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REVIEW

Potent, pricey and worth the wait

Volkswagen's Golf R32 delivers a peppy ride for adults who like their hot rods well behaved.

June 16, 2004|Steven Cole Smith | Orlando Sentinel

On sale in Europe since mid-2002, the arrival, finally, of the Volkswagen Golf R32 suggests that maybe good things really do come to those who wait.

Actually, VW performance enthusiasts have been waiting longer than that. Volkswagen practically invented the pocket-size hot rod in 1983 with the GTI, a speeded-up Rabbit with bigger tires, a firmer suspension and a faster engine. Since then, VW has offered quick Rabbits and Golfs, but none has been as potent, or as pricey, as the R32.

How pricey? With freight, $29,675. That gets you everything but leather upholstery, and that's $950 extra. There are no other options. Since VW plans to import only 5,000 R32s, don't expect a big discount.

Much of that expense is due to the standard stability system and all-wheel drive, essentially borrowed from corporate cousin Audi. In fact, the R32 feels more like an Audi A4 than a VW Golf, due not only to the all-wheel drive, but to a redesigned rear suspension. That, coupled with fat P225/40R18-Y performance radials, lets the R32 corner like it's glued to the pavement.

Even so, the R32 isn't really a match for another pair of all-wheel-drive hot rods: the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or the Subaru WRX STi. These two, especially the Subaru, are lighter and faster, but can be tiresome on a daily commute. Arguably, the R32 is for people who have outgrown the WRX.

This is not to say the R32 isn't fast, because it is. The 240-horsepower VR-6 engine is exceptionally smooth, and has plenty of torque. The six-speed manual transmission has excellent shift action. No automatic is available.

On the road, the R32's ride is reasonably compliant, and there's a little more body lean during hard cornering than you'd expect. For those who want even more performance, VW has left some room for aftermarket tuners to tighten up the suspension. With its 240 horsepower, acceleration is strong but never frantic. You want frantic, get the Subaru WRX.

If you can't afford the R32, the 1.8-liter GTI, at about $22,000 loaded with options, is very attractive. But if you can afford the R32, and you're lucky enough to find one, congratulations. It's a kid's car for grown-ups.

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