Beginning in 1983, and for years following, the hottest Volkswagen Golf you could buy was the GTI, the car that created the hot hatch segment. Then in 2002, it was relegated to second-class status by the Volkswagen Golf R32, introduced to capitalize on the company’s success in rallying. Twenty years later, it remains atop the pecking order of the Volkswagen Golf, the econobox that made econoboxes acceptable to Americans.
2002 Volkswagen Golf R32
Debuting in Europe for 2002, and in America two years later, the R32 is a clear upgrade in performance from the GTI. Basically, it’s a Volkswagen Golf with a detuned version of the Audi TT’s 3.2-liter 24-valve, double-overhead cam narrow-angle V6 rated at 240 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, a dual-clutch transmission, a first in a production car, is optional. Power is routed through the Audi TT’s Haldex all-wheel-drive system. VW replaces the GTI’s torsion-beam axle with a new multilink rear suspension, beefs up the anti-roll bars, quickens the rack and pinion power steering, hikes the spring rates and lowers the ride height by 0.9 inch.
It’s dressed it for success with revised front air intakes, a rear spoiler, rocker-panel extensions, darkened taillamp lenses, and “Deep Blue Pearl” paint. Inside, a leather-wrapped, three-spoke wheel, König front bucket seats, aluminum trim and optional leather seats complete the package.
The addition of 4Motion improves handling, but the added weight of the all-wheel-drive system and the car’s heavy standard equipment list results in the R32’s performance being close to the of the lighter, less powerful GTI.
2005 Volkswagen Golf R32
A reworked Golf R32 arrives on the Golf Mark V platform in Europe for 2005 and in America for 2008. Now boasting 250 horsepower it comes solely with a dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters. Performance improves, however, with a 6.2-second 0-60 mph run, according to VW. As before, buyers get a well-equipped cabin, and each R32 has its production number laser etched on the steering wheel. There’re also numerous driver assistance safety features, including anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, stability control and traction control.
2009 Volkswagen Golf R
Renamed the Golf R for 2009, Volkswagen’s hottest hatchback receives a heart transplant. Like the Audi TT, the R32’s narrow-angle 3.2-liter V6 is dropped in favor of a high-output, turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. Rated at 256 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque, it’s available solely with a six-speed manual. Offered in both two-and four-four-door models, it’s the first Golf to use LED tail lights and is lighter than the car it replaces. This improves performance. Its sole $1,500 option adds a sunroof, keyless entry, and navigation with an upgraded audio system. It reaches America in 2012.
2013 Volkswagen Golf R
The fourth-generation Golf R arrives in Europe for 2013, and in the U.S. for 2015. Generating a healthy 296 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque through a 6-speed manual or 6-speed dual-clutch transmission to all four wheels, with dual-clutch models getting launch control. The R’s direct-injected, turbocharged 2.0-liter four receives revised pistons and a larger turbocharger with a max boost pressure of 17.4 psi, while the Haldex all-wheel-drive system is updated to include torque vectoring. Engineers enhanced handling by adding adaptive damping and 19-inch wheels. Driver assistance safety features are added for 2016, including lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control.
Volkswagen claims a 0-62 mph run of 5.3 seconds with the manual and 4.9 seconds with the dual-clutch and a governed top speed of 155 mph. Not bad for a car that started life as a grocery getter.
2022 Volkswagen Golf R
Arriving later this year, Volkswagen promises the fifth iteration of the Golf R will deliver 315 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Engineers have revised the all-wheel-drive system to supply power between the front and rear axles, as well as between the two rear wheels. And, in a first for a Volkswagen, the new R will come with a Drift mode for track use.
The R’s interior features two large screens will display the expected instrumentation and infotainment features, while adding such essential information as boost pressure, gearbox temperature, torque, power, a G-meter, the torque distribution of the all-wheel-drive system, and a lap timer. A head-up display is optional.
While further details have yet to be confirmed, the 2022 Golf R should provide all the thrills its name promises.