The Golf’s last rasp with VW’s characterful, narrow-angle V6, the Mk5 R32 has all the makings of a stone-cold future classic. While the GTI is rightly celebrated as creating the template for the modern hot hatch, the R range has also, in its own way, been hugely influential. The Mk3 VR6 established proof of concept for six-cylinder Golfs, but it was the arrival of the Mk4-based R32 in 2002 that really got the R lineage going. All-wheel drive made sense of the beefier 3.2-litre engine and gave it a clear USP over the GTI.
A year after launch, the R32 also introduced the twin-clutch DSG gearbox to the VW range, the R32 setting the template for modern ‘super hatches’ much the way the GTI did for hot hatches. For the Mk5, it was evolution not revolution, the 3.2-litre engine carried over with power increased to 250PS (184kW) and torque now 320Nm (236lb ft). The Mk5’s stiffer body was another bonus, the new R32 available in three- and five-door versions and with a six-speed manual or DSG transmissions.
If not as bombastically fast as later turbocharged Golf Rs, the R32 retains a special place in the hearts of enthusiasts for its ‘small car, big engine’ combination and, most of all, the gorgeous warble of that six-cylinder engine.