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Volkswagen Golf R32 review

The Volkswagen Golf R32 MkIV has a devoted following these days, and here's why

Volkswagen Golf R32

The VW Golf R32 is nearly as quick as an Impreza or Focus RS, with fine roadholding, a smooth, powerful V6 and firm chassis set-up. But the VW is a subtler proposition than those raw sportsters. Despite its aggressive looks and race car-style interior, the Golf's build and refinement mark it out as an alternative to the likes of BMW and Audi, not Subaru and Ford.

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The Volkswagen Golf R32 is the flagship of the Golf MkIV range, and it was created at a time when the famous Golf GTI had lost some of its appeal, thanks to VW’s attempt to turn it into a trim level, rather than a performance brand. The R32 was built from 2002-2004, and only 500 were sold in the UK. It’s loosely based on the same running gear as the Audi TT 3.2 quattro, and features a 237bhp 3.2-litre V6 and four-wheel drive. It was also the first production car in the world to offer a DSG twin-clutch gearbox.The R32 was a rival for the Subaru Impreza of the period and Ford Focus RS MkI. It has a subtly aggressive look compared to the standard Golf MkIV, with 20mm lower suspension, plus the addition of a ground-hugging bodykit, complete with lower side sills, a small roof spoiler and a large front bumper incorporating three big grilles to aid engine cooling. At the rear, the bumper drops down to surround the large twin chrome-plated exhaust pipes. And if there was still any doubt of the car's intentions, there unique 18-inch multi-spoke alloys, blue brake calipers and R32 badging mark the model out. Inside, the three-door-only R32 gets a pair of sports seats and more R32 logos.That exhaust doesn't just look the business - it produces a fantastic bark when the throttle is pressed, and 4MOTION four-wheel drive helps the R32 sprint from 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 153mph. The 20mm lower suspension means there’s little body roll in corners, while direct steering and 4WD grip also make for secure cornering. Where the Golf really scores well is with its low-speed driving ability. When you haven't got a test track or deserted country lane at your disposal, the VW's big engine makes cruising and pottering around easy. The R32 is happy to pull away in sixth at only 1,000rpm, thanks in part to a peak torque figure of 320Nm at just 2,800rpm. But floor the throttle and it'll scream up to 6,750rpm with a total lack of vibration and harshness. The R32 is very enjoyable to drive, although at 1,477kg, it's a touch on the heavy side. Aside from its explosive straight-line performance, the reality is that the R32 isn’t much different to GTI, V5 or V6 4Motion versions of the Golf MkIV. Nevertheless, the R32’s exclusivity will make it a strong used buy and potential future classic.

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Senior test editor

Dean has been part of the Auto Express team for more than 20 years, and has worked across nearly all departments, starting on magazine production, then moving to road tests and reviews. He's our resident van expert, but covers everything from scooters and motorbikes to supercars and consumer products.

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