• Jun 23, 2008

2008 VW R32 – Click above for high-res image gallery

The scraping as I pulled into the church parking lot worried me. I'd only had one of the rarest of VeeDubs for a few hours and I might have already nicked it. An unholy shame for sure, since for two weeks I had looked forward to blasting down I-20 at the wheel of an R32. For two weeks I had wondered how loud a redlined VR6 could wail. But for the last two hours I'd done nothing but get lost in Atlanta gridlock trying to set my destination on the car's in-dash nav.

Pulling in the First Pentecostal parking lot's steep entrance was a decision made in frustration and impatience, one made easier with the R32's light, quick steering and massive acceleration. But shelter from the kamikaze traffic I expected, undercarriage damage I did not. A quick inspection revealed nothing of importance had suffered trauma. The 18-inch wheels and their low-profile Continentals looked fine. The rear differential seemed unscathed. The bumper's plastic valance was unharmed and couldn't have made the metal-on-concrete sound I'd heard anyway.



Photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Tutor, Napo Monasterio / Weblogs, Inc.



No, that noise could only have come from my Deep Blue R32's chrome-plated testicles. Well, that's what the two center-mounted exhaust pipes resemble, and, of course, they're huge! Volkswagen endows its high-performance Rabbit with big, low-hanging man-ornaments and isn't ashamed to dangle 'em right out there for the world to see. And for church parking lot entrances to kiss.



Rush-hour suburbanites still crawled slowly and noisily through Hotlanta's streets. Escape was futile. Luckily I knew a superb little liquor store only a few blocks away virtually swimming in premium beer. I touched the R32's dash-mounted screen expecting an iPhone-like experience but, of course, got no response. Instead I input Green's Beverages' address into the nav one character at a time with the knob-turn-push-turn-push method. Input is slow but the system found my route fast. I put the R32's Dual Synchronous Gearbox into drive with the leather and polished-aluminum shifter and carefully made my exodus.



Inching toward Green's, I had plenty of time to admire the gorgeous scenery. Not Atlanta's dirty, decaying back streets. Instead, my eyes were drawn to a German-made landscape of black leather on black carpet against black, textured plastic. The tightly-bolstered seats of the R32 are obviously meant for someone younger and slimmer, but I was certainly not uncomfortable.



For many living in Alabama (a state with laws protecting me from beer too rich in alcohol), Green's is a lager-lover's supermarket. I rarely leave there with less than $100 worth of stouts, pale ales and Trappists. If I owned an 18-wheeler, I'd fill it up at this little Georgian liquor store and shower my fellow 'Bama residents in illegal booze.



But I had to leave that act of charity to someone else this day. For this trip eastward, I needed to travel light in this two-door hatchback. Or so I thought. The R32's 9.7 cubic feet of luggage space could have held much more than the meager handful of bottles I conservatively bought. Dropping the back seats down would have given me an impressive 43.4 cu ft of room, but my bootleg beer would have been on display for all to see. Including any Alabama smokies who happened to find me.

Atlanta's well-known heat had subsided some, so I rolled back the sunroof, dropped the windows and re-programmed the navigator for home. My cargo of beer and I had a long way to go, but with this little rocket, it shouldn't take all that long to get there.



The auburn rays of the sunset glimmered on the inch-wide strip of faux engine-turned aluminum encircling the cabin. For a moment I am Burt Reynolds with 70 more horsepower than his Firebird, a sunroof instead of T-tops, and an iPhone instead of a CB.

I hit I-20, sunset bound and desperately anxious to see what this machine could do. And what it could do was read my mind and bend the very fabric of time. I spied a gap in traffic, bumped the turn signal, and I'm there with only the memory of twitching my wrists and wiggling my big toe. All that McPherson strut, four-link rear, stabilizing-bar goodness got together and partied with the high-tech DSG tranny filled with 236 lbs-ft of torque so that my lane-changing wishes happen instantaneously. It's scary-quick at first, but oh so much fun.



