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

Launch Story

Volkswagen logo25 Jul 2006

By NEIL MCDONALD

WHERE do you go when you’ve grown up and had your fill of Lancer Evos and Subaru STis? Do you move into the sub-prestige arena with a badge purchase but little in the way of performance, or opt for a homegrown big six? Well Volkswagen may have the answer. It has positioned its cracking new R32 V6 hatch so that it can be many things for many people. Three door, five-door, six-speed manual or superb six-speed DSG auto: the choice is yours. With prices from $54,990, it will also be easier to convert sceptics like your accountant - or your partner.

We like:
Ride and handling, steering, packaging, price, all-wheel drive traction

We don't like:
Peaky V6, paddle shifters could be longer, drinks 98 RON premium

SOMETIMES it is the little things that brighten your day when you’re battling another winter cold - like driving the new VW Golf R32.

The dozy dreariness of the day disappears when you slip behind the wheel and feel for the first time the leather sports seats gripping you like the re-assuring hug of a long-lost granny.

There’s acres of nice soft leather, a little more chrome, a little more aluminium and German solidity - yes the R32 is built in Germany - that’s all at once comforting and reassuring.

A flick of the console switch warms the leather pews, easing away any aches so you can concentrate on the task at hand.

Turn the ignition key and the R32 barks initially but settles into a quiet purr, clearing the fogginess in your head and re-energising aching limbs.

At idle there is little base echo from the dual exhausts. The R32 will clear its throat at high revs but those expected a blatt-and-back exhaust resonance will be disappointed.

The Euro 4-compliant 3.2-litre V6 in the R32 develops 184kW at a high 6300rpm and 320Nm between 2500rpm and 3000rpm.

It may not have the outright grunt of an STi or Evo but it also does not have their levels of coarseness in equipment and quality.

Despite VW offering comparisons with the Evo IV and STi, we suspect an R32 buyer may just be a different type of buyer, and have more in common with a car park full of BMW 130s or Audi 3.2 quattros, which, by the way, are more expensive than the R32.

Like VW’s previous narrow-angled V6s the 3.2 is a technological masterpiece.

The four-valves-per-cylinder unit has a "V" of just 15 degrees, which almost means the cylinders are almost "siamesed" together. Other brands go down the 90-degree path but VW opts for the narrow-angle because of packaging issues.

However, despite the compact engine bay, the 3.2-litre fits together beautifully, sounds great – although enthusiasts might like a bit more exhaust noise – and the whole package slides easily into the car.

Add to that the latest generation 4Motion all-wheel drive system, and there’s a real reason to move up from a GTI.

Unlike the previous R32, the latest version benefits from the sophisticated four-link rear-end of the Golf while at the front the McPherson-style struts with double wishbone design have been beefed up with harder springs and damping.

The car is 20mm lower, with the aggressive 18-inch 20-spoke Zolder alloys, body kit and big dual exhausts notifying any bystander that this car is a step up from the GTI.

If you’ve experienced the cabin of the common garden-variety Golfs, the R32’s interior will be familiar territory too. The dashboard is similar, with nice chrome-ringed dials, clear instrumentation and ergonomic switchgear.

The standard leather seats are superb, the driving position almost faultless – only a pedant will find something wrong – and the cabin space and practicality is all there.

Based on our experience with the previous R32, we expected a crashy, bashy ride over all but the flattest road surfaces. The previous car was a fine handler but there was something of a trade-off in ride.

However, the newcomer behaves surprisingly well. It rides with a degree of suppleness that is totally out of character for a hot-hatch.

What the R32 delivers is a pleasantly cushioning ride without losing any of the dynamic crispness we expect of the performance machine.

It shone in a brief run through some coastal roads east of Melbourne, where the revised steering offered plenty of feedback, good linear control and no rack rattle transmitted into the cabin when the going got nasty.

The handling remained flat and communicative the brakes free of fade and with plenty of reserve capacity.

The overwhelming feeling was that this Golf offers high safety levels directly corresponding to its position as the peak machine in the Golf pecking order.

Under full power the all-wheel drive train just surges away. It does not feel like a sling-shot in the manner of a Subie or Evo, but the R32 will hit 100km/h in a claimed 6.2 seconds in the DSG auto and power on to a limited top speed of 250km/h.

As with many all-wheel drive cars, the R32 will run wide through a tight corner but belt the power on midway through a hairpin and the car will hunker down, grip and lunge through the exit.

The performance is delivered without too much of an economy trade-off.

We managed a low of 9.5L/100km, below VW’s combined figure of 9.8L/100km so driven frugally, there’s no reason you cannot have you cake, and eat it too.

The R32 distinguishes itself by performing all its tasks without fuss. If only other aspects of life were as easy – like getting a cure for the common cold.

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