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Volkswagen Golf R32

Most powerful Golf yet... but it's no GTI



by:
Jamie Vondruska

Last edited:
08.15.02 - 01:00


Sometimes life's experiences can read like a good fiction novel as the following story suggests. We were recently invited to Volkswagen's Ehra Liessen proving grounds in Germany to sample the new Touareg sport utility vehicle. We were about to break for lunch when several VWAG board members including Dr. Bernd Pischetsrieder arrived to join us. Greg Brown from European Car magazine was seated at a table with Dr. Pischetsrieder when the topic of the Golf R32 came up. Journalists asked if the R32 had any hope of being offered in North America. Dr. Pischetsrieder responded, "It's not a matter of whether it will arrive, but whether you want the two-door or four-door version. Do you like the R32?"

Greg Brown responded, "On paper, sure. But we haven't seen it or driven it." Dr. Pischetsrieder calmly picked up his cell phone, dials a number and has a short but curt conversation in German with someone on the other end. He then hangs up, puts the phone back in the inside breast pocket of his suit coat. "My people are bringing one out to the track so you can drive it and see for yourself." Pretty impressive.

Greg excitedly came over to our table and told us the good news, plus he relayed Dr. Pischetsrieder's positive response on offering the R32 in North America. One look at Dr. Jens Neumann who appeared to be choking on his food based on what he just heard told me that maybe the R32 hasn't quite been approved for the U.S market. Chairmans of large automobile companies love to make people scramble.

The truth, upon more recent investigation is that the R32 is not approved to come to North America. However, the thought is not dead - on life support maybe, but not dead. Apparently a few board members at VWAG would like to see the R32 offered in the U.S. but there are some very major hurdles to overcome and some niggling issues like pricing to contend with. More on that part later... back to Ehra Liessen.
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Ehra Leissen is considered sacred ground by the high-priests in Wolfsburg, Germany. Very few of the thousands of employees at Volkswagen have ever been inside Ehra Liessen and even fewer members of the public. Journalists? Try only a small handful at best. Ehra Liessen is a small town about 40 minutes north of Wolfsburg largely located in a dense forest. Just north of town is Volkswagen's sprawling proving grounds surrounded by what appears to be most of the fencing and razor wire from the former east/west German border - security is a bit tight. All manner of testing is done within the Ehra Liessen test facility as Volkswagen has built everything from a 4 mile stretch of Autobahn (six lanes across), to pothole filled road courses, reconstructed road surfaces that simulate cobblestone streets, L.A. freeways and gravel paths, to small man-made mountains to simulate hill climbs and load testing, to torture courses that can simulate over a 100,000 miles of abuse in one week of time.

After spending most of the day driving the Touareg on a secluded section of the facility, we arrived back at "Scirocco Hall" and the R32 sitting on the tarmac with a temporary plate crookedly affixed with duct tape to the back of the car. One can only imagine the scramble back at Wolfsburg when the boss himself called for the car to be brought out to Ehra Liessen.

First, the R32 is officially called the Golf R32 and is not a GTI model. In an attempt to keep with the light and nimble theme of the original GTI, 4motion is only available on highline Golf models in Europe. Since the R32 comes standard with 4motion (Haldex) all wheel drive, it wears a Golf badge. The blue metallic paint on the R32 which Volkswagen officially calls "Deep Blue Metallic" is stunning. It is a deeper and darker Jazz Blue with a heavy metallic that changes hue just slightly in sunlight. The R32 has a very menacing appearance that is low to the ground sitting squatly on its special Aristo 18" wheels specially made for VW by OZ and 225/40ZR-18 Dunlop tires. The body kit is a brand new piece made especially for this car that comprises an aggressive front lower airdam with black honeycomb inserts, side skirts that are deeper and flared more than the 337/25th Anniversary GTI units and a rear bumper that is totally unique with two large 3 inch chromes exhaust tips exposed on either side of the body. Overall the front and sides have a very VW feel while the rear tends to look a little more aftermarket, but not too over the top by our tastes. Further exterior pieces include high-intensity-discharge (HID) projector headlamps with bumper mounted washer units, a rear mounted hatch lip spoiler and R32 badging on the front grill and rear hatch.
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  Inside those 18" wheels sit big 4-piston calipers with 334mm (13.1 in.) vented rotors from the W8 Passat with blue powder coated calipers that are unique to the R32. The rear brakes are 256mm (10 in.) diameter vented rotors. ABS and electronic brake force distribution (EBD) are also integrated into the braking system. The suspension sits 20mm lower on H&R springs and Bilstein shocks. The R32's steering system has also been completely redesigned with a quicker rack (2.5 turns lock to lock) and more direct feel. Because of the standard 4motion four wheel drive system, the R32 has a fully independent multi-link rear suspension with dual-link trailing arms. Sway bars are also reportedly stiffened quite a bit front and rear. To help you keep it all together, electronic stability program (ESP) is standard but has been "fine tuned" to be less intrusive in the R32.

