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2008 Volkswagen MkV R32 - First Drive

The Ultimate European Hot Hatch?

Oct 1, 2007
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*My first encounter with a MkV R32 was at Willow Springs Raceway, running several hard laps on both the Horse Thief and Streets of Willow. A track is a great place to learn about a car's ultimate performance, what it can do at the very limit. Unfortunately, you don't get a real idea of what the average person will experience in daily driving. Luckily, a chance of redemption came when I was invited to drive the new US-spec car through three European countries, on a variety of roads. Everything from unbelievable Alpine twisties snaking up 7000-foot mountains to congested city driving, shooting from traffic circles, through tunnels, even parallel parking and autobahn blasting in dry and wet weather. This is how to truly judge a car.

VW has built the new R32 to be the ultimate European hot hatch. This obviously isn't the first time it's done this. The MkIV R32 was built in the tire tracks of the amazing Golf G60 Limited and the infamous Rallye Golf. The latter two never officially landed on US shores. VW emphasizes the 'European' in 'ultimate European hot hatch.' Meaning it isn't willing to sacrifice comfort, material and build quality, and daily user-friendliness for the sake of a few tenths of a second. That's not to say the R32 isn't fast, because it most certainly is. The 250-hp V6 moves the car with eager force. Plenty of low-end torque makes getting out of tight corners a breeze, while high-end power makes quick work of anything straight.

Haldex all-wheel drive also does its part to hurtle the car from corner exits. Although favoring understeer, this stems more from chassis set-up rather than overpowering the front tires. Even exiting the tightest uphill turns, the car puts power to road with complete efficiency. You can apex a little late, rotate the car, then bury the throttle. The car grabs the pavement and shoves you off towards the next turn.

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Turn-in is precise and steering feel may be even better than the GTI's, and this was with all-season tires. I didn't think the suspension was stiff enough after my track sessions, but on the road, the set-up is near-ideal. This car doesn't suffer from excessive body movement and inadequate damping like previous generations of VWs. The ride is supple while achieving fantastic handling. On the street, this car will turn you into a superhero. If I hadn't gotten the chance to drive the R32 on the track, I still wouldn't have any idea where its limits were-you just can't get there on the street.

By now, everyone knows the only gearbox VW is offering in the MkV R32 is the six-speed DSG. Although some enthusiasts are clamoring for a manual, I can't imagine why. Shifts are immediate and power is continuous. In the Alps, I would keep the car in Sport mode rather than manual. I found myself entering turns and taking two fingers off the wheel to downshift. Before I could flip the paddle, the car had already downshifted. It was shifting exactly when I would. The upshifts were equally as precise, shifting right at redline during WOT.

VW wants this car to be its technological showcase. A car to represent everything it can do: build a world-class performance car that not only excels in carving canyons, but provides a level of quality and comfort expected by customers of more expensive European brands. To VW enthusiasts, the MkV R32 represents what VW has always been about-performance, style, comfort, utility and originality.

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VW is building 5000 MkV R32s for the American market. Roughly 1000 have already been pre-sold. Owners will have a choice of four colors: Deep Blue, Tornado Red, United Grey and Candy White. All exterior colors come equipped with anthracite leather, highlighted by engine-turned aluminum trim. Expect to see R32s hitting dealer lots in August, but if you really want one, you better get your name on a list now.

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2008 Volkswagen MKV R32
Transverse front engine, all-wheel drive

3.2-liter V6, dohc, 24-valve

Six-speed DSG semi-automatic

Front: MacPherson strut
Rear: Four-link

Four-wheel discs with Electronic
Brakeforce Distribution (EBD)

Length/width/height (in.):
167.2 x 69.2 x 57.7
Wheelbase: 101.5 in.
Curb weight: 3547 lb

Peak power: 250 hp @ 6300 rpm
Peak torque: 236 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
0-60 mph: 6.5 sec.

*Why we love it
The brap from the exhaust under hard acceleration, claw-like grip exiting corners, great interior and build quality

*Why we don't
Could stand to lose a few pounds, direct injection could make a good engine great, still not crazy about the looks

The Price Tag: $32,990

Michael Febbo
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