Full 2008 Volkswagen R32 Review
What's New for 2008
The Volkswagen R32 returns for 2008. This VW GTI on steroids packs a 250-horsepower V6, all-wheel drive and a host of luxury features.
What would you get if an early '80s Audi Quattro coupe and the current VW GTI found themselves on a deserted island with an endless loop of Barry White's Greatest Hits playing? Well, glossing over that whole icky age-difference part, you'd likely end up with a spawn that resembles the 2008 Volkswagen R32.
That first Audi Quattro coupe packed a powerful turbocharged five-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive, offering enthusiasts who had to deal with snow and slush a performance car they could drive all year round. Carrying that spirit on today, the Volkswagen R32 is similar to today's GTI but offers two things that hot hatch doesn't -- a ripping V6 engine and all-wheel drive.
The latest model is a follow-up on the limited-production, Golf-based R32 that VW sold in the United States a few years ago. Of course, with the R32 being a compact sporty car with a muscular engine and all-wheel traction, everybody will want to compare it to the forthcoming redesigned Subaru WRX STI and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. That's not exactly apples to apples, however, as the R32 is more a fast, comfortable GT than a rip-roaring, apex-attacking super compact.
Yes, the Evo will leave the R32 behind on a tight twisty road and will outgun it in a stoplight sprint. But the Vee-Dub is still plenty quick enough (zero to 60 in 6.5 seconds, says Volkswagen), handles better than most drivers will ever need and would make a much better daily driver and road trip companion thanks to its smoother, quieter ride. The R32 is also more mature, as this performance car does without the gaping air intakes and wing-and-spoiler bonanza. It also has a nicer interior that gives off a neatly tailored European vibe typical of the brand.
Priced at more than $30,000, the 2008 Volkswagen R32 occupies a niche in the hot-hatch segment. It's more expensive than natural competitors and lacks the performance one can get from the Evo or Ford Mustang GT. But this super-sporty Vee-Dub's appeal lies outside the norm. With only 5,000 bound for American shores, the R32 is rare and holds obvious appeal to VW fans, making it a worthy über-GTI. Heck, maybe even the dearly departed Barry White would want to own one.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Volkswagen R32 comes as a two-door hatchback in a single, fully loaded trim level. Highlights of the standard features list include a unique aluminum grille, xenon headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, center-mounted dual exhaust, power sunroof, leather upholstery, heated front sport seats with power lumbar support, full power accessories, dual-zone automatic climate control, premium sound system with six-CD changer and satellite radio.
There is but a pair of options: all-season tires in place of the standard performance rubber and a navigation system. Opting for the latter adds an iPod adapter to the sound system but takes away the CD changer.
Powertrains and Performance
A 3.2-liter V6 (hence the "32" in the car's name) with 250 hp and 236 pound-feet of torque powers the R32. It's paired with a dual-clutch sequential automanual gearbox ("DSG") that sends the power to all four wheels via Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. The V6 provides a broad power spread and a hearty exhaust note, while the DSG snaps off shifts as soon as you flick the wheel-mounted paddles. Left to shift on its own, it works just fine, but selecting the "Sport" setting results in it downshifting (often with a "clunk") when it's really not needed.
Performance estimates put the 0-60-mph sprint at an estimated 6.5 seconds, which is respectable considering the R32's rather portly (3,500-pound) mass. Passing maneuvers and high-speed cruising are effortless and relatively hushed, a result of the car's autobahn pedigree. Fuel economy is estimated at 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control, front side airbags and side-curtain airbags are all standard. Though no crash tests have been done on the R32, those done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on the Volkswagen Rabbit (on which the R32 is based) yielded strong scores. In that agency's frontal offset and side impact testing, the Rabbit scored "Good" (the highest possible) for both tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The R32's sport seats, borrowed from the GTI, grip well without forcing you to climb into them. Scrutinize the well-appointed cabin and it's obvious that VW is related to Audi, given the tight fit and finish, and high materials quality. Burnished metallic accents spice up the cockpit and a flat-bottom steering wheel furthers the sporty feel. Controls and displays are easy to see and use. A roomy rear seat offers decent room for a pair of adults and when flipped down, opens up a massive 43 cubic feet of cargo space.
When pressed on a serpentine road, the 2008 Volkswagen R32 is capable, but not as nimble as more sharply focused sport compact cars. With the grip of all-wheel drive and communicative steering that's not calibrated to go-kart spec quickness, the R32 is fairly forgiving when pushed hard, tending toward understeer that diminishes as speed is scrubbed off.
The R32 feels more comfortable when the hairpins turn into sweeping bends. It rolls a little, settles in midcorner and sticks without needing any steering adjustment. Road feel is excellent for an electrically assisted steering system, and the thick rim of the steering wheel provides a satisfying connection between the driver's hands and the hardware.
Thanks to its supple suspension, the R32 feels as at home while cruising on straight roads as it does blasting through canyons. That effortless freeway running character, along with its roomy, quiet cabin and supportive seats make this performance car a great choice for road trippers.