We expect this car to deliver. The old R32 managed to add an unexpected element of fun to the previous-model Golf, but ultimately didn’t have the sporting edge of hardcore rivals like the Ford Focus RS and Honda Civic Type-R. If the excellent new Golf GTi is anything to go by, however, this time things should be different.
The R32 will top the Golf line-up when it goes on sale in November, with prices starting at £23,745. It runs an upgraded version of the earlier model’s 3.2-litre V6 engine and four-wheel-drive hardware. Underneath, however, it has a better start, using a revised version of the acclaimed Golf Mk5 chassis. The question is, can the R32 justify its £4000 premium over the GTi?
The R32 is available as both a three- and five-door, with styling tweaks that give it a welcome dose of aggression. Up front, there’s a chrome-look grille and a deeper front bumper housing a trio of large air ducts as well as integrated washer jets for the car’s bi-xenon headlamps. There are also chunky new side sills, a rear spoiler and a new rear bumper that incorporates a fake diffuser but two very real chromed tail-pipes. It sits on beautiful 18-inch multi-spoke alloys shod with 225/40 Michelins.
Turn the key and you’re greeted by a deliciously raspy exhaust note. The familiar four-valve-per-cylinder 3.2-litre V6 has a smooth and vibration-free character highly reminiscent of BMW’s in-line sixes. In its latest guise, the transversely mounted engine delivers 247bhp at 6300rpm, up 10bhp over the old R32 owing to a reworked inlet manifold. Torque remains the same at 236lb ft, but it’s now developed 300rpm lower down the range at 2500rpm. By comparison, the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder GTi musters 197bhp and 206lb ft.
Throttle response is rich, the tacho needle racing around the dial the moment you brush the throttle. Nail it hard and the R32 hauls with real enthusiasm to the 6500rpm red line before an electronic cut out halts proceedings at 7000rpm.
It’s not all fire and brimstone, though. The engine is also hugely flexible, with sufficient torque to allow you to skip gears as you change up, and it will pull cleanly and strongly from just 1000rpm in top. The six-speed manual gearbox is plumbed in to Volkswagen’s familiar Haldex four-wheel-drive system, as used on the Golf 4Motion. It uses a multi-plate clutch mounted ahead of the rear axle to apportion power to all four wheels. In extreme conditions it can deliver it all to either the front or rear. The R32’s traction puts it on an altogether different performance plane to the front-wheel drive GTi, allowing it to get its power down without any wheelspinning.
At 1541kg, the new Golf is no lightweight, coming in 64kg above is predecessor due to its larger dimensions and more luxurious cabin. However, it still posts a claimed 0-62mph time of 6.5sec – half a second quicker than the GTi – on the way to a limited 155mph top speed (we couldn’t get the GTi past 136mph).
So the R32 is fast, but it is also a very accomplished high-speed cruiser. Many cars of this ilk provide rapid acceleration through a combination of short gearing and an engine that’s constantly made to work at high revs, which makes them a real chore over longer distances. Not so the R32, which never feels unduly stressed at motorway speeds thanks to a long sixth gear.