Hot Hatch Royalty
20 years on, the Volkswagen Golf R still reigns supreme as the ultimate performance hatchback
For nearly two decades, the Volkswagen Golf R and its predecessor, the Golf R32, have represented the pinnacle of hatchback performance. Looking back at the history of the line shows how customer expectations for accessible sports cars have changed - and how the new Golf R will offer the fastest, most capable version of the name to date.
2002: Volkswagen Golf R32 (Mk IV)
The first production Golf to wear a "R" badge from the Volkswagen Racing division
was unveiled in Madrid in 2002, following a concept unveiled a year earlier. While
the Golf GTI had created the hot-hatch segment, Volkswagen engineers envisioned an
even higher-performing model that drew from the company's success in rallying.
The Golf R32 offered a breakthrough level of tech advancements for its time; a high-output version of the 3.2-liter VR6 with 240 horsepower, linked to a standard, performance-focused 4Motion all-wheel-drive system that sent power to the rear axle as needed. In Europe, the Golf R32 also debuted a DSG® dual-clutch automatic transmission - a first for a production vehicle. The North American version was available in the 2004 model year solely with a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission, and limited to 5000 units. The R32 signature Deep Blue Pearl exterior color also made its debut. While other models in its category may have been faster in a straight line, few matched the road grip or driving pleasure the first Golf R32 delivered, setting the template for the future.
2005: Golf R32 (Mk V)
With the arrival of a new generation of Golf came a reworked Golf R32. Power rose
to 250 hp, and other enhancements allowed the Golf R32 to go from 0 to 62 mph in
6.2 seconds with the DSG transmission. The interior of the Golf R32 was also
upgraded, offering a mix of technology and near-luxury appointments. Adding to
the personal touch, each R32 had 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.