Sport compact cars are all the rage, and you’d think by the recent rash of small performance models and their popularity in American culture that the idea of these high-horsepower “pocket rockets” was a new one. In fact, VW pioneered the idea with the original GTI, and since 1983, Americans have consistently looked to Volkswagen dealers for cheap thrills.
Time has worn on, however, and today’s small car enthusiasts want more power. In response, Volkswagen produced a limited-production model called the R32 for 2004, equipped with a powerful V6 engine connected to a permanent all-wheel-drive system. Turns out that short-lived specialty model was just a preview of things to come, because for 2007, Volkswagen introduces a new Golf R32, based on the completely redesigned Golf three-door that is soon to arrive in America.
Like the previous car, the new 2007 Volkswagen Golf R32 is no stripes-and-spoilers special. Aiming squarely at the Subaru WRX STI and the Mitsubishi Evolution IX, the new R32 trades a bit of performance for a dose of refinement that Volkswagen hopes will lure some customers considering those rally-ready but rough-edged competitors to the more sophisticated and luxurious Golf R32.
Why it matters
Remember VW’s advertising slogans like Fahrvergnugen and Drivers Wanted? The new 2007 Volkswagen Golf R32 bolsters the image of the brand, a brand clearly aimed at people who love to drive. And at first glance it seems Volkswagen is serious about performance by fitting the 2007 Golf R32 with a V6 instead of a four cylinder like those in competing models. Unfortunately, Volkswagen’s 3.2-liter V6 produces about 250 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque – far shy of what the STI and Evolution are putting to the pavement. But one area where Volkswagen redeems itself is with more luxurious cabin appointments. The 2007 Volkswagen Golf R32 sports leather upholstery, aluminum trim, a ten-speaker stereo system, and a three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel. Rounding out the R32’s upscale appointments is an automatic climate control system.
How quick it is
Based on its European specifications, the new 2007 Volkswagen Golf R32 is underpowered compared to its rivals. The R32’s 3.2-liter V6 pumps out about 250 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque, put to the ground through a standard 4Motion permanent all-wheel-drive system connected to your choice of a six-speed manual or a Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) dual clutch transmission with manual paddle shifters. But the R32 falls short of both four-cylinder bullies despite its extra cylinders and displacement, landing closest to the Mitsubishi Evolution’s 286 horsepower and 289 lb.-ft. of torque but well short of the Subaru WRX STI’s 300 horsepower and 300 lb.-ft. of torque. Volkswagen’s claimed acceleration times are also off compared to the Evo and WRX, with a 0-62 mph time of 6.5 seconds with the standard manual transmission and 6.2 seconds with the optional DSG. However, industry rumors speculate that the redesigned Passat’s 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter motor might used to power an American version of the R32, which could be named R36. If Volkswagen chooses not to use the more powerful Passat motor, it would be like entering a Shetland pony in the Kentucky Derby and expecting to competitive.
What it looks like
Better looking than the Mitsubishi Evolution or the Subaru WRX, the 2007 Volkswagen Golf R32 doesn’t have any boy-racer wings or hood scoops, resulting in a more mature appearance. Instead of tacky tack-ons, Volkswagen goes upscale and incorporates body color trim and bumpers as well as discreet badges. The VW R32 rolls on 18-inch lightweight alloy wheels revealing painted brake calipers and serious 17-inch front brake discs. Europeans get this handy five-door hatchback version of the new R32, while Americans are likely to be restricted to the sportier three-door.
What we think
In this market, where high-performance sport compacts are typically targeted at younger buyers but where price points often dictate an older and wealthier crowd, horsepower is the priority. But where the 2007 Volkswagen Golf R32 falls short in power it makes up with a more luxurious interior and sophisticated good looks. But do buyers in this segment care about the nicer cabin finish or are they all about go-fast power? We feel the new VW Golf R32 will find its niche among older enthusiast buyers looking for ultimate all-weather performance combined with comfort and convenience.
Photos courtesy of Volkswagen AG