Introduced in Europe in 2002, the Golf R32 was designed as a friendly reminder that, although Volkswagen didn’t exactly invent the hot hatch, it had been fine-tuning the concept for decades. The Wolfsburg-based automaker didn’t know how car buyers would respond to a hot-rodded Golf so it initially announced that only 5,000 examples of the R32 would be built.
The R32 was positioned at the top of the Golf lineup and, in many ways, as Volkswagen’s flagship. It wasn’t the biggest or most expensive Vee-Dub at the time but it was a rolling showcase of the company’s engineering might. It generated a surprisingly positive response among buyers, enthusiasts and members of the press, and Volkswagen quickly decided to build more examples in order to keep up with demand. The R32’s success in Europe also convinced executives to sell the car in the United States.
R32: R for racing, and 32 for the 3.2-liter engine. It stood out immediately from a standard fourth-gen Golf thanks to a deep front bumper with three large air dams, a R32 emblem on the grille, side skirts, a roof-mounted spoiler and a pair of round exhaust tips out back. 18-inch 15-spoke alloys wrapped by Y-rated summer performance tires came standard, and buyers could choose from reflex silver metallic, tornado red, deep blue metallic and black magic pearl effect.
The track-inspired treatment continued inside with cloth-upholstered sport seats (leather upholstery was optional), alloy pedals, a leather-wrapped shift knob, a three-spoke steering wheel, chromed accents and a sprinkling of model-specific emblems. The R32 was just as practical as the regular Golf, and it offered 14 cubic feet of trunk space with five adults on board and nearly 39 cubes with the rear seats folded flat.
The 3.2-liter narrow-angle VR6 engine made 240 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 236 lb-ft. of torque between 2,800 and 3,200 rpm. U.S.-spec cars only came with a six-speed manual transmission, but in select European markets the R32 was available with a six-speed dual-clutch DSG gearbox controlled by shift paddles.
The six-cylinder sent the roughly 3,400-pound Golf from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 130 mph. Upgraded brakes on all four corners kept the power in check, and the R32 came standard with ABS and an Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP). Finally, the R32 benefitted from a lowered, stiffer suspension and a more responsive steering rack.
Production of U.S.-spec cars was intentionally limited to just 5,000 examples, and 7,000 more were sold on the Old continent. In 2004 – the R’s only model year in the U.S. – it carried a base price of $29,100, which made it nearly twice as expensive as a base-model two-door Golf GL with a 115-horsepower 2.0-liter four-banger and about $10,000 more than a GTI with the 180-horsepower 1.8-liter turbo mill.
Thanks to Volkswagen’s PR department for providing us with a copy of the original press release.