Double Take: Which R for you? 2004 Volkswagen R32 v. 2008 Volkswagen R32

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The “Hot Hatch”. While Volkswagen may have started the trend with the original GTi, by the 4th edition of the Golf it seemed they had lost their way. Sure, the 1.8T was peppy buy relatively underpowered compared to some of the competition given the Mk.4’s weight, and while there was a VR6 option it just didn’t seem to have the point and squirt feel that the GTi was famous for. Furthermore, the Volkswagen Audi Group had been holding out on importing a major trump card; that was the still not available in the U.S. Audi S3. Sporting an uprated 1.8T powerplant and all-wheel drive, the S3 at least captured some of the intent of the original GTi. The hints of a resurrection to the GTi nameplate came in the 2002 “337” limited edition GTi, but culminated in the 2003 launch of the R32. Sporting the A3/S3/TT Haldex-quattro drive train and a new powerful VR6 pumping out 240 horsepower, the R32 popped the Golf right back to the forefront of the hot hatch market while eliciting memories of the ultra-cool Mk. 2 Golf Limited. Today we’re going to look at the two generations of the R32, starting with the first generation – a clean and rare Tornado Red 2004:

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Year: 2004
Model: R32
Engine: 3.2 liter VR6
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Mileage: 65,500 mi
Price: $18,000 Buy It Now

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2004 Volkswagen R32 on eBay

LIMITED EDITION 2004 VOLKSWAGEN R32. ADULT DRIVEN AND ALWAYS GARAGE KEPT.
INCLUDED IN SALE ARE TWO COMPLETE SETS OF WHEELS.
1 SET VW OEM RIMS WITH PIRELLI 240 SNOWSPORT TIRES SHOULD YOU WANT TO DRIVE IN THE SNOW (WINTER ONLY)
1 SET MIRRO 111’S WITH DUNLOP DIREZZA SPORT TIRES (SUMMER ONLY)
ALSO INCLUDED BUT NOT INSTALLED IS A UNIBRACE REAR STRUT BRACE AND A SET OF FRONT STAINLESS STEEL BRAKE LINES.
VW OEM FOG LIGHTS WITH EURO SWITCH. ALL FLUIDS AND SERVICING DONE RELIGOUSLY. ONLY SYNTHETIC MOTOR OIL USED. BRAKES DONE VERY RECENTLY.
SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY.

While I have to say I prefer the 337/25th Anniversary body kit more than the Mk. 4 R32 bumper package, it certainly does draw some serious attention. I’m glad to see the original “Aristo” rims and could do without the Miro wheels that are included, but it’s nice that the car comes with two clean sets. Miles are lower average but condition appears to be one of the better ones I’ve seen. This car was clearly owned by an enthusiast and shows. $18,000 feels like all of the money for one of these super-GTis, so when I was looking I wasn’t surprised to see that the Mk.V edition can be had for about the same money:

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The 5th edition of the Golf brought a new level of refinement and better build quality over the Mk.4, but performance was relatively unchanged due relatively unchanged power and weight. One thing that did change was that the U.S. bound R32s only came with the DSG automatic gearbox. Today’s 2008 model is represented in Deep Blue Pearl, the signature color for the R32:

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Year: 2008
Model: R32
Engine: 3.2 liter VR6
Transmission: 6-speed automatic DSG
Mileage: 72,693 mi
Price: $18,976 Buy It Now

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2008 Volkswagen R32 on eBay

Safety Notes
3-point height-adjustable front safety belts w/pre-tensioners & load limiters, 3-point rear safety belts,4-wheel anti-lock vented disc brakes w/blue calipers, brake pad wear indicator,Daytime running lights,Driver & front passenger front airbag supplemental restraint system w/buckle switch,Driver & front passenger side airbag supplemental restraint system,Dual tone horn,Electronic stabilization program,Front/rear side curtain protection,LATCH child seat attachment points
Mechanical Notes
18″ x 7.5″ alloy wheels w/anti-theft wheel locks,4-wheel anti-lock vented disc brakes w/blue calipers, brake pad wear indicator,Dual center mounted chrome exhaust tips,Electric-assist pwr steering,Electronic stabilization program,Independent MacPherson strut front suspension,Independent multi-link rear suspension
Comfort Notes
(2) front & (2) rear assist handles,(2) front cupholders,3-spoke leather-wrapped multi-function sport steering wheel w/audio controls, transmission paddle shifters,60/40 split folding rear seats w/height-adjustable head restraints,Alloy pedals w/R logos,Alloy-look interior trim,AM/FM stereo w/MP3/6-disc CD changer-inc: Sirius satellite radio, (10) speakers,Anti-theft vehicle alarm system w/audible & visual activation,Auxiliary pwr outlet in center console,Brushed chrome interior door handles,Climatronic electronic climate control w/pollen filter,Cruise control,Diversity & satellite radio antenna,Driver & front passenger illuminated visor vanity mirrors,Front center armrest w/storage compartment,Front center dome light w/time delay, (2) front & (2) rear reading lights,Fully carpeted luggage compartment w/light, auxiliary pwr outlet, removable cover,Height-adjustable & telescoping theft-deterrent steering column,Immobilizer theft-deterrent system,Leather shift knob & handbrake grip,Leatherette door panels w/integrated armrests, storage pockets,Locking glovebox,Multi-function trip computer w/trip time, trip length, average trip speed, average trip fuel consumption, current fuel consumption, miles to empty, outside temp,Pwr windows w/pinch protection,Rear window defroster,Remote release for hatch & fuel filler flap,Self-dimming interior rearview mirror,Top sport bucket seats w/heated partial leather seating surfaces, pwr lumbar support, R logo headrests
Exterior Notes
Aluminum color grille,Blue tinted glass,Body-color bumpers,Body-color door handles,Body-color heated pwr mirrors,Body-color side moldings,Body-color side skirts,Daytime running lights,Rain-sensing aero windshield wipers w/heated washer nozzles,Rear intermittent wiper/washer,Rear spoiler,Xenon HID headlamps w/washers

