Now, that's dedication for you. On the eve of the Australian press launch of Volkswagen's fastest, most powerful Golf ever, one of the 300 people who've laid down hard currency to get into a Golf R32, found out through his Brisbane dealer the cars would be at the Phillip Island racetrack the next day.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s September 2006 issue
That’s a bit of me, he thinks, and promptly hopped on a bomber bound for Melbourne, then made the two-hour trek to the Island the next morning and peered through the fence until a VW employee politely asked what he was doing there. A couple of hours - and a couple of hot laps with ace racer Alex Davison - later, this happy customer departed the Island, even keener to get into his new ride.
VW is getting used to the increased attention in its hot hatch range; worldwide demand for the fifth-generation GTI led to delivery delays down under that still has senior execs fidgeting with their pens when the subject's broached. That's all under control now and, with the R32 having been out in Europe since late last year, the feeling is that the supply chain will get back to normal.
The Wolfsburg-built R32 is, on paper, a nice bit of kit. Powered by the sweet little 3189cc 15-degree VR6 and driven with VW's 4Motion AWD drivetrain, it's good for 184kW at a stratospheric 6300rpm (redline is 6500rpm), and 320Nm of twist at a high-ish 4000-4500rpm. Pushing along 1510kg of hatch - 1530kg if you've opted for the four-dour variant - it's claimed to stop the clocks to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds. That's a reasonably unimpressive number, but with a longish first and a sticky AWD set-up to overcome, it's not all that unexpected.
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What is really unexpected is the price. At $54,990 in three-door manual guise, it's terrific value. lt's loaded to the hilt with nice little odds and sods like lit footwells, dual-zone aircon, trick heated leather seats, and a chillable centre bin. You'll struggle to find that level of spec on many hot all-wheelers at the price point.
The luxuries point straight to the R32's primary function in life - grown-up hot hatch. It’s got a presence all of its own, yet it's not a mug lair plaything. Especially in four-door guise, it's almost a sensible car.
Classic MOTOR: Mk3 Golf VR6 review
The chassis is solid and stable, with little flex. It's forgiving right up to the limit, too, and it's a chassis that's happy to be manhandled. Steering is meaty if a little muted thanks to the 4Motion set up; a tighter front diff would allay the tendency for the front not to tuck in at the apex.
Lighten the throttle and the front will stay elevated, keeping the nose away from the inside of the corner. Get more aggressive on the brakes, though, and push the weight over the nose and the car responds better, with its Haldex coupling doing its best to shuffle the drive across all four wheels. It's a pretty committed understeerer, all told.
lt'll wag its bum under hard braking, and the rear end responds with alacrity to a larger loss of accelerative force, hunching down, stepping out and drifting the car through to the exit. In hard, brake late and firm, turn in with authority and it’ll fire out the outside on the corner like a right good 'un, especially if you stay off the noise till the corner exit looms large.
Initial throttle response is great, announced with a throaty, metallic yowl that's more muted from within the cabin than the previous iteration. Doesn’t sound half bad on the flyby, though. It runs out of puff as the 6500rpm rev limit approaches, and its torque delivery comes later rather than earlier; it needs to be kept in the zone to keep it bubbling, but its poise, balance and levels of grip give it a sense of urgency that is unmistakable.
Its ESP is very unobtrusive on the road, despite a series of savage mid-comer bumps and edges on our extended road loop, and brake feel is top notch, with awesome levels of modulation. It's a good miler masher, though its 18-inch wheel/tyre package is perceptively crashy on square-edge road joins.
Coupled with the R32's poise, beautifully resolved roll control and well-balanced springing and damping, it presents a great middle ground between racecar stiffness and real-world compliance. Haven't driven a manual version yet - we hear not 'til next year, in fact - but the DSG isn’t that keen to either swap down a cog close to the limit, or hold onto the limit once it's encroached. Shifts from the twin-clutch 'box are fast and fluid, especially in the automatic ‘sport' mode, but it still wants to hang onto a gear that's one higher than the one you really need.
The deeply bolstered seats are supportive, but are still mounted too high in the interior. VW interior types should go and sit in a New Beetle RSI, which has one of the most sensational driving positions ever found in any VW product.
Where is it in relation to its nearest sibling and MOTOR fave, the Golf GTI? It's more substantial on the road in its presence, both in perceived and aural quality. Its presentation is sufficiently sexier to differentiate VW’s sporty intent, too. Is it worth the extra spend? Yep - they're sufficiently different cars in their layout and intent that there's a place in the hot hatch universe for both of them.
Gone but not forgotten with classic MOTOR
2006 VOLKSWAGEN GOLF MK5 R32 SPECS
Engine: 3.2-litre V6, DOHC 24-valve
Power: 184kW @ 6300rpm
Torque: 320Nm @ 2500rpm
Compression ratio: 10.9:1
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Track: 1533/1515mm (f/r)
Suspension: MacPherson strut, A-arms, anti-roll bar (f); multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
Brakes: 345mm vented and cross-drilled discs, twin-piston calipers (f); 310mm vented and cross-drilled discs, twin-piston calipers (r)
Tyres: Continental ContiSport Contact; 225/40 ZR18 (f & r)
Price: $54,990 ($57,290 DSG)
Volkswagen's early mark
The new R32 carries on from the Mk4 version of which only 200 were imported into Oz in early 2004. Most of them were snapped up before the ship left Wolfsburg, such was its popularity. It boasted 177kW and 320Nm from the then-handy VW 3.2-litre V6 and reached 100krn/h in 6.6 seconds. The glorious engine blare you hear from the new R32 was also a hallmark of the Mk4, though the old duck was a lot louder.
It was also held up by VW's 4MOTION all-wheel drive platform; a Haldex coupling also diverted drive as necessary. The Mk4 R32 went for $63k, roughly $8000 more than the new Mk5.
AWD bad ass Golf, you say?
Allow us to introduce you to one of the meanest Golf variants ever made. Based on the Golf II, it's called the Volkswagen Golf II G60 Limited, and there’s only ever been 71 of them (69 four-door, two two-doors) made. All in black, too.
Only ever made in a left-hook three-door variant, its 16-valve GTI engine copped a supercharger and made a not-inconsiderable 155kW and 220Nm. Well, that's not inconsiderable for 1989; it was certainly the most powerful Golf until the original R32 lobbed in 2003.
Matched to a Synchro all-wheel drive system, the G60 fetched big bucks; try about $75,000 back in 1989! The majority of cars were sold into VW's corporate honcho fleet in Germany, though some made it to Ye Olde Englande.
It went like a cut snake, but the G-Lader supercharger needed watching, lest it blow and take the motor with it. Big brakes and unique blue grille trim and single lights (not the red trim and quad lamps of the GTI) also set it apart from the rest of the pack.