year, Volkswagen built 5,000 copies of the R32, a special limited-edition hot rod version of the Golf. Now that Volkswagen has transitioned customers from the Golf to the Rabbit, apparently the company thought it was a good idea to revisit the special-edition idea. For 2008, then, we get a new R32, now on the Rabbit chassis. And once again, the company is building only 5,000, and many of those are already spoken for. Get 'em while they're hot.
That is, if you think it's worth $35,430, or even more, as some dealers are adding on a scarcity surcharge. This is a splendid car, but that price -- ouch. Certainly the R32 is a great deal more car than a Rabbit, but since the 2008 Rabbit starts at $15,490, it ought to be.
The R32 is, to start with, all-wheel-drive, using Volkswagen's 4Motion system that sends power to the wheels that need it -- that is, the ones getting traction -- while taking power away to wheels that are spinning. It's transparent, and it works very well. It also dramatically reduces torque steer, which is the sensation on fast front-wheel-drive cars under acceleration where the torque of the engine actually steers the car slightly on its own to the left or right.
And there is plenty of power, with a 3.2-liter, 250-horsepower VR6 engine under the hood. Transmission is a six-speed DSG automatic; DSG stands for Direct Shift Gearbox that mimics a manual transmission more closely than regular automatics. It's so good that there is no manual transmission offered. EPA-rated fuel mileage is 18 miles per gallon city, 23 mpg highway, about what you'd expect given the performance.
The R32 has a wide stance that would impress the senior senator from Idaho. Tires are sticky P225/40R-18 radials on alloy wheels, absolutely stuffed into the wheel wells. VW has done a lot of suspension work to make the R32 handle like a genuine sports car, and while the ride is, as you might expect, pretty taut, it isn't punishing.
Inside, leather-trimmed sport seats are firm and supportive. Instruments and controls are properly placed and easily accessed. Big antilock disc brakes haul the R32 down with authority. Safety equipment abounds, including electronic stability control, side and side-curtain air bags and traction control. There are comfort features, too, including a powerful stereo with a six-disc in-dash CD changer, but on the test car that in-dash changer was replaced with the optional ($1,800) DVD-based navigation system.
The R32 is a remarkably competent, all-weather car, and its limited-edition status helps justify the price. But the fact that the test car costs more than two of the base Rabbits it's based on -- for me, that's a bit of a tough sell.