Out of the traffic of Georgia's biggest city, I cranked the car's 10 speakers way past ear-damage level only to realize I couldn't hear that thrumming exhaust. And that was the extent of our evaluation of the R32's sound system. Just know it works in case you ever need it, like if the engine won't crank. Otherwise, the two sound outlets below the rear bumper are all you'll need for aural entertainment. That noise is ever-present with the windows closed, and conversation-killing with them open.



It was 146 miles to Birmingham, and everything went smoothly until I hit the Georgia/Alabama state line. It's there, however, I learned why old people prefer Le Sabres and Town Cars. The VW's sport suspension that was so much fun on smooth city streets did a great job reminding me that Alabama considers gravel the benchmark in roadbuilding, and that anything smoother would only encourage the Yankees to hang around.

Another hour and a half of teeth-rattling, bone-shaking highway and I'm home, the windows up and sunroof closed to keep out the coming rain. The glass muffles the exhaust note, but it's still there, felt as much as heard.



A wet, deserted exit ramp provided an impromptu skidpad test for VW's 4-motion all-wheel-drive system. I took it much faster than I would have in my own car, and my confidence in German engineering wasn't betrayed. No sliding. No squealing. No drama. I'm breathless at the bottom, amazed at the prowess of this thing, disappointed I didn't push it harder.

I unloaded the bootleg beer at home, and noticed how little space the hatch takes up in my usual parking spot. The 167-inch length is almost 7 inches shorter than my wife's Corolla sedan. With a 2-year-old to haul around, I began to worry about the practicality of this thing.



That's how my week with the VW R32 began: An exciting promise of adventure and minor celebrity status everywhere I went. I imagined hordes of VW fans chasing me down in parking lots to beg for a ride. But this is one heck of a sleeper. From a distance, I pointed the car out to a fellow gearhead who said, "Oh, you're driving a Rabbit this week." To which I should have replied, "That's no ordinary Rabbit! That's the most bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!" Once I said the name R32, he perked up with interest, of course, and asked for a ride. The econo-car anonymity got to be so annoying that I actually thought about printing up fliers to hand out to people who weren't fawning all over the thing. "It costs almost $35,430!" I'd say to anyone not impressed enough with the horsepower. I'd brag about the road-holding ability of its all-wheel-drive and talk at length about how the DSG is basically two three-speed transmissions bolted together to make shifts quicker, smoother and with virtually no power loss.



Desperate for attention, I drove to the local VW club's monthly cruise-in. Sitting among about a dozen 40-year-old VW vans and Beetles, the R32 was noticeable more for its shiny blue paint than its rarity. The club members took a moment to recognize the chrome VW badge on the hood before returning to Rain-Xing their windshields and discussions of air-cooled engine maintenance. Two members, though, knew the meaning of its discrete grille badging and oohed and ahhed appropriately. I thanked them with a quick run up the highway and back, loving the way they enjoyed the super quick 1-2-3-4-5-6 shifting with the paddles.

The rest of the week was spent blasting around town, darting in and out of freeway traffic and, most pleasing of all, searching out tunnels and overpasses to hear the brap-brap of the dual exhaust echo off the walls. Parking decks were great fun for revving the 3.2-liter VR6 just to hear the shrieks of over-sensitive car alarms.



This car belongs on a smooth and very twisty road course, but on mis-managed city streets it's almost a drudgery to drive. The first four days of our week together were invigorating. But as we shared more miles, my nerves grew frazzled, my joints ached with every pothole, and I cringed at the very sight of rumble strips.



As with every car I review, we strapped our Graco child seat to the leather back seat. I didn't look forward to playing contortionist in a coupe this size, but the wide door opening made the job very easy. Putting our 2-year-old in his seat was even simpler. The trick is to push the driver's seat forward and squat down in the back floorboard. Then there's plenty of room for securing the most wiggly of toddlers.

