The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2008 Volkswagen R32 Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

If you like the concept of the original GTI and you’ve grown up a bit to appreciate some of the finer things of life you might be just the ideal customer for the R32. This limited edition funster one-ups the GTI as a fast little Golf/Rabbit with enough extra content to make me drool.

Unlike the GTI this pocket rocket comes standard with leather, chrome, automatic transmission, 50 extra horses and 4-Motion all-wheel drive. It also comes with a considerable price premium – about 10-grand more than GTI. Only about 5,000 units will come to the US and there is no reason to think any will go wanting for a buyer. Everyone who loves pocket rockets will love this one, though you could have just as much fun for less money.

Our test car this week looks pretty good in Deep Blue, matching the blue-painted brake calipers. Why did they paint the calipers blue? Certainly to make a statement that special brakes are not forgotten with this fast, tight-handling sporty thing. Up front the flashier chrome goatee of a grille sets it off from the blacked-out goatee of the GTI. One would be hard pressed to tell the difference from the side except for the blue brake calipers or model-specific 10-spoke, and 18-inch alloy wheels shod with low-profile summer tires. The rear is distinguished by a sexy pair of exhaust outlets centered like a Boxter. Coefficient of drag is a less-than-notable .323.

Inside we find a considerably dressier environment than the standard GTI. Machined aluminum trim accents the Anthracite leather interior. The same flat-on-the-bottom steering wheel that graces the GTI is used here though this one has the R32 logo imprinted upon it. Fit, finish and build quality are impeccable. The front buckets, while not the Recaros of the Euro-spec car, are plenty firm and secure. In fact, I found it difficult to slide into the car over the intense seat bolsters. I must acknowledge, though, I’m certainly broader in the beam than most drivers. The large door swings wide and I had to lean and reach way out to retrieve it. Once in the driver’s seat I found it comfortable and supportive. We had a back seat passenger this week who found her accommodations surprisingly adequate for such a small car as well.

Power comes from a normally aspirated, 3.2-liter V6 generating 250 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. With variable valve timing and a multi-port fuel injection it’s a half-a-hundred horses more than the way cool GTI/GLI, but it doesn’t feel all that much faster in my view. It just comes without the inherent turbo-lag of its sibling. One of the first things we notice upon hitting the road to town is the wondrous sound coming from the rear. That exhaust note is surprisingly rich. Acceleration, as you might guess, is pretty impressive as well with zero-to-60mph time listed at 6.4 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited at 155-mph.

For as small as it looks the R32 still weighs about 3,500 pounds. It’s rated by the EPA at 18-mpg in the city and 23 on the highway. Premium fuel is recommended but not required. With a 14.5-gallon fuel tank we expect not much more than a 300-mile cruising range.

The only way that power gets to the road with this R32 is through the slick DSG, dual-clutch, close-ratio, 6-speed automatic transmission and third generation Haldex 4Motion all-wheel drive. Manual mode is accessed both with the gear shifter on the floor and small, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Shift speeds are lightning fast and gratifying. The 4Motion system uses a center differential with substantial front bias but it can put torque to the rear when needed. Neither manual transmission nor limited slip differential are available.

The next thing we notice is the stiff, we could say harsh, suspension. Our usually smooth county road has become rather rippled and jumpy with this winter’s particularly violent freeze and thaw cycle. Later, out on the freeway, it seemed much less harsh but it will certainly be a bit too stiff for some tastes. The suspension feels like it’s tuned to European specs.

Another niggle that seemed to mitigate itself over our test week was the touchy brakes. During our first drive they were surprisingly jerky and grabby, but later in the week I found I was used to them and didn’t notice any unpleasantness at all. Just a matter of acclimation, I guess. Those blue brake calipers, so evident in the ads and photos, must be some kind of hot setup but I could find no specification to verify that assumption.

We loaded up with groceries midweek and found the rear cargo area more than adequate. With the rear seat in position we have 9.7 cubic-feet of space but if we put the rear seat back down we would have a respectable 43.4 cubic-feet. I remember loading an amazing amount of stuff in my old Golf GTI in the old days.

Base price on the R32 is $32,990 and that includes just about everything. The only option listed is the $1,800 DVD Navigation with audio enhancements including iPod adapter (not compatible with other MP3 systems). There is no charge for opting for an all-weather tire instead of the standard high-performance summer treads.

Warranty covers the whole car for 4 years and 50,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years and the same miles.

The R32 is certainly a refined little squirt. Premium leather and other materials along with excellent build quality and typically German design make for a gratifying driving experience, once we get used to the performance idiosyncrasies. If I were buying, though, I’d opt for the GTI for 10-grand less.

Steve Purdy,
Shunpiker Productions,
All Rights Reserved