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Future Classic Friday: Volkswagen Golf R32

Published 06 October 2017

To fully 'get' the original Volkswagen Golf R32, you have to first understand how disappointing the Mk4 Golf GTi was to fans of the iconic bagde.

That may sound a bit harsh - after all, the Mk4 GTi was a pretty good car, insofar as it was smart to look at and had a strong image. For those who craved a small hatchback with a bit of upmarket kudos, it ticked all the boxes.

But the clue, here, is in the word 'upmarket', as by the time the fourth generation came around the Golf GTi had morphed from a fun point-and-squirt hot hatchback to a premium German runabout, soft-touch plastics and all. Estate agents and sales managers adored it, but hardcore drivers did not.

Enter the R32. It took Volkswagen five years to get the Mk4 hot hatchback right, after trying various powertrains in the GTi and even experimenting with the unusual V5 to make the Golf a bit quirky. None of them won praise from the diehard performance car fraternity.

Volkswagen Golf Mk 4 R32 (4)

But when the R32 came on the scene, they had no choice but to like it. Here was a car that looked fantastic, had a rorty 3.2-litre V6 under the bonnet, a modest yet punchy 237bhp under the bonnet and, most importantly, a chassis set-up that proved that the Mk4 Golf wasn't quite as dowdy under the skin as we'd been led to believe. 

The engine was derived from the old 2.8-litre VR6, with both cylinder banks sharing a head, but this time it came with four valves per cylinder.

With the power fed to the road via a Haldex four-wheel drive system and, for the first time, the option of Volkswagen's clever DSG gearbox, it was capable of 0-60mh in just 6.4 seconds, complete with mellifluous V6 exhaust note and none of the disadvantages caused by turbo lag.

Today, of course, the DSG style of gearbox is the norm, but back in 2003 its super-quick changes thanks to its dual-clutch set-up were incredible, and made two-pedal transmission behave like it never had done before.

Volkswagen Golf Mk 4 R32 (2)

There was a sense of occasion to the R32's cabin, too. Bespoke Recaro bucket seats, drilled pedals and an R32-specific leather steering wheel letting you know it was something special, without being too overt about the whole thing.

Because of these factors, the R32 was liked from day one, and that's reflected in the values, with the earliest cars still commanding £4000 or so. It seems that the context provided by the Mk4 GTi has actually flattered the R32, so if you want one, they're never going to be cheap. They are, however, tremendously good fun.


Engineer Andy    on 12 October 2017

What about all the quality and reliability issues of the mkIV?

   on 14 October 2017

I have owned my R32 since she was 2 years old, an excellent car. Tornado Red 2 door with sunroof & sat nav. Never had any problems with 'reliability issues'

Engineer Andy    on 14 October 2017

If you read the HJ car-by-car review section of the car generally, the mkIV Golf had many reliability issues, including the R32. Just because yours didn't doesn't mean they all were 100% reliable.

Sven Elvis    on 1 January 2019

Andy you’re an engineer. So forgive me if I sound patronising but a car is a complex piece of engineering. Therefore there will always be issues.
All cars have some problems, I’ve owned many cars including 6 R32’s which I had no problems with at all. I did have problems with the other manufacturers cars.
The mark 4 did not have many reliability issues, the fact that there are so many still on the road today proves this theory.
Just because you read in one article that the mark 4 has some issues doesn’t mean it’s written that you will have many reliability issues. Have you owned any r32’s? The engines are considered very reliable and the car is very well built. In contract my neighbour has a Ford Focus which is rusting at ever seam severely with only 45k miles and a full service history. Read up about other cars before you comment as this might serve you better!

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