The Golf R32 is the first production Volkswagen to utilize the new 3.2l 24v VR6 and in this application is rated at 240hp and 236 lb-ft. of torque. Power is transferred through VW's new MQ350 six-speed transmission and 4motion four wheel drive system. The 3.2l has a variety of new pieces and improvements over the older 2.8l VR6. Bore and stroke were increased from 81.0 and 90.3 mm in the 2.8l to 84.0 and 95.9 mm in the new 3.2l with a compression ratio of 11.3:1. The 3.2l also incorporates dual overhead cam shafts with continuous intake and exhaust adjustment of 52 degrees and 22 degrees respectively. The entire intake system was redesigned to optimize flow geometry of the intake manifold and cylinder head with larger flow cross-sections. Engineers also increased the diameter of the intake valves and improved the shape of the valve seat inserts. Expect to see the 3.2l VR6 utilized in the Touareg, Phaeton (Europe only), Microbus, next generation Passat and next generation Golf and Jetta. The 3.2l VR6 will also likely see duty in the Audi TT and next generation Audi A3.

Open the door and your eyes are treated to a feast of leather, brushed aluminum and the most aggressive sport seats to ever grace a stock Volkswagen. These sport seats are made for Volkswagen by Konig and feature integrated headrests, huge thigh and side bolsters and a great shape designed to completely lock you in place during inevitable high-speed maneuvers. Brushed aluminum trim similar to the 25th Anniversary GTI is liberally applied to the dash, center console and doors as well as the door sills with R32 logos etched into the surface. The pedals are unique in the R32 with aluminum surfaces and rubber inserts also shaped like the Volkswagen Racing "R" logo. Volkswagen also snuck in Jetta/Bora style air vents in the R32 in place of the regular Golf/GTI units. The European gauge cluster features aluminum trim rings, a 300 kph speedo and R32 logo on the lower tachometer face. The steering wheel is a three spoke unit similar to the existing GTI 3-spoke but even thicker with larger thumb cutouts at the 3 and 9-o'clock positions and an aluminum R32 logo inset at the bottom of the wheel. Other standard interior features include sunroof, rain sensing wipers, Climatronic, a theft system with interior radar, your choice of CD/Sat/Nav sound systems and a choice of all leather or leather and Alcantara seating surfaces. Exterior colors in Germany include "reflex silver metallic", "deep blue metallic" and "black magic pearl effect."
       

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So what's it like? The seats are fantastic and provide excellent support without being too hard or too narrow. Firing up the 3.2l sounds like any other VR6 engine until you dip into the throttle which unleashes a very healthy and low growl from the dual exhaust system. Volkswagen takes pride in mentioning the special exhaust "tuning" that went into this system and we're here to tell you that it sounds simply awesome. In fact if we didn't know any better we would have thought the exhaust was a straight aftermarket piece - it was that noticeable.

Clutch take up was lighter than expected, but the new six-speed is smooth and fairly precise making it easy to get going. You can tell that the R32 is a heavy car getting under way, yet it didn't feel too ponderous. The 236 lb-ft. of torque pulls the car out of the hole rather nicely and when you keep your foot planted past 4000 rpms things start to really move with both mechanical engine noises and exhaust tones fighting for attention - this is something we could definitely get used to.

Volkswagen had previously laid out a cone course for us earlier in the day which included a slalom section right out of the gate. This was the most telling part of the whole course and where the R32 truly separated itself from every other Golf and GTI we've driven. In to the first cone the first thing you notice is the very sharp and precise turn-in, but also the fact that the rear of the car is actively part of the program not just being tugged along for the ride like the regular beam axle GTI. By the third cone I found myself needing to correct for oversteer as I hadn't expected any cooperation from the rear of the car, nor any sort of neutrality. Once accustomed to the completely different handling characteristics, the R32 was easy to dice between the cones and provided a great balance all the way up to about 9/10ths when, in typical iron-block-completely-in-front-of-the-strut-towers VR6 fashion the car plowed hard at the limit driving wide of the line. Simply backing off the throttle part-way and scrubbing some speed helped correct the problem, but there is little anyone can do when it comes to the pure physics of placing that much weight in front of the wheels. Just below that threshold though, Volkswagen did a phenomenal job of bringing neutral handling back into the Golf platform and making the car feel completely different than any Golf or GTI to date.
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  Does it feel fast? Quick and fun absolutely... fast, well.... The R32 tips the scales at a heavy 3,256 lb. which conspires to intrude on any light and nimble feeling one might have in a regular GTI. It is still an aggressive car in so many other ways, with a wonderful engine, wonderful sounds and great handling up to a point that you are willing to forget about the weight. The brakes are easily up to the task and provided fade-free solid braking every time we touched the pedal.

Would we buy one? You bet. It is still hands down the best Golf ever made. Which brings us back to the little issue of the R32 being sold here in North America. After numerous lengthy conversations with people in Germany after driving the car, the R32 has some major hoops to jump through before it could be offered here - the two biggest being crash testing and EPA certification. On top of that the R32 starts at a price of ¤31,900 in Germany and would likely mean that our price would be very similar. Rumor has it that Pischetsrieder himself would like to see the R32 offered here in the U.S. So would we, so once again VWvortex is asking those of you that would seriously consider purchasing the R32 if it were offered here in the U.S. to take our poll linked below. Please only vote in the poll if you would actually purchase an R32 at a price at $32,000 or less. We'll send the results to Volkswagen of America and we'll see what happens. Stay tuned...

Click
HERE to add you vote to the R32 Poll.

RELATED LINKS

VWvortex R32 Poll VWvortex R32 Poll
VWvortex R32 Photo Gallery Gallery
Official VWAG R32 Website http://www.volkswagen.de
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