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Category: $30,000 to $35,000 all-wheel drive performance coupe
Who should buy this car: A performance-car enthusiast looking for a sophisticated German car that is both comfortable and fast.
Comparable models in this class:

BMW 3 Series, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Subaru Impreza WRX

2008 Volkswagen R32 Road Test Review

Nice car!

Hes leaning out the window of his car, going the other way, but in a split second he recognized the 2008 Volkswagen R32 and offered probably his supreme compliment.  Or at least the best he could come up with on such short notice.

Its a testament not only to his ability to know what hes seeing, but also Volkswagen making in the R32 something worth noticing.  Indeed, to most observers the Volkswagen R32 is little more than a two-door Rabbit (VW no longer uses Golf in the U.S.) with special wheels, even if thats noticed.

Thats R32 to you But the performance car-conscious will recognize the hallmarks that make the Volkswagen R32 different.  To begin with theres the aforementioned wheels, 18-inchers with an open 10-spoke design that shows off the large blue-painted brake calipers front and rear.  Standard tires are sizeable 225/40R18 summer compound stuffing the standard VW wheelwells.

Experienced VW spotters will notice a front fascia unique to the R32, the biggest instant giveaway.  Where the Volkswagen Rabbit has a monochrome face and the Volkswagen GTI has a black bib, the R32 sports a brushed aluminum-look grille surround, along with standard bi-xenon headlamps and a deep front spoiler.  Out back, Volkswagen added a roof spoiler and centered dual polished stainless steel exhaust outlets as clues.   That and the overall sense of too much car stuffed into too little automobile, makes the two-door sedan noticeable without standing out.

Perhaps our mobile admirer had seen the inside of the Volkswagen R32.  The interior is set off by engine-turned look plastic, though more important are the high bolsters on the front sport seats.  Theyre flat out annoying to climb over getting in or out, and theyre a snug fit for average derrieres and a veritable vice for anyone larger.  But theres not much more in the way of bum grabbers than the R32s front seats, allowing the driver to use the contoured steering wheel to actually steer rather than hang on in the corners.  Theyre also significant noise reducers, effective in reducing the terror level in the right front seat.

The two-door Volkswagen is allegedly a four-seater, and indeed even adults can fit in the lower forty, but for the fully grown, getting in and, worse, getting out is challenging despite front seats that bump up and forward.

The Volkswagen R32s primary function, however, is not mass transit but rather rapid transit.  The models namesake is a narrow-angle V-6 displacing 3.2-liters.  With only 15 degrees between the banks, the transversely-mounted six is a snug fit in the R32s engine compartment but yields a naturally-aspirated 250 horsepower with a ready response to the right foot.

Tech specs for piston necks Technical engine specifications for the certifiably gearheaded: Bore and stroke of 84 mm by 95.9 mm.  The vee engine has a one overhead cams per bank, making a double overhead cam engine, of sorts, in the R32s single aluminum-alloy cylinder head.  The engine has variable valve timing, four valves per cylinder and a healthy 10.85:1 compression ratio.  Yes, premium fuel is required.

The R32 is available only with a six-speed DSG transmission.  The dual-clutch gearbox has no clutch pedal, but instead a conventional gear box is manually shifted sequentially by tipping the shift lever for and aft, or by paddles on the steering wheel.

The transmission is ideally suited to the engine.  Unlike the traditional automatic, theres no torque converter slop but rather a firm nexus twixt engine and road.  The transmission shifts faster than manually possible and as a bargain gives a crisp bark between gears.  Theres little flywheel effect, which also makes for great throttle-blipping sessions in the driveway.

Unlike most manually-shifted automatic transmissions, the R32s gearbox will allow downshifts to revs high enough to give engine braking.  On the other hand, the transmission shifts up automatically even in manual mode if the throttle pedal is pushed past a detent hard to the floor, letting the transmissions computer rev the engine to redline in each gear for maximum performance.  Its the driver, however, who makes the conscious right-foot decision to opt for automatic upshift mode; the transmission wont upshift without that full push.

