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First Drive

Road Test: Volkswagen Golf 3.2 V6 R32 4MOTION 3dr

£22,430 when new
Published: 04 Sep 2002


  • BHP


  • 0-62


  • CO2


  • Max Speed


  • Insurance


Luckily for us, VW decided upon the letter R to signify its hot new 3.2-litre Golf and not S, like its Audi stablemate. Today's launch venue is the pretty German town of Rinteln - chosen as its postcode is R32. If the new Golf had been an S32 we'd have been in Grindleford.

Now I'm sure Grindleford is lovely, but I checked my map and failed to find a spectacular series of freshly-surfaced bends with easy access to an unrestricted autobahn. And with the fastest-ever Golf to play with, that's just the sort of topography one likes to see.

The R32 is based on the not-too-shabby V6 4Motion, has a twin cam V6 bored and stroked out to 3189cc, has a completely redesigned intake system, continuous adjustment for the intake and exhaust cams and a saucy twin pipe exhaust. The upshot of this is enough horsepower - 240bhp at 6,250rpm - to potentially see off a Subaru Impreza.

In a bid to banish the torque steer that afflicts powerful front-drive cars, there's the 4Motion 'intelligent' 4WD system, complete with Haldex coupling in the rear diff. Sensors monitor wheel slip and divert power to give traction to the wheels where it'll be most appropriate.

Linking engine and wheels is a six-speed manual gearbox and providing stopping power are ABS and EBD-equipped ventilated disc brakes from the Passat. 18-inch OZ alloys wearing 225/40 tyres glue the whole ensemble to the road. The standard Golf suspension is stiffened and lowered by 20mm and the steering rack is now faster.

Visual clues to the transformation would pose a challenge to Miss Marple, though. The bumpers are beefier and at the front incorporate larger air intakes with mesh inserts. The twin chrome exhausts also differentiate this from lesser GTis. Not exactly flamboyant.

Inside there's more to the transformation. Chiefly, the front seats are deep buckets designed by Konig and with a part leather trim as standard (full hide is one of the few options). The dash and doors are trimmed with real brushed aluminium. The pedals are alloy too and there are R logos on the steering wheel, seats, gear lever and dash.

Standard spec includes electric windows, climate control, cruise control, heated seats, CD stereo, motored mirrors along with Xenon headlamps, ESP, rain-sensing wipers plus front, side and curtain airbags.

All this leaves the R32 as the best specified Golf of all time and the mechanical specification promises plenty. But can it deliver?

Yes and no. The initial urge from the V6 is stupendous. Traction off the line is superb, although making a jerk-free getaway in less hurried circumstances can be tricky. However, a full-bore standing start delivers a 0-62mph time of just 6.6 seconds. Yet the engine behaves in the opposite way to most sporting-oriented lumps - oddly, the more you rev it the less it responds. This engine is also deployed in the Phaeton luxo-barge and, although it's been remapped for more eager initial performance, they seem to have left the higher rev range alone.

The six-speed gearbox isn't always the easiest to engage and attempts at swift shifts can result in a missed gear. The brakes don't have a huge amount of feel, but do work superbly and showed little sign of fade despite repeated high-speed stops. The ABS, in the dry at least, isn't over-eager to chip in, either.

The ESP, though, is rather over-enthusiastic. Even in the dry, the warning light flashes well before the tyres begin to protest. There's a very, very large amount of mechanical grip from those fat tyres and you'd have to have seriously misjudged things to find the limit on the road in the dry. Wet roads see the front end push wide in traditional VW style. And also in traditional VW style, there's little to be done short of pulling the handbrake to bring the back end round again.

Throughout this, the steering is having a reasonable go at keeping the driver posted. The turn-in is better than previous sporting Golfs, but there's still some vagueness around the straight-ahead and it remains remote compared with rival hot hatches and rally-reps.

The German tarmac is particularly smooth, so judging ride comfort should be reserved for a British back road. There's plenty of urge, and plenty of fuel consumed too. Its mpg is 24.6, but today we're well into the teens.

So, heavy on the gas and, at £22,340 in the UK, the R32 will present a sizeable investment for the 700 Brits who'll take delivery between now and the end of 2003.

Yes, it undercuts the Audi S3, but the Golf doesn't quite carry the same cachet, and it certainly doesn't have the driving edge that Imprezas and Evos offer.

Nik Berg

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