Retro review: the Mk5 Volkswagen Golf R32

This review was first published in Top Gear magazine issue 147 (2005)

Here’s that sound again. A low, chest-pounding V6 whine turns into a frantic, high-rev howl that threatens to knock birds out of the trees and scare boars out of the woods. It’s part race car, part supercar, part Tyrannosaurus rex in origin, and certainly not the kind of racket you’d expect from a Volkswagen.

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But then it’s a new-age Volkswagen we’re dealing with here, the bright blue flagship for a stronger, flashier, more belligerent corporate approach. This second-generation Golf R32 joins the recently launched BMW 130i (and, by strict definition, the Porsche Cayman S and Aston Martin V8 Vantage) as a contender for the title of the most popular hatchback on sale today.

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Words: Pierre Gruner

Images: Lee Brimble

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Just as the R32 makes a strident sonic statement of its intentions, there isn’t much visual subtlety at play here either. Prepare to be dazzled, at least by the amount of chrome and polished metal that abounds inside and out.

At the front, the deep honeycomb nose of the latest Golf GTI has been replaced by a chrome beak filled with horizontal strakes, as if hanging a Venetian blind over a mirror. Two large chrome tailpipes are located on either side of the center of the rear apron and the standard 18-inch 20-spoke alloy wheels would surely have been chrome too, if the dip tank at Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg headquarters hadn’t had A leak. Can be.

The theme returns with bright strips of turned aluminum on the dash and much of the center console. The pedals are trimmed with dazzling sheets of polished aluminum, as is a section of the small, chunky, flat-bottomed steering wheel. Again, not very Volkswagen. And the same can be said for the standard light gray plastics used for the dashboard and door trim. Light gray never looks so cheap; just look at the shoes of your average geography teacher.

Still, the standard seats are great and the optional £945 Recaro buckets are even better. They have wild wings, offer almost rigid lateral support, and even have slots to fit some racing harnesses. And no, you can’t find any shiny, polished work anywhere on them; the seat backs are instead a thin plastic shell painted dark gray metallic.

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Back to the noise. It’s the combined creation of those two flared exhaust trumpets and a sizable front-mounted 3.2-litre V6, as can also be found in the Touareg, Phaeton, various Audis and indeed the first generation Golf R32. Here it makes 247 hp (or 10 hp more than the last iteration and 50 hp more than the current GTI) at 6,300 rpm, along with 236 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm. The engine loves to rev when it reaches its peak vocal performance. It is a joy

There’s a choice of transmissions, in the form of a six-speed manual gearbox with a long throw and slightly slow shifting action or Volkswagen’s robotic dual-clutch Direct Shift gearbox (or DSG). You may stumble on your ride options in full auto mode, but it’s an ideal match for the big V6 when you switch to paddle-assisted manual control. Here it perfectly times its automatic throttle stabs on downshifts and shifts gears so quickly on the way back that it shaves 0.3 seconds off the claimed 0-62 mph time. With a 6.2 second figure, it also gets there 0.7 seconds quicker than a GTI.

Unfortunately, DSG costs an extra £1,330, bringing the R32’s asking price to £25,075.

Something else has changed from the front-wheel drive GTI experience. It’s the lack of torque in the steering and wheel spin, no doubt just minor bad habits of the other fast Golf, but banished in the R32 by Volkswagen’s electronically controlled 4Motion four-wheel drive system. Traction is unwavering, even on wet and dirty roads, and grip levels are as confident as Strangeways; in fact, probably more. The suspension has been lowered by 20mm compared to a regular Golf (and thus 5mm more than a GTI), body roll is virtually absent, and the ride quality never leads to severe vertebrae bumps, even when pressed against them. slim seats.

Golf R32 first gear

The brakes provide an equally effective counterpoint to the engine’s ability to cut straight-line distances, with large 345mm front and 310mm rear discs clamped by a set of bright blue-painted calipers. The blue continues with the speedometer and tachometer needles, which light up like miniature lightsabers when the (again, standard) bi-xenon headlights are turned on.

It’s a seemingly overwhelming combination of talent. In a car that’s not at all heavy in its exterior proportions, you’ve got practicality, speed, all-weather traction, and cheek-tingling levels of grip. Along with that soulful V6 soundtrack, of course.

There is only one area where the R32 stumbles and threatens to fall face first on the rear with the body kit. It’s a bit swollen. At 1,510kg, the complex four-wheel drive system and large-capacity V6 engine balance it 60kg beyond a BMW 130i and 155kg beyond a Golf GTI on the scale.

Rather than what was added in terms of raw stats, what is missing is more important. On a narrow, twisty road that encourages you to push harder in a nimble, responsive car like the latest GTI, there’s less precision and enthusiasm for cornering. Steering feedback is reduced in detail and the line in corners is less easy. adjustable with a lift of the throttle.

In a car that promises a lot, and screams a lot about what it has to offer, on the surface, this more expensive and powerful Golf’s first instinct is to simply plow through.

If the R32 hits like a baseball bat full of rusty nails, then the GTI is a precision-forged samurai sword by comparison. And, with DSG, it’s £3,755 cheaper.

Verdict: Impressive sound effects, abundant speed, unyielding traction. So why is the GTI more fun?

3.2 liter V6
247 hp, all-wheel drive
0-62mph in 6.2 seconds, top speed 154mph

Volkswagen Golf R32 Mk5 Top GearVolkswagen Golf R32 Mk5 Top GearVolkswagen Golf R32 Mk5 Top Gear

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