Volkswagen’s Sleeper: The Mk5 R32

Powered by an infamous VW VR6 producing 250 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, the AWD-equipped R32 sprints from 0-60 in an impressive 5.5 seconds. // Photos and text by Nathan Christian

An individually numbered automobile is cool in itself. Being able to say exactly what number your pride and joy is at 7 am on a Saturday morning at Cars & Coffee is just neat, and that’s exactly what the 2008 Volkswagen R32 is, neat. The VR6 motor is neat. The DSG dual clutch transmission is neat. The overall driving experience is neat. Oh, and the launch control is REALLY neat. Owned by my friend Travis, the particular car I had for the day is a 2008 R32 (#1139/5000 in the US) finished in Deep Blue Metallic with 131k miles on the clock.

Powered by an infamous VW VR6 producing 250 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, the R32 sprints from 0-60 in an impressive 5.5 seconds all while maintaining a spot-on Chewbacca impression. Seriously, YouTube it. Travis’s R32 has a muffler delete, so the VR6’s snarls are obnoxious when you want them to be, just how I like it.

Complementing the unique VR6 motor is a DSG dual-clutch automatic. Let’s clear this up right away, no; it isn’t better than grabbing the gears on your own with a manual transmission, but it is really good. The DSG in the R32 is crisp, easy to use, and obedient. By obedient, I mean that the transmission does exactly what you want it to do, when you want it to do it.

The Haldex AWD system, which is specific to the R32 for this generation of Golf, hooks up hard and keeps things from getting too rowdy in the corners. Steering feel is sharp and tight with very little play or numbness in the wheel. Driving this car through the twisties is a real treat. The Haldex AWD system is clawing for grip throughout every bend as you chuck this overweight Golf through the corners, and guess what – it works. On paper, it just shouldn’t be this good, but it is. Despite the weight gain and nose-heavy weight distribution, this thing rips through backroads more like a dedicated two-seater sports car than a German hatchback that is trying to be a nicer GTI. Simply aim it into the corner, give a little steering input, and plant the throttle; it’ll be fine. What else is the R32 good at? Dig races. Although the launch control in the R32 isn’t the most sophisticated or advanced, it’s effective and works. Depending on the surface you’re launching on, you might even get some tire slip.

On the outside, the R32 is a textbook sleeper. If you’re not an enthusiast, you probably don’t know what sets it apart from a standard Golf or GTI. The dual chrome tip exhaust exits out of the center of the rear valence, setting the R32 apart from its lesser brothers. Travis’s R32 is stock on the exterior with the exception to his Enkei RS7 wheels, which look as if they could almost come on the car from the factory.

On the inside, the R32 features mostly quality materials in the places that matter. Most of the things you touch everyday are on par with other cars of the time. With that said, certain plastics in the interior are very cheap feeling. I will say that the interior in the R32 is far superior to an STI or Evo of the same year. The flat bottom steering wheel has chunky 10 and 2 notches and a badge at the bottom displaying the car’s production number. The seats are definitely the best thing about this interior, being extremely comfortable, supportive, and sporty all at once. The seats are wrapped in softer leather, which grips you tight – perfect for when you choose to rip it on a backroad.

Overall, the VW R32 is something that didn’t really need to exist, but I’m sure glad it does. VW could have just stuck to producing the GTI as their performance-oriented “hot hatch” and things would’ve been just dandy, but no, they thought outside the box and created what I would easily consider to be a modern collectable. The R32, in short, is VW’s treat to the enthusiast.

Nathan Christian lives in Lee's Summit, MO and enjoys daily driving his Laguna Blue Honda S2000. Check out his Instagram account (@speedenthusiasts) to view more of his work.

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