latest Golf GTI
is so good its hard to
know what you could
buy next. But help is at
hand and, happily,
The new Golf R32
AS IMPOSSIBLE as it seems now, there comes a time in every keen driver's life when the mood switches from driving an everyday mass-market hot-hatch or GTI-type vehicle to some-thing equally cool… something equally hot… but something more, well, complete. Perhaps you require a more refined, less frantic or less obvious mode of transport but are reluctant to give up your compact but versatile up-market hatchback.
You'll be pleased to know, then, that we know someone who can help. And it's Volkswagen again. Through the ages their Golf GTIs have
been, deservedly, highly acclaimed. And the latest Mark V versions are probably the best there have ever been. They are well liked for their performance, handling and charisma. But time moves on and for the customer who wants something even better, more upmarket, yet still desires a rapid hatchback, then the VW Golf R32 4Motion could be
just the ticket.
Available in three- or five-door body options, the all-wheel drive V6-engined R32 is the most powerful and fastest production Golf to date. And, for many serious hot-hatch customers, it is the most desirable.
Even before the R32 was launched in November '05, the initial batch sold out with advance orders. This year, Volkswagen expect to have just 1,450 of the R32 models to sell. Sixty per cent of them will be five-door models, suggesting that family users find this car desirable. And 60 per cent of customers will opt for the six-speed manual rather than the paddle-shift clutchless DSG transmission.
The UK is VW's best market in the world for Golf GTIs so we Brits, as initial demand shows, are sure to love the R32.
Priced from £24,195 to £26,025, the R32 V6 4Motion is £3,860 more expensive than its next of kin the Mark V Golf GTI 2.0-litre. Okay, that might be relatively expensive, but a bigger engine and an all-wheel drive system doesn't come cheap. Off-setting this is the fact that
the R32 is going to be in short supply, so residual values should be extremely healthy. Its most obvious rivals are the BMW 130I M-Sport, Audi A3 Sport, Alfa 147 GTA 3.2, Nissan 350Z, Renault Megane RenaultSport and the Mazda RX-8.
My test R32 model was the most popular derivative: the five-door fitted with the six-speed manual transmission and priced at £24,695.
It was also equipped with VW's DVD satellite navigation system and
the 6-disc CD autochanger which together added a further £1,845
to the final price.
It's carved in stone that the Golf is one of the best new generation hatchbacks on the road today. It was one of the first of the 'larger' family hatchbacks with more inherent body strength, good road manners and up-market customer appeal. In fact, the current GTI
will be on most motoring pundits' lists as one of the best go-faster hatches you can buy. What makes the R32 so appealing is that is
does all that, and more.
At the heart of this executive flyer is a 3.2-litre, naturally-aspirated V6 petrol engine pushing out 246bhp of power and 236lb ft of torque from 2,800rpm. The top speed is 155mph and the 0-62mph acceleration time is a sharp 6.5 seconds.
The R32's intelligent 4Motion all-wheel drive system (with traction control) continually varies the amount of power to the wheels with the most grip to best optimise adhesion on all road surfaces. This system really allows the driver to make the most of the power under acceler-ation and during cornering. Plus, of course, it's a real boon when the roads are wet, icy, muddy or white with snow.
Working in conjunction with the six-speed close-ratio gearbox and responsive gutsy engine, it makes for a very good car to drive and provides plenty of driving satisfaction. The downside is that the bigger engine, coupled with all-wheel drive, tends to hit the fuel economy 22.5mpg during my week's test drive. And that was not driving the
car very hard at all. Official consumption figures are 18.8, 26.2 and 33.6mpg respectively for urban, mixed and touring. However that, to some extent, is to entirely miss the point.
The R32's high-tech wizardry doesn't blunt the driving pleasure, but is there purely to assist. In addition to the anti-lock braking there is
an electronic stability programme that works in conjunction with the electronic differential and traction control to keep the performance at its optimum, particularly for fast cornering. The suspension is lowered by 20mm to minimise body roll and reduce the R32's centre of gravity. Big, 18-inch alloy wheels shod with 225/40 tyres maximise grip and, gratifyingly, do not appear to spoil the quality of the ride although they do generate more road noise on poor road surfaces.
Bi-Xenon headlights, with washers and automatic range adjustment, allow the driver to make full use of the R32's performance during the hours of darkness.
The exterior styling changes over the Golf GTI are subtle and discreet, although sharp-eyed motoring buffs will easily mark out this fast
and exclusive Golf over a conventional GTI. Apart from the neat R32 badging, this car has uniquely shaped front and rear bumpers and an aluminium-look front grille. A rear roof spoiler, neat chromed twin centre exhaust tailpipes, blue tinted glass, darkened rear light clusters, integrated indicators in the door mirrors, blue brake callipers and 'Zolder' alloy wheels all combine to create something rather special visually.
Inside there are, naturally, sports seats (upholstered in 'Monte Carlo' cloth), sporty instrumentation and loads of controls with aluminium finishing, including the pedals and gear knob. 2Zone electronic climate control is standard, as is a leather-trimmed three-spoke sports steering wheel its squared-off lower rim is a classy touch. It is this attention to detail, along with impeccable quality and not forgetting the perform-ance, which really makes the Golf R32 a car I will remember for a
very long time. It really is a car I didn't want to send back after my loan period.
Being of that 'certain age' where you like the finer things in life, I loved it. The plusses have it: it's a real compact muscle car with superb build quality and specification, blatant exclusivity and all-wheel drive enhan-ced performance. Against that, it's price and liking for four-star aren't really major issues.
The big question is: But would I buy one? If retaining the overall hatchback as the size of vehicle I wanted, then yes. But for this sort of money I could certainly be tempted to move up market as well as
up in size, and buy an Audi A4, BMW 3-Series or a Mercedes C-Class. As always, it is down to individual choice and requirements. Thank-fully, one size doesn't fit all. David Miles
Volkswagen Golf R32 4Motion | £24,695
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Test MPG: 22.5mpg | Power: 246bhp | Torque: 236lb ft