Ever seen the movie, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?!
It's the tale of a mild mannered scientist who decides the best way to test his new formula is to take it himself and, in doing so, transforms into a homicidal maniac.
That's really the only way I can aptly describe the VW Golf R32. Sedate highway cruiser one minute, mountain pass mutilator the next.
It all starts out innocently enough. Small, unassuming, practical MkV Golf hatch back. The kind you see tootling around supermarket car parks or, dare I say it, the local bowls club.
It's only when you look a little more closely that you begin to realise that the devil, in this case, really is in the detail. Brushed aluminium grill surround, flanking a subtle R32 badge. Add to this a lowered stance, wheel arches stuffed with 18 inch ‘Zolder' alloys, and of course, the centred twin exhaust pipes, and glimpses of this car's sinister side start to emerge from the shadows.
Inside, the standard leather pews are incredibly comfortable if you're planning to munch some miles (even when you're 6 foot 6), with heavy bolstering ensuring that you're firmly planted should you decide to take a more ‘scenic' route to your chosen destination. Otherwise, the interior is typical for German cars of the time. Simple. Black. Understated, but purposeful.
Thankfully, the R32 is set apart by a chunky, tactile flat bottomed steering wheel, and unique ‘Engine Spin' aluminium trim insert across the doors, and ahead of the shifter, lifting the otherwise inoffensive interior to a level more befitting of a car that, when new, retailed at the expensive end of the $50k-$60k bracket.
9 years on, and time has softened the hip pocket blow a little, with several examples now fetching between $20-$25k on the private market. Factor in the standard automatic self-levelling Bi-xenon headlights, rain sensing wipers, and funky blue instrument dials, and you can see why a small but avid group of enthusiasts on are always on the hunt for prime low kilometre examples.
Servicing costs will vary significantly, but a reputable independent specialist mechanic will set you back approx. $300 a year, but up to $1200 for a major service of the DSG/4 Motion system, which occurs every 5 years/60,000kms.
Hit the freeway, and the 184Kw/320Nm V6 providing effortless cruising, and returns approx. 8.5l/100km, and while the lowered, stiffened suspension set up is clearly geared towards the ‘hairpin' rather than the ‘hair piece' set, it's easy to live with day to day, and certainly more compliant than a similarly aged Subaru WRX, for example.
“That's awesome”, I hear you say, “but where's the raging homicidal maniac you promised earlier?”
Good point. After all, this thing was built to carve up corners, and slaughter switch backs. Time to flip the shifter across to ‘M' (which stands for Maniac, apparently), mash the Aluminium throttle pedal, and unleash hell.
The level of control you have over this ‘Wolfsburg in sheep's clothing', is entirely down to personal preference. While the standard 6 speed manual is (from all reports) a sweet, short throw affair, I've always appreciated the convenience, and choice, that the optional 6 speed DSG offers.
The note from those twin pipes quickly rises from a deep growl into a spine tingling shriek. Seriously, this thing's like a rabid dog crossed with a scalded cat! It induces pedestrian whip lash, scares small children, and causes Rottweilers to run and hide.
Tip it into a corner, and while the flappy paddle induced rev-matching DSG will make sure you're in the right gear for the job, you're definitely aware of the big lump of V6 up front, occasionally pushing you wide if you go in too hot. At 9/10ths though, the 1-2 grip combo from the 4 Motion All wheel drive system, and the 18 inch Continentals will ensure that it sling shots you out the other side in one piece.
All this aural and G…err…force stimulation does come at a cost, though, with any prolonged appearances by Mr. Hyde seeing that fuel consumption climb (well) above the quoted 9.8l/100km, and a new set of reasonable tyres lightening the wallet by at least $1000.
So, does this schizophrenic German uber hatch still warrant consideration against the new generation of affordable ‘warm' hatches 9 years on?
In the words of the devil himself, “Hell yes!”.