- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2008

Volkswagen can no longer be classified simply as the “People’s Car” with its primary focus on inexpensive and economical transportation. There are now many niches filled by a host of VW vehicles - from value-laden, environmentally friendly modes of transport, through high-end, luxury rides, off-road capable SUVs, with performance-oriented and fun-to-drive vehicles interspersed through the product mix for good measure.

A highly-tweaked Golf, known as the R32 with 4MOTION along with an extensive inventory of other performance equipment gives Volkswagen a leg up once again, as a totally unique European alternative to several all-wheel drive competitors that happen to be of Asian origin.

The R32 hatchback, limited production (only 5000 units will be available) hot rod, based on the VW Golf, has returned once again for the 2008 model year, setting its sights on dyed-in-the-wool automobile enthusiasts. It may be comfortably placed in the same arena with the likes of Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evo and the Subaru WRX STi, in terms of equipment, performance capability and price. The R32 is offered at a base price of $32,990.

What’s so special about a “tweaked” Golf? Well, a lot of things actually. The VW R32 is powered by a newer version of the R32’s namesake, a “Racing 3.2” L naturally aspirated VR6 engine, that now cranks out an additional 10 horses for a total of 250 horsepower along with 236 pounds-feet of torque. The potent mill mates to Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system with a Haldex coupling. Motive force reaches the wheels by way of VW’s acclaimed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG transmission), which allows for seamless gear changes and assists the R32 in accelerating from 0 to 60 in approximately 6.5 seconds.

First introduced in 2004 to the United States, the R32 rapidly sold its entire allotment of 5,000 Limited Edition vehicles. An exclusive pre-sale for current GTI and R32 owners of R32 vehicles, which was announced at last year’s Chicago Auto Show, resulted in the advanced purchase of more than 1,000 of the 5,000 coveted 2008 Volkswagen sport-hatches.

The athletic VR6 engine with its unique 15-degree narrow angle design has a bore and stroke of 84 mm and 95.9 mm, respectively, and is capped with a single aluminum-alloy cylinder head. The engine features a chain-driven, dual-overhead cam. The VR6 engine family was first introduced in the 1992 Volkswagen Corrado SLC.

VW’s all-wheel drive system, 4MOTION, gets all four wheels moving through the Haldex coupling, with gear changes executed through the smooth, close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission or the 6-speed DSG Tiptronic automatic transmission, that allows the driver to select gears in a regular automatic mode, or a more aggressive sport mode, with the console mounted shift lever or wheel mounted F1-inspired paddles. This powertrain combination is good for 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds. The car rides on alternating short/long,10-spoke silver painted alloy wheels shod with R-rated, 18-inch low-profile, Dunlop SP Sport tires all the way around. Blue-painted brake calipers clamp onto oversized, vented disc brakes at all four corners, peeking through the wheel spokes.

There are other extra special accoutrements to shout about as well, such as: the delightfully-tuned dual exhaust that emits a heart-warming, throaty note; the functional integrated spoiler lip that sits atop the rear hatch; the purposeful “top sport” bucket seats that feature optimal support from every angle, emblazoned with the R logo; the fat, sculpted, leather covered steering wheel with notches in all the right places; the satin-finished trim, panels, sill plates and pedals with R and R32 logos tastefully embossed; heated front seats; Climatronic automatic climate control; Rain Sensor automatic wiper speed control; automatic self-dimming interior mirror; power sunroof; anti-theft alarm; and incredible Monsoon sound system with premium CD/ cassette.

The VW R32 not only looks fast with its extended and integrated front and rear fascias, and lowered sill panels, it comes across as the ultimate expression of a racing Golf - and race it does ably. I was able to experience the prowess of the earlier VW craft at Firebird Raceway, on both the North road course and on a specially set-up autocross venue. The car, which features a 1-inch lower stance than a GTI VR6, stays planted no matter how hard it is tossed about, assisted by thick anti-roll bars. Safety features include: ABS; Electronic Brake Force Distribution; Electronic Stability Program; and Brake Assist system.

The R32 4MOTION test vehicle featured a Candy White exterior finish, complemented by a Black interior with faux carbon fiber trim accents and rubber-studded aluminum pedals. The car’s base sticker was set at $32,990.

The DVD navigation system with iPod adapter, along with the Destination charge boosted the final price tag to $35,430 before tax and license. Other available colors include an exclusive Deep Blue Pearl Effect, United Grey and Tornado Red.

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