This review of the Volkswagen R32 includes model information, specs and buying advice.
The Volkswagen R32 two-door hatchback was introduced to the U.S. market in 2004 as a range-topping model for VW's performance cars. Starting with the Golf and GTI platform of the time, VW's engineers shoehorned in enough upgraded parts to make the R32 a standout performer in its class. Along with the expected boost in power, courtesy of a narrow-angle V6, the R32 also included VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, more aggressive suspension tuning and a sporty interior. These upgrades enabled the R32 to generate fairly impressive performance statistics and earned it an almost cultlike following. The car's limited availability added to its appeal -- just 5,000 examples were sold stateside in that first and only year.
VW enthusiasts in the U.S. would have to wait four more years for the second-generation R32. Again available in limited numbers, the Volkswagen R32 was based on the latest Golf, or Rabbit in the U.S. The exterior changes between the first- and second-generation R32s were subtle, and they pretty much shared the same engine, but the new R32 boasted a stiffer body structure as well as a restyled interior and more cabin space. Sadly for enthusiasts, the second-generation R32 was limited to a single year of stateside availability (2008), just like its predecessor.
Most Recent Volkswagen R32
The second-generation Volkswagen R32 came as a two-door hatchback in 2008, its sole year of availability, and was powered by a 3.2-liter V6. The V6 produced 250 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque and was paired with a six-speed automated dual-clutch manual transmission (VW's direct-shift gearbox, or DSG) featuring steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. All-wheel drive was standard, and one could expect a 0-60 time of 6.0 seconds.
Distinguishing between the first- and second-generation Volkswagen R32 is best accomplished by comparing the nose and tail of each. Headlight designs differ noticeably, and the second-generation grille is surrounded by a brushed-metallic accent that extends below the bumper into the front airdam, while its predecessor has a more traditional body-colored plastic fascia. From the rear, the most discernible differences are the distinct taillight designs and the placement of the exhaust -- the second generation has its twin polished pipes mounted centrally, while the first generation's trumpets are located farther apart.
The second-generation R32's upmarket standard amenities included xenon headlights, heated leather seats, iPod connectivity and high-quality interior materials. As far as options were concerned for the second-generation R32, there were only two -- a navigation system and a no-cost choice of either all-season or aggressive summer tires.
In reviews, our editors praised the R32's cool and composed driving character. Hardly anything fazed this car, whether it was a midcorner bump, a stop-and-go morning commute or a wide-open stretch of highway. Cabin appointments were top-notch -- other hot hatches didn't come close to the sense of quality that the R32's interior exuded. One of our few complaints concerned the V6, which didn't sound or feel as urgent as it should in a performance-oriented car at this price point.
Past Volkswagen R32 Models
The first-generation R32 was a short-lived model produced only for 2004. Initially, Volkswagen wasn't convinced buyers in the U.S. would be interested in an enthusiast-oriented compact like the R32. It had been eight years since the company ceased production on the Corrado, its top-level performance coupe. When the two-door R32 finally arrived on our shores, it was made available with only one option -- leather seats.
Power was generated by Volkswagen's venerable VR6 engine, which had been pumped up to 3.2 liters for this application, resulting in 240 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual was the only available transmission. Knowing full well that this amount of power would be excessive if channeled solely through the front wheels, VW endowed the R32 with standard AWD.
While the Volkswagen R32 was never meant to take on rally-inspired models from Japan, the comparisons to these all-wheel-drive pocket rockets were unavoidable. All were at home on a racetrack or in autocross, with abundant power and grip. And while the R32 lacked the all-out turbocharged thrust of the Japanese models, it made up for this shortcoming with its everyday livability, which put those high-strung rivals to shame. The R32's absence of turbo lag and its ability to carve predatory lines through canyon roads while maintaining a civilized demeanor on long highway straights made it an all-purpose Swiss Army knife compared to the more specialized scalpels from Asia.