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New VW Golf R32

New VW Golf R32

There comes a time in your life when the mood passes from owning an everyday mass-market hot-hatch or GTI type vehicle. Perhaps you require a more refined, less frantic or less obvious mode of transport but still want to keep to a compact but versatile up-market hatchback.

Well VW have the answer. Their Golf GTIs through the ages are highly acclaimed and the latest versions are probably the best there have ever been. They are well liked for their performance, handling and charisma. But time moves on and for the customer who wants something even better, more upmarket, yet still remains a rapid hatchback, then the VW Golf R32 4Motion could be just the ticket.

Available in three or five door body options the all-wheel drive V6 engined R32 is the most powerful and fastest production Golf to date and for a certain section of hot-hatch customers it is the most desirable.

Even before the R32 was launched in November last year the initial batch were sold out with advance orders. This year VW expect to have just 1,450 of the R32 models to sell. Sixty per cent of them will be five-door models suggesting that family users find this car desirable and 60 per cent of customers will opt for the manual six-speed transmission versions rather than the paddle-shift clutchless DSG transmission.

The UK is VW's best selling market in the world for Golf GTIs so we Brits, as initial demand shows, will just love the R32.

Priced from £24,195 to £26,025 the R32 V6 4Motion is £3,860 more expensive than its comparable Golf GTI 2.0-litre three and five door models. Yes it is relatively expensive but bigger engines and an all-wheel drive system costs big money but because the R32 is going to be in short supply the residual values should be very healthy. Its most obvious competitors are the BMW 130I M-Sport, Audi A3 Sport, Alfa 147 GTA 3.2, Nissan 350Z, Renault Megane RenaultSport and the Mazda RX-8.

My test R32 model was the most popular derivative, the five-door with the six-speed manual transmission price at £24,695. It was fitted with the DVD satellite navigation system and the six disc CD autochanger adding a further £1,845 to the final price. This car falls into the £165 VED, band F road tax bracket. The insurance group rating is 18E.

Now we accept that the Golf is one of the best new generation hatchbacks on the road today. It was one of the first of the larger family hatchbacks with more inherent body strength, good road manners and with up-market customer appeal. The GTI will be on most motoring pundits list as one of the best go-faster hatches you can buy. The R32 just builds on that reputation.

At the heart of this executive flyer is a 3.2-litre, naturally aspirated, V6 petrol engine pushing out 250PS of power and 236 lb ft of torque from 2,800rpm. The top speed is 155mph and the 0-62mph acceleration time is 6.5 seconds. The intelligent 4Motion all-wheel drive system with traction control varies the amount of power to the wheels with the most grip so it is in use on wet or dry surfaces for maximum adhesion. This system really allows the driver to make the most of the power under acceleration and during cornering, plus of course it proves to be a real boon when the roads are wet, icy, muddy or covered in snow. Used in conjunction with the six-speed close ratio gearbox and responsive gutsy engine it is a very good car to drive, it provides loads of driving satisfaction. The down side is that by using a bigger engine, coupled with all-wheel drive, the fuel economy is not great, just 22.5mpg during my test driving week and that was not driving the car really hard at all.

The R32 has high-tech wizardry that doesn't blunt the driving pleasure but it is there just to assist. In addition to the anti-lock braking there is an electronic stability programme that works in conjunction with the electronic differential and traction control to keep the performance at its optimum for fast cornering. The suspension is lowered to reduce the car's centre of gravity minimising bodyroll. Big 18-inch alloy wheels shod with 225/40 tyres maximise grip and pleasingly do not appear to spoil the quality of the ride although they do generate more road noise on poor road surfaces.

Bi-Xenon headlights with washers and automatic range adjustment allow the driver to make full use of the R32's performance at night.

The exterior styling changes over the Golf GTI are subtle and discreet but the scholars of motoring will recognise the exclusivity of this fast Golf over a conventional GTI. Apart from the neat R32 badging this car has uniquely shaped front and rear bumpers and aluminium look front grille. A rear roof spoiler, very neat twin central exhaust tail pipes, blue tinted glass, darkened rear light clusters and integrated indicators in the door mirrors create something rather special.

Inside there are of course sports seats, sporty instrumentation and loads of controls with aluminium finishes. The leather trimmed sports steering wheel with its squared off bottom section is a classy move. It is this attention to detail and impeccable quality, not forgetting the performance, which really makes the Golf R32 a car I will remember for a long time. It really is a car I didn't want to send back after my loan period.

Being of that certain age where you like the finer things in life, I loved it. But would I buy one? If retaining the overall hatchback as the size of vehicle I wanted then yes. But for this sort of money I could really move upmarket and up in size and buy an Audi A4, BMW 3-Series or a Mercedes C-Class. It is down to individual choice and requirements.

VW Golf R32 MILESTONES VW Golf R32 4Motion 5-Door. Price: £24,695 (as tested £26,540). Engine: V6, 3.2-litre petrol, 250PS, 236lb ft. Performance: 155mph, 0-62mph 6.5 seconds. 4Motion all-wheel drive/6-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy: 26.4mpg (22.5mpg actual) CO2 257 g/km. VED:Band F £165). Insurance group: 18E.

For: A real compact muscle car, superb build quality and specification, exclusivity and all wheel drive performance. Against: Pricey and high-ish fuel consumption.