"R32" – its an evocative badge these days. The car basks in the glow of rave Clarkson reviews, and looks like a classy, mini GT. It’s all a far cry from the brash, “max power” version 1 car.
The MKV R32 goes about its business with much more understatement than the MK1 R32, but still packs some serious hardware. It has 250 horsepower from its 3.2 V6, and can cover the 0-60 rush in around 6 seconds. If you spec the DSG gearbox, and use the hidden “Launch control” feature it feels even quicker.
Simply disengage the traction control, slip the DSG Gearlever into “S” (Sport mode), put your left foot on the brake and then build up the revs. The car will hold the revs at around 3,500 – as soon as you release the brake pedal, you’re off! The Haldex 4wd system hooks up to give you incredible punch and grip off the line, and from there on, the DSG gearbox delivers one seamless rush of acceleration. I reckon 0-60 is dispatched in less than 6 seconds with the aid of seamless DSG shifts, and all the while you’re treated to a fantastically fruity blare from the bazooka style twin exhausts.
While we’re talking about sound, I have to say, the noise this car makes is one of its defining features. The stock exhaust system is brilliant. The R operates butterfly valves so that at a cruise, or low revs, the blare from the back is muted and sophisticated. Open the taps however and the valves open – allowing a spitting monster to emerge!
The exhaust crackles and wails like a tiger gargling with Listerine. It really is a great noise and puts you in the mood and brings a massive smile to your face. It’s best appreciated with the seats and windows down – and preferably a nice tunnel or underground car park!
The sporting blare of the exhaust is matched with a great chassis set up. For such a heavy car, the R32 darts into corners with real enthusiasm. It’s just supple enough to shrug off mid corner bumps, and the clever 4wd system shuffles the power around to give you maximum drive out of the corner. It all feels incredibly planted, and surefooted.
On the downside, you could say that it’s too good. The car doesn’t feel edgy in the same way as a 130i M-Sport. There’s little chance of some power oversteer in this car – unless you’re really going for it in the wet. Mostly, the R just grips and goes.
If you really fling it in to a tight bend at speed, the nose does begin to wash wide, but in normal spirited driving on public roads, understeer simply isn’t an issue in the dry.
My biggest criticism of the car though is its interior. When you get in, there’s not much to surprise and delight you. It simply looks like a mildly sporty Golf inside. The blue needles with ice-white lighting are great, and the steering wheel is lovely to hold, but the seats are the same as you’ll get in a GTI (albeit differently upholstered), and the quality of fit and finish on the car’s centre console is dire.
My test car had done 2700 miles, so was pretty much box-fresh, and yet there was a constant, irritating rattle from the plastic mesh that sits atop the centre console. This plastic mesh fits poorly and therefore rattles up and down constantly. Pretty appalling on a car which, in this spec, costs £28,000 – and for me, unforgivable. This sort of poor fit and finish would dissuade me from purchasing as the constant rattles would drive me nuts!
It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth for what is otherwise, a great performance car. Fuel economy and emissions though aren’t the best……. In mixed driving, I averaged 22.4 mpg (vs 30mpg for the 130i M-Sport), and the C02 emissions of 235g/km put it in the £400 per year tax bracket. So, running it won’t be cheap, but hey, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill diesel bus.
My other criticism concerns the amount of tyre roar that reaches the cabin on a motorway run. You do have to raise your voice noticeably in volume in order to be heard. Its not disastrously noisy, and I guess it’s the trade-off you accept in order to run large 18” alloys and low profile rubber - the very set up that gives you such confidence inspiring handling and grip when you’re on that B-road blast.
All in all, if VW sort out the interior build quality, up rate the materials used in the cabin, and make that engine a bit cleaner and more economical whilst still retaining the performance (a trick BMW seems able to perform time and time again) the R32 would make a much more compelling case for itself. It’s a cracking car the R32 , but at the moment, for me, its flaws are too great to make me want to switch from my 130i.