TELL ME I'M WRONG: VW GOLF R32 (MK4)
V6 Golfs: great on paper but do they really work on the road? Harris thinks not...
Car was the benchmark back then, it nurtured me through hours of classroom tedium, my only real complaint being its size - one of those handbag A5 editions would have been perfect for covert reading. Even now I am probably unaware to the extent that I am indoctrinated by the message of Car - and there were many repeated themes. Setright and his obsession for Honda and Avon tyres, Audis having 'inadequate ventilation' and dozens of others. I didn't question any of them because these people were my vicarious life - I channelled Green, Cropley, Bremner, Fraser et al to bring me a life of cars.
This was an almost new car, with a few optional extras and after a half-hour drive I needed time alone. My world was shattered. You see I'd also been lucky enough to have a go in a 325i a few weeks earlier, not easy when you were a nipper in the early 90s, and even with the rudimentary skills of a young Mini owner it was quite clear that the BMW had the Golf licked in pretty much every area bar the lifting tailgate test and snowy conditions.
Did this lead to an implosion of trust? Partly. We all have our heroes denuded at some point, but it was the first step towards a truism we all celebrate on PH - by all means listen to what people say, but making your own mind up is far more important. I did go and drive a Prelude soon afterwards and didn't quite understand what all the fuss was about.
That's a situation I think is still true 20 years later. Fitting a big, heavy motor in a Golf takes more away from the package than it adds in torque and sexy noise - VW seemed to finally realise this in 2010 and fitted a turbocharged four-banger for the Golf R. But even then, taking cost into consideration, the Mk6 GTI was a better all-round package than the much more expensive R.
All good on paper...
Prime suspect on the list of rank disappointments for me was always the Mk4 R32. In 2002 the prospect of an all-wheel drive Golf with a 240hp V6 and, hopefully, some sensible spring rates was very appealing. The reality wasn't quite as bad as the previous effort, the Golf 4Motion, which one colleague of mine called 'dangerous' but it was still a rank disappointment. Rarely has the on-paper specification of a car so over-sold a driving experience.
In mitigation, the standard Mk4 GTI was a proper dumpling, so it's not as if the R32 had some super-talented youngster nipping away at its heels, but there was in-house pressure from the Audi S3, which was originally only rated at 210hp, but I always found it far, far more appealing than the Golf.
Generation five gave us another R32, this time with 250hp, but still saddled with wheezing lungs and a chassis that screamed 'I was never intended to have a sodding great big V6 out front'. More pertinently, the equivalent GTI was an absolute corker this time and even though VW claimed the R32 was quicker, on a mixture of decent roads, I still think there's virtually nothing in it - and the punter in the GTI will be having a much better time.
And those are my observations of the Volkswagen Golf when fitted with a six cylinder engine.
I do not profess to be right; suppose it's time for you to tell me why I'm wrong...
VW GOLF R32 (Mk4)
Engine: 3,189cc V6
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 4-wheel drive
Power (hp): 241@6,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 236@2,800rpm
0-62mph: 6.6 sec
Top speed: 153mph
MPG: 24.4mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: £22,608/£23,228 (3-door/5-door, price when new)