Super-hip R32-shopping parents will also be glad to know that the hatchback trunk passed our stroller test with no problem and had some space left over. No baby to haul? Fold the seats flat for even great carrying power. You won't be getting any sheets of plywood back there, but there's plenty room for beer. Or guitars. Or whatever it is you cool kids are doing these days.



By its very nature, the 250-hp 6-cylinder engine should be a nasty little gas hog. Compared to a regular Rabbit, it is. Over the course of our week, we ran 35.3 gallons of premium through our car while driving 657 miles. That's an average of 18.6 mpg (just below EPA's estimate of 20.5). And no, I was not driving like your grandmother. We didn't try to play Michael Scumacher, but then we weren't taking it easy, either. If you can afford a pretty little plaything like the R32, you probably won't mind gas mileage like this.



Sure, there are more powerful, flashier cars out there for the money, but what the R32 lacks in speed, it makes up for in style. If you want to be the Bandit of the suburbs, the R32 could be your modern day T/A.



All Photos Copyright 2008 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 74 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      I love the R32 both the 2004 and the 2008. You have to look at the R32 differently than other vehicles in it's class, otherwise you will be left with disappointment. The R32 is unique for what it is not, rather than what it is. The R32 is not as aggressively styled as an STi or an Evo. The R32 won't get you a ton of attention from a crowd of people. The interior of the R32 isn't stripped to look like a "race car." The final point is, the R32 has an Audi TT drive train, but the R32 does not have an Audi price tag.

      The R32 is a more practical Audi TT for $10k less!
      • 6 Years Ago
      I've had an R32 for four months now, the same blue one pictured. This is an awesome, wide-ranging review, one of the best I've read. I wish I had seen it before I bought mine. Not that I would have changed my mind but it did answer some questions I had about interior space and rough road handling that a lot of the sport magazine reviews didn't really cover. Good job.

      I just have a few comments:

      + Usually what I end up scraping a lot is the plastic on the front bumper. I have to remember that there isn't a lot of ground clearance, so sharper parking lot ramps are going to be a problem. I'm getting used to this. I don't think I've ever scraped the tailpipes.

      + The R32 hasn't been selling well, so you should be able to get one significantly less than list price. They're approaching the same price as the GTI. At retai they were on the expensie side; discounted they're a really, really nice car.

      + The gas mileage gets better when you break it in. It's never going to be spectacular; it's a heavy car and there's a lot of temptation to drive it too fast. (guilty as charged.) And it with the VR6 it takes premium fuel, outch. But if I keep it in "D" mode, paddle shift it for aggressive maneuvers, and drive it carefully other times I can get 28mpg on a tank.

      + Its huge on the inside. I put my road bike into the back flat without removing any wheels and still have room for a lot of bags of groceries on the way home. For a sporty car it is incredibly practical.

      I love this car.

        • 6 Years Ago
        @n_r_child yeah, I figured that out almost immediately. I just have to *remember* to do that.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Wow!

      Good review.

      That other non-buff site (ttac) didn't give the car such a great review....said it didn't change direction too well.

      Personally, I really like the looks and the DSG and may drive this vs. the STI that has been on my list.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Another VW piece o'crap. I really thought I was going to buy one of these when it came out, that is until the test drive. It just doesn't have the same pep that the GTI does and for the extra 7-8 grand what do you get? Slightly better suspension, less MPG, 2 less doors and some name cache. Not to mention the VW dealers in my area were not allowing test drives for the first month or so because they were confident that the R32 would fly off the lot sight unseen. Now they are BEGGING people to take them off their hands with massive markdowns.
      • 6 Years Ago
      R32 = A Heavy, Unreliable, Stylistically-challenged, poor MPG, automatic 30K Golf.

      Go for it!
      • 6 Years Ago
      Agreed, excellent article! Can't wait to drive one.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Great review though i thought it was funny you were hoping to grab attention, most people buy the R32 for the exact opposite reason, for a driver focused hatch that's really just for them, the driver.

      Love the scope of the review, keep 'em coming.

