The lower and wider stance of the new R32 that debuted at the 2005 Frankfurt show is more than exterior decoration; it communicates that this is the fastest-ever Golf. Subtle changes from the stock GTI include twenty-spoke, eighteen-inch wheels, larger air intakes, unobtrusive sill profiles, and a new rear apron shaped around a pair of large-diameter, mid-mounted tailpipes. Power is courtesy of Volkswagen's transversely mounted, narrow-angle VR6. Normally aspirated, the 3.2-liter unit in European cars needs 6300 rpm to muster 247 hp, with maximum torque of 236 lb-ft available between 2800 and 3200 rpm. But since Americans haven't received even the GTI, don't look for this ber-Golf until late 2007 as a 2008 model. Our reward for the long wait should be the Passat's 280-hp, 3.6-liter V-6, which will necessitate a badge change to R36.
As it now stands, the fastest-ever Golf accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 6.2 seconds and reaches 155 mph. The four-wheel-drive system's Haldex clutch distributes the torque progressively and smoothly, with no steering fight or drivetrain shock. The optional twin-clutch DSG gearbox is still the best manu-matic money can buy. Even flat-out upshifts are heard, not felt. The DSG works equally well in automatic and manual modes, and you can easily dial in an even quicker sport program. The only drawback is the position of the relatively small paddles, which are attached to the steering spokes, not the steering column.
The Golf deserves full marks for its terrific brakes, a blend of blue calipers and shiny, ventilated supersize life-savers that pair incredible strength with exceptional sensitivity. The pads intermittently hug the discs in the wet, and they move into alert position in the wake of a brisk throttle lift.
Like the Mitsubishi Evo and the Subaru WRX, the R32 proves that four-wheel drive can communicate as well as the best pair of driven wheels. But the VW is more refined, luxurious, and livable than those cars and is arguably as good to drive. Weaving through a series of corners in the Golf, it's a treat to adjust the constantly changing torque split, to throttle-feed oomph to the rear, to balance pull and push, to maintain a rhythm where other cars have to segment it. This is an incredibly smooth performer, high on tactility and low on drama, very fast and yet totally unfussed.