VW brings Euro thrills to U.S. with R32

  • By Larry Lark
  • Friday, December 7, 2007 9:58am
  • Vehicles

It’s fairly commonplace for American models to be “shortchanged” when compared to their European counterparts when it comes to specs like horsepower, suspension settings and the like. That’s not the case with the 2008 Volkswagen R32, a three-door hatchback that enters the U.S. market with a limited-run, 5,000 models in production.

Essentially a pricey, top-of-the-line Rabbit ($35,430), the R32 attempts to carve out a small market niche somewhere between the BMW 328i and Mitsubishi Evo.

What the R32 brings to the table is a 3.2-liter V6 engine that generates 250 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, a six-speed DSG automatic transmission with Tiptronic, 4Motion all-wheel-drive technology, electro-mechanical power steering with speed-variable assist, independent strut sport front suspension, multi-link independent sport rear suspension, electronic stabilization program, anti-slip regulation, electronic differential lock, anti-lock braking system and 225/40-R18 tires.

That fairly lengthy paragraph equates to 1,000 words worth of fun. What I’m trying to say is words don’t do it justice. Your wish is the R32’s command. For seven days it was my genie in a bottle.

A test-week jaunt through Machias en route to Granite Falls provided the perfect opportunity to put the R32 through its paces. It zigs and zags, sprints on command, stops on a dime and covers the road like a blanket. The trip was so much fun I seriously thought about making it again – only for the sake of my loyal readers.

Special features Volkswagen added at no extra charge are 18-inch alloy wheels with anti-theft locks, in-dash six-disc CD changer with MP3 capability, blue-painted brake calipers, anti-theft alarm with immobilizer deterrent system, auxiliary input jack and leather “top sport” seats.

And that doesn’t even cover the Larry-pleasing creature comforts that often receive short shrift when it comes to pocket rockets. Goodies include dual zone automatic climate control with pollen filter, cruise control, power windows with pinch protection, power and heated bucket seats and rear view mirrors, intermittent front wipers with rain sensor speed control system, 60/40 split folding rear seat, remote keyless locking system, and Sirius satellite radio.

For a small car, the interior provides a surprising amount of head, leg and shoulder room for all four occupants, both front and rear. The 2008 EPA fuel rating of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 down the highway isn’t terrific but it’s not truly terrible, either.

The R32 provides equal parts thrills and chills, comfort and luxury into a sporty little package that isn’t trying too hard. The only option on my tester was a DVD navigation system with iPod adapter ($1,800).

Driver and front passenger benefit from front airbags, side airbags and side curtain airbags. Side protection door beams add another layer of protection in the event of T-bone style crashes.

Volkswagen sweetens the deal with a four-year, 50,000 mile new vehicle limited warranty.