Much as it did for the Golf GTI, the Mk5 R32 epitomised what Volkswagen's modern, all-weather uber-hatch would later become. Unimpeachably handsome in its proportions and wonderfully grown-up, the car managed to make its brash, knowing burble seem understated, even prudent - as if the presence of a six-cylinder petrol motor in a modest family car was just good sense rather than a statement of sporting intent.
Its heritage had never been much about the latter. The original Mk3 VR6 model was feasible because Volkswagen had already gone to the trouble of designing and building the engine - a 'Vee-Inline' unit which used a common cylinder head rather then the pair required by a conventional V6. The chief advantage was scale: with only 15 degrees between the two offset banks of cylinders, it was compact enough for transverse installations - ideal for the front-drive platforms favoured by the manufacturer.
In the Corrado, it was a triumph; in the Golf, it was a sticking plaster for the Mk3's many other faults. It was better in the Mk4 R32, where Volkswagen wisely opted to counterbalance the weight over the nose by diverting some of the drive to the rear axle, and had by then grown in size to 3.2-litres and 24 valves, a combination good for 240hp. It had the just the right soundtrack, too - equal parts throb and growl, like an electrified tiger.
But the Mk5 was the standout variant, swapping out its predecessor's lairy body kit for one that kept its wider track under a bushel. More so than the Mk4, it was mostly concerned with just being a Golf, which meant being discreet and refined and flexible - and the naturally-aspirated VR6 was perfect for that; unobtrusive when not required, then lusty and hairy-chested when the time came to surge effortlessly forward.
It helped, of course, that the Mk5 better fit the modern Golf template in a more general sense, and that the standard GTI could at last be trusted to provide buyers with an exhilarating entry-level option. This freed the heavyweight R32 to be all the hatchback you'd ever realistically need: composed, capable, practical, well-made, well-equipped, and comfortable. The 250hp VR6 made it feel like an extravagance, too - and with subsequent generations obliged to used turbocharged four-cylinder engines, it has certainly retained the virtue.
As a result, the values of very well kept late-year examples have stayed firm, even to the point of inclining as they become less common. You can have both three- and five-door models, and can choose between a six-speed manual or DSG - and it's perfectly possible to find a good one of any combination for under £10k. We couldn't resist this one in steel grey though, replete as it is with a full VW service history and just 45,000 miles on the clock. It even has the seldom seen Recaro bucket seats. At over £15k, it ambitiously nudges into Mk6 Golf R territory, but you can expect the residuals to be kinder in the long run. Expect your ears to be happier, too.
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SPECIFICATION - VW GOLF R32 (Mk5)
Engine: 3,189cc V6
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 4-wheel drive
Power (hp): 250@6,300rpm
Torque (lb ft): 236@2,800rpm
0-62mph: 6.5 sec
Top speed: 155mph
MPG: 26mpg (NEDC combined)