      • 6 Years Ago
      I love the color (note my user id) and after reading the review the R32 sounds like a great little car. However, I ran across two elements that caused me to have a "WTF" moment.

      #1 - Price 35k? Holy crap! That is about 20k more than the base Rabbit? Seriously....20k in options??? I bought my used Vette for that much.

      #2 - Mileage. 18 city 23 hwy according to www.fueleconomy.gov. I agree, if you can buy an expensive car then mileage shouldn't matter too much. However, my vette is rated 16/26 and I get 400 hp. The R32 has 250hp??? Huh??? WTF indeed.

      I wouldn't mind having a nice ride like the R32, but I'd probably opt for a Cobalt SS turbo sedan. The Cobalt doesn't have the nice build and finish of the VW, nor the all wheel drive or DSG, but it's faster, gets far better mileage, I can shift myself as god intended and I'll have 10 grand extra to spend on other toys.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The R32 is to the Rabbit what the Z06 is to the Vette. Last I checked, the Z06 is about $25K more than the standard Vette.

        The Rabbit is not available with a V6 or AWD, both features that are standard on the R32. It's not $20K in options, it's nearly a totally different model, though not as much different as the Mk4 variant was to the standard Golf.

        Much like the Mk4 R32 was essentially a TT 3.2 Drivetrain in a Golf body, the MkV R32 is basically an Audi A3 3.2 drivetrain in a Rabbit body. The Mk2 TT also shares the drivetrain, but the A3 shares the Rabbit chassis like the Mk4 R32 shared it's chassis with the Mk1 TT. It's also one reason we don't get a 3dr A3 here in the US(or a 5dr R32 for that matter), it's too similar to the R32 and there isn't pricing room for both like there is in other markets.

        Regarding the fuel economy, check the figures for other similar vehicles. The WRX STI and Lancer Evolution are rated very similarly to the R32. AWD has a way of sucking down more gas than either RWD or FWD.
        • 6 Years Ago
        sure, or $2,000 more then a GTI with the same specs at current incentives, which is where VW is finding most of their buyers.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The R32 is to the Rabbit what the Z06 is to the Vette. Last I checked, the Z06 is about $25K more than the standard Vette.

        The Rabbit is not available with a V6 or AWD, both features that are standard on the R32. It's not $20K in options, it's nearly a totally different model, though not as much different as the Mk4 variant was to the standard Golf.

        Much like the Mk4 R32 was essentially a TT 3.2 Drivetrain in a Golf body, the MkV R32 is basically an Audi A3 3.2 drivetrain in a Rabbit body. The Mk2 TT also shares the drivetrain, but the A3 shares the Rabbit chassis like the Mk4 R32 shared it's chassis with the Mk1 TT. It's also one reason we don't get a 3dr A3 here in the US(or a 5dr R32 for that matter), it's too similar to the R32 and there isn't pricing room for both like there is in other markets.

        Regarding the fuel economy, check the figures for other similar vehicles. The WRX STI and Lancer Evolution are rated very similarly to the R32. AWD has a way of sucking down more gas than either RWD or FWD.
      • 6 Years Ago
      One of the best reviews I've read! I don't get mixing the church, the tailpipes thing and the booze, but other than that, it was entertaining. R32s are Q-ships with tremendous potential.
      • 6 Years Ago
      If they would offer this as a convertible, it would be a great (actually upgrade) replacement for my '02 Cabrio.

      But with the lousy mileage, high pricetag & expensive premium diet, I would most likely buy another Mustang GT convertible. A car not with overexposed simulated nads, but REAL ones.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Even though the R32 passed your stroller test, the one test that it fails (I've tried) is the golf club test. You can't put a set of clubs in the boot laterally without removing the driver, 3-wood, etc. from the bag. Otherwise, you basically have to drop the back seat.
      • 6 Years Ago
      This thing is so much uglier than the classy-looking first gen. Those pimple taillights are terrible, and the shape isn't as smooth.
    • Load More Comments