What's it like to drive a Volkswagen R32? Have you ever driven a Porsche Carrera 4? Well, it's like that, only smaller. The R32's engine provides the same silky smooth, addictively aggressive shove. The Vee Dub's 4Motion system generates the same tenacious grip. The uber-Golf has the same razor-sharp steering and seats-of-the-pants feedback. In fact, the only significant difference between Wolfsburg's finest and the pride of Stuttgart is the styling.
And the suspension. And the relative street cred, speeds involved and price. But let's leave such comparisons for the end. At this early stage in the game, suffice it to say that any VW that can play in the same ballpark as a modern Porsche is something you need to drive, if not own. So, let's take this German pocket rocket for a spin…
The second your thumbs sink into the indentations on the R32's steering wheel, you know you're in something special. The car's helm is the perfect size, shape and feel for guiding a precision machine. Ditto the sports seats, which are both generous and supportive. While all the necessary adjustments are manual, it's entirely possible to find a driving position so comfortable even highway cruising won't tempt you to take your hands off the recommended ten and two positions.
Fire-up the R32 and the sense of anticipation diminishes. The car boasts a large capacity, narrow angle V6— that sounds like a four-cylinder engine with a weedy aftermarket exhaust. It makes a small bark at low revs, something akin to a slightly miffed Jack Russell. Slot the box into first, and the precise feel of the stubby stick shift through the six-speed gate makes some amends for the aural anti-climax. The light clutch action is not entirely unwelcome either, holding forth the possibility of quick, slick shifts.
Once underway, the R32 immediately reveals its true character. The 3.2-litre engine delivers its mighty torque from less than 3000rpm. So, provided you keep the rev counter over two-and-a-half grand, the slightest foot flex is rewarded with instant thrust. Keep your foot down, and the power comes on-stream in a single seamless rush, all the way to the redline. "Eager" doesn't quite cover it. Neither does "free revving"; the R32's powerplant is nearly as smooth as a rotary engine.
The performance is equally impressive. Zero to 60mph takes just 6.5 seconds of your time. While the R32's in-gear times are reasonably quick, as opposed to reassuringly rapid (30 to 70mph in 6.3 seconds), the power delivery is so predictable you quickly learn to calculate exactly how much time you need to spend in the wrong lane when overtaking.
And overtake you will. The R32's engine may be a revelation, but its handling is divine. The suspension is diamond hard, but it helps the wee beastie create an equation familiar to those who've driven the world's best sports cars: tremendous lateral grip + infinitely adjustable throttle + intimate steering feedback + dependable chassis dynamics = confidence. In fact, you can blast the R32 around corners with such confidence that you end up driving it far faster than you'd imagine possible. For those who enjoy such things, the temptation to pass slower cars, to fling the R32 around even one traffic-free bend, is damn near irresistible.
Normally, I find it difficult to discover what happens when you push a given sports car up to or beyond the limits of adhesion. I'm just not that good a driver, or that much of a nut case. But the R32 is such a fine handling tool that I discovered that the back end starts to swing around if you brake stomp mid-corner, and that turning in too sharply can provoke some nose-first sliding. Both behaviours were completely progressive, occurred at ludicrous speeds and never engaged the stabilisation programme.
Of course, Sunseekers have something of a reputation for their "medallion man" appeal. By the same token, any fast Golf faces the possibility of being perceived as a hooligan's/joyrider's dream machine. The R32's appearance seems carefully designed to fan the flames of public prejudice. Its aggressive front air dam, lowered stance, wide side skirts, twin pipes and low profile tyres all scream Max Power. Well, whisper. At least until the car depreciates into the hands of serious tuners.
Meanwhile, more "mature" enthusiasts should consider buying the fastest ever Golf for one simple reason: it's a world-class sports car at a bargain price. It doesn't give you the full Porsche pace, or any of the Stuttgart marque's cachet, but the R32 offers almost as much of something Porker drivers know full well: fun.