The first--and most bizarre--thing we noticed was that the car had no CD player. The option sheet pointed out that, with the iPod option, the six-CD changer wouldn't be present. Apparently there is also no single CD slot when the navigation system is present. With iPod integration, CDs are unnecessary so the iPod integration is good. The R32 has an iPod dock in the center console, which is nice, but the stereo interface is the same as if you bought an aftermarket dock and hooked it to the CD changer connection on the stereo. The interface on the stereo head unit assigns the first five playlists as CDs 1 through 5. CD 6 includes all the songs on the iPod. Because the stereo display can't show song information, only referring to each track by its number on the iPod, choosing music is a matter of blindly turning the knob through dozens of tracks. We really would have preferred a CD changer in this case.
The stereo also had Sirius satellite radio as a choice, but again, we weren't very happy with the interface. It did show channel and track information, but we found it very difficult to choose individual channels that weren't on the presets. However, if you can get a decent music source, audio quality is good. The car has a center-fill speaker on the dashboard and a subwoofer. Although the audio wasn't stellar, we were pleased with the high notes and the bass kick.
As for the navigation system, while it performs the basic functions we expect, it suffers from slow hardware. We were easily able to program addresses manually or by point of interest. Even selecting a point on the map for an address went smoothly, something we wouldn't expect as this system doesn't use a touch screen. But using route guidance is made difficult because the location of the car on the map often lags behind the car's actual position. We frequently found we had already passed a street when the navigation system indicated we should turn. The R32 is one of the few cars we would recommend getting without the navigation system, which should allow for either a single- or six-disc changer in the dash.
Under the hood
The real reason for the 2008 Volkswagen R32 to exist at all is so people can brag about having a really fast VW Rabbit with excellent handling. Obviously, its audience is a pretty select group. But you can also look at it as a way to get an Audi-quality driving experience for about 10 grand less than VW's high-end sibling.
The R32's engine is a 3.2-liter V-6 producing 250 horsepower. Surprisingly, VW doesn't use its FSI direct-injection technology on this engine, opting for multipoint injection through an intake manifold. We are big fans of the DSG dual-clutch transmission, and VW includes it standard on the R32. Each flick of the shifter paddles produces a visceral gear change and lets you keep the revs up there in peak horsepower territory. Or, if you're feeling lazy or just cruising in traffic, let the computer shift the transmission, which should save some gas.
We like the growl this engine makes and how well we could control it with the DSG, but it doesn't turn in rocket-engine power. VW rates the R32 at 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds; fast, but not devastating. We didn't attempt an independent test of this figure, but from our various fast starts, we can believe it. The car's all-wheel-drive system, which provides such good road grip, keeps it from being the fastest car off the line. But with as much as 75 percent of its torque going to the rear wheels, you definitely don't get torque steer, something common with front-wheel-drive hot hatchbacks.
Although it performs better than most hot hatchbacks, one area where it lags is fuel economy. The EPA gives it 18 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway, where its smaller-engined brother, the Volkswagen GTI, gets 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. In our test driving, we saw an average of 20.1 mpg for the R32. For emissions, it gets the minimum LEV II rating from the California Air Resources Board.
The 2008 Volkswagen R32 comes with the V-6, all-wheel-drive, and the DSG for a base price of $32,990. The only option available is the navigation system, which comes with iPod integration, for $1,800. Along with a $640 destination charge, our R32 totaled $35,430. At that price, the VW gets competition from a number of luxury-sport sedans, but still falls about 10 grand under the price of an Audi TT with a similar size engine and Quattro all-wheel-drive.
In our review, we had to mark it down substantially for its cabin electronics. But in the areas of performance and design, we give it high marks. It's a very good-looking car, and it handles exceptionally well. The suspension seemed a little soft, but that could have been due to our receiving a test car that had been mercilessly used by the journalists who had gotten hold of it before us.