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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - R32 3-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Attitude, performance, throttle response, ride/handling, exhaust note, brakes
Room for improvement
Two-step clutch, peaky power curve, road/tyre and suspension noise

5 Apr 2004

THIS is a Golf? Not like the one your Grandad drives, that’s for sure.

From the moment you fire it up and hear that coarse, Porsche-like exhaust note, you know the R32 is something special. There’s even a burbling on the over-run.

And the driving only backs that initial sensation up.

First the engine. This is a sweet unit. Yes it requires revving, but from 3500rpm it really takes off and pulls all the way through.

The gearbox is close-ratio enough to make the use of it pleasurable. It certainly helps that the shift action, which is distinctly two-step, is firm and direct and without notchiness.

It is mated to a similarly decisive clutch action, aided by a pedal relationship that makes heel-and-toeing easy.

The instant throttle is also a joy - no dead time or lag here. You want response? Press the pedal and there it is. All this makes attacking a set of winding roads a joy - enough power and torque to deliver plenty of oomph between corners, aided by a gearbox that encourages changes.

Onto the chassis and dynamics. While set up to corner flat and neutral, the R32 also shows a surprising amount of subtlety in its ride. This is no bash and crash experience, except over the most severe of road corruptions and then it is pretty much limited to the strut front suspension.

You do hear the suspension working though, and the tyres get noisy on coarser surfaces.

There was less kickback through the steering wheel than you would have initially expected. And it is also direct and with plenty of feel, although perhaps just a tad light.

A session on a test track also proved the R32 had plenty of grip and that even in an environment where most road cars look bad, the R32 displayed its composure – particularly once you switched off the ESP.

While non-intrusive on the road, ESP was simply interrupting the R32’s smooth flow on the circuit, where the car continued to point in with just a trace of understeer and then progressively slide on through the turn smoothly and progressively with just a suggestion of oversteer on exit.

The brakes stood up to the on-circuit hammering very well also. Sure the pedal got longer, but the stopping power never disappeared.

In the cockpit the driver is well looked after by the heavily ballasted sports seats, but in the back seat there is very little room. You’d hardly want to be an adult travelling in the rear for long.

The controls are dressed up somewhat with the leather and alloy but it is still recognisably Golf in its presentation, and is it dark! That’s very much a European sports trait.

The R32 is a great way to farewell Golf IV. It’s fast, a little bit feral and a lot of fun. Bad luck if you miss one of the few still yet to be claimed.

The good news is that R versions of Volkswagen models are set to spread through much of the line-up. The Golf V version is on the drawing board and, unlike this car, it will be a full-time member of the range.

Local arrival is probable for some time in late 2005 or early 2006. I’m already looking forward to it.

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