There had been V6-powered Golfs before, but Volkswagen really hit its stride with the R32. First introduced with the Mk4 model, the later Mk5 refined and improved the breed with a chassis better able to cope with the motor's 250hp.
Today, a Mk5 R32 can cost you as little as £5000 to buy, making it a tempting and sonorous performance car that still offers all of the practicality of the rest of the Golf hatch range. It was offered in three- and five-door body styles, but with a chromed grille shell, deeper front bumper with three air inlets and bi-Xenon headlights. Extended side sills and sportier rear bumper with a diffuser-like lower edge and twin exhaust pipes completed the makeover. The R32 sat on 18-inch alloy wheels as standard and cost from £23,745 when launched in March 2005.
At the heart of the R32 is that 3.2-litre V6 motor lifted from the previous Mk4 model. It gained 10hp over the older car and torque was now delivered 300rpm lower in the rev range. That means 250hp and 236lb ft of torque that comes on song from 2500rpm, which helps the R32 to feel surprisingly brisk despite its 1541kg weight. From rest to 62mph was quoted at 6.5 seconds for the R32 at launch, which made it 0.5 seconds quicker than a GTI. Top speed was electronically limited to 155mph.
Power from the engine is delivered through a Haldex four-wheel drive system. It uses a multi-plate clutch that allows power to be distributed where it can best be used, so in extreme conditions all the power can go to the front or rear wheels. The biggest choice for R32 customers when it was new was between the six-speed manual or DSG gearboxes. By the time the Mk5 R32 went on sale, Volkswagen had dealt with most of the issues with the twin-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox and it's proved more reliable than early Audi TTs which used the same transmission.
Contemporary road tests praised the Mk5 R32 for the amount of grip it offered when cornering. Road testers pointed out the steering didn't offer as much feedback as a Subaru Impreza's but the turn-in was quick and there's 2.9 turns between lock stops. Bringing all of this to a halt are 345mm front and 310mm rear discs.
Inside, the R32 was well appointed with aluminium foot pedals, flat-bottomed steering wheel, climate control and six-disc CD changer. Optional Recaro seats were a popular, if expensive option, and are desirable on any car you look at now so long as the side bolsters are not badly worn and need repair. Those R32s at the bottom end of the price spectrum will likely need more money spent on them to address wear and tear, so a more realistic budget is from around £7500 for a car with complete service history. Top whack for an immaculate, low mileage car is around £13,000.
Bodywork and interior
High level LED brake light can fail
Rear windscreen wiper can fail and needs a new motor.
Recaro seat mounts can rattle even when seat is securely fitted.
Rust on front wheelarches that's common to all Mk5 Golfs caused by the plastic liner rubbing away pain from the arch's lip.
Automatic Xenon headlight height adjustment can fail and requires new motors.
Air conditioning can stop working.
Engine and transmission
3.2-litre V6 is generally robust, but coil packs can fail and result in a misfire.
Engine is chain-driven, but plastic tensioner wears and can make the engine sound rattly. Replacement tensioner and bolt will cost around £60 plus fitting.
Oil change every 10,000 miles is recommended
Rear differential and Haldex coupling need an oil service every 40,000 miles. Change the spark plugs at the same time.
DSG gearbox needs an oil change every 40,000 miles. The DSG 'box is more robust in the R32 than previous VAG models, but check it shifts smoothly and takes up drive from a standing start without any jerkiness. Also make sure it's had any recall work carried out for the Mechatronic control module.
Flapper mod for exhaust is a common upgrade to give more engine noise. Simple to make the mod or return the car to standard.
Suspension and steering
Creaks and grinding noise from the front point to a worn steering rack.
Front and rear top mounts can begin to rattle and need replacing.
Wheels, tyres and brakes
Check the inner edges of the front tyres carefully for wear.
Brake fluid change required every two years or 24,000 miles.
Rear brakes can bind, so listen for any rubbing or grinding noises.
SPECIFICATION - VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R32 (Mk5)
Engine: 3189cc V6
Transmission: 6-speed man/DSG
Power (hp): 250@6300rpm
Torque (lb ft): 236@2500rpm
Price new: £23,745
Price now: £5000 upwards