Sounds = Looks In full push mode, the Volkswagen R32 sounds like it looks.  The exhaust note has a baritone warble at full throttle, a product of its narrow-angle V-6 firing order.  At highway cruise it makes a constant subdued thrum to mix with a steady whoosh from the tires.  Quiet it isnt, but the sounds arent noise but rather like sound track for a movie, the R32s theme.

Ride is firm but the strut front and multi-link rear four-wheel independent suspension sops up ripples on the gollywiggling roads like whitebread on milk.  The R32 is balanced with front and rear tires starting to talk at the same time, and even bumpy pavement requires minimal steering adjustment in mid-turn.  Volkswagens 4Motion all-wheel drive can transfer up to 75 percent of the engines torque to the rear wheels for a front drive dramatics-free shove out of the corner and a total absence of torque steer.  The 2008 Volkswagen R32s suspension inspires confidence like an Eagle Scouts promise.

On the road, braking in traffic will become an effort of distance management with the car behind, and although we didnt have the chance to track test the R32, those big blue calipers and the big shiny discs should survive track day abuse without significant event.

Begging for track day If anything, the 250-horse R32 is too quick for the public road and begs for a track day or at least a vigorous flogging at an autocross.  Yet with the transmission in full automatic mode and a light foot on the pedal on the right, the 2008 Volkswagen R32 will complete everyday errands anonymously and discretely, nothing but a slightly rumbly exhaust and a too-tight T-shirt look to betray its alter ego.  No one needs ever to know.  Except, of course, that driver who leans out of his car window and shouts Nice car!

Philbert J Thrombockle comments: Volkswagen calls this hotrod hatchback the MkV R32, for the fifth generation of the R32.  This is only the second such edition, however, to reach the U.S., and did so only after persistent demands from American enthusiasts brought the model Stateside in 2004 to a rapid sell out of the approximately 5,000 units.  Much the same is happening with the Mk V, with 1,000 of the planned 5,000 unit run pre-sold.

Purchasers oughtnt look for discounts.  Sales will move along quite smartly without spiffs or distress sale prices. Our Deep Blue Metallic 2008 Volkswagen R32 listed for $32,990 and, with an iPod adapter/navigation system listing $1,800 and $640 distination charge, the bottom line comes to $35,430.

Thats playing in the shallower depths of the BMW 3-Series pool, about the same as a BMW 328i Coupewith no options.  Without a side-by-side comparison, well dub the R32 the faster car, and with its all-wheel drive, more capable of coping with unruly pavement.  But the BMW is smooth and a more sophisticated operator.  Its no slouch on a road course, but it will take a major step up on the order form to buy seconds of the lap timer.

The EPA estimate of 18/23 mpg city/highway is pessimistic for highway operation.  We were able to record about 25 mpg at a constant 70 mph.  We didnt do significant city crawling, but even while playing on backroads, our mileage approximated what the EPA said it would be.

Standard Equipment
(partial list)

  • 250 horsepower 3.2 liter V6 engine

  • 6-speed automated manual transmission with paddle-shifters

  • All-wheel drive

  • 225/40ZR18 92Y performance tires

  • Alloy wheels

  • 4 wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS

  • Stability control

  • Traction control

  • Dual front side-mounted airbags

  • Front and rear head airbags

  • Xenon high intensity discharge headlamps

  • Power glass sunroof

  • Rear spoiler

  • Leather upholstery

  • Heated front seats

  • Remote power door locks

  • Power windows

  • Heated power mirrors

  • Cruise control

  • Tilt and  telescopic steering wheel

  • Dual zone automatic climate controls for driver and front passenger

  • AM/FM in-dash 6 CD player, CD-controller with CD MP3 Playback stereo with 10 speakers

  • Sirius satellite radio

Major Available Options
(Partial list, depends on model, some options are only available as part of a package, see your Volkswagen dealer for details)

  • DVD Navigation with iPod adapter

  • 18" alloy wheels  with all-season tires

For more information on the Volkswagen R32, visit vw.com

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