Safety, Mechanical, Comfort and Exterior Notes detail items which were installed at the factory during manufacturing of this vehicle. These items may or may not still be installed on this vehicle. Please call for further details.

In a straight drag race and around a track, the DSG was quicker, but is more expensive to run and lost some of the feel of the manual “chuckability” of the Mk.4. The real shame with the Mk 5. is that there was a 5 door version and manual option in Europe but VAG opted to not import them. It’s too bad because they would have been a clear challenger to not only hatches but the WRX/Evo crowd. I love the original Omanyt wheels (though they’re unbelievably heavy), the color is fantastic, and the car comes with a CPO warranty. Gripes? I never liked the slightly separated exhaust on the Mk.5. It just doesn’t look quite right to me. It may be a minor point, but it brothers me every time I see one. The sound they produce, however, is great in both models.

Were it my money, I think I’d choose….neither. I always want to love the R32, and I always think it sounds great, but the “ultimate” Golf has never really done it for me. If I want a fast V6 all-wheel drive car, I’d rather spend this money on a B5 S4 or S4 avant. If I really wanted a “hot hatch” VW, I’d get either a 337 or 25th Anniversary GTi. Sorry folks, if this is a bit of a letdown, but I just wouldn’t buy either one of these cars. In my mind, they’re overpriced, overly complicated, way too heavy, and try too hard. They’re the antithesis of the GTi – a stripped down tossable hot hatch. Want a good, fast awd hatch? Buy a WRX. Yes, the Golf has better build quality, but you can get a just about new WRX hatch for the price of these two well-used mega-Golfs, and I’d be willing to bet in the long run the WRX would be cheaper to run. And if you haven’t been in a last generation Impreza, you’d be pretty impressed with how they drive for sure.

This might just be the worst conclusion ever, but at least it’s an honest one. Which would you choose?

-Carter

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5 Comments

  1. I think it comes down to how you want to use the car. Having extensive seat time in both and being a VW tech for over 10 years my money would buy the MK5 if I wanted to daily the car, drive it hard at times, and put it away wet. VW recalled the DSG Mech unit on these cars to there should be no shudder or first gear from brake delay, The DSG is fun to bang shifts on with the great sound of the VR in front if it.
    Now, if you wanted a more “collector” or “investment” you want the Mk4. These cars are great to drive but I never fell in love with them. IMO the seats are horrible and oversized for the MK4 interior they just don’t look right in the car. Plus they all suffer from an odd warpage of the bumper where it meets the fender, it catches my eye every time I see one now. Still I great car and I’m not “hating” on it, it is by far the “fanboy” vehicle of choice. If the Mk5 had come with a 6 speed manual no one would put this car on the pedestal its on now. Just my .02

  2. Not cool, Carter. Pose the question, A or B, and then pick neither. Not cool.

    Despite the DSG-only set-up – of the two choices presented – I’d go with the Mk5. Better overall car, more modern, not as overpriced, and not bright red.

  3. Carter,
    Your honsty and candor are appreciated, although I would question whether in fact VW has better mechanical build quality than Subaru.

  4. You know, Raymond, up until recently I would have wholeheartedly agreed that Subaru had overall better build quality than Volkswagen. However, ownership since new of my wife’s 2006 Outback has proven us wrong. Despite being pampered and every possible precaution taken, the Outback has now gone through two CV joints, had blown head gaskets (quite pricey to fix!), two sensors have gone off, there have been 4 recalls, suspension bushing failure, and two inner CV boot failures. And, I’m not alone – a good friend’s 2005 Legacy GT went through two motors, 1 turbo and a transmission along with many wheel bearings. He recently traded in his 10 Impreza hatch at 50,000 miles because he was afraid of the impending repairs (compared to the ridiculous prices they’re asking for used ones, so he got good value from the car). When our Outback broke we went to the dealer to look at possible trade in/replacement, and all of the current generation Subarus have much worse interior build quality (and, are really ugly) compared to my wife’s 06. Compared to my 200,000 mile B5 Passat – a car noted for having “typical VW issues”, it was less mechanically needy than the Outback has proven. Surprised? I was. The Subarus are definitely cheaper to fix when they break, but it seems that the headgasket issue is borderline major recall status, the wheel bearing issue was recall on Legacy through 05 (of course), and they’ve got a few other common issues. Perhaps they modeled themselves a little too closely after VAG?

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