Is the VW Golf R32 an enthusiast’s car?

My philosophy in life: if you are going to buy a new car, make sure it either has more power or more unique than the last one; never look back!

I just sold my 2006 VW Golf MkV GTI and moved to Hong Kong to start a new job. My GTI had a APR Stage 2 tune, intake, downpipe, springs and some other subtle modifications to bulletproof the engine area. The car was definitely a sleeper, and I used to love seeing people’s reactions when I would outrun them in their Porsche’s or V8s– the sneaky GTI had over 330 ft-lbs of torque and 254 bhp on 100-octane fuel!

Anyways, back to the point of this review… what car was I going to buy as my daily drive in Hong Kong?? After months of testing several Japanese cars and Euro cars I saw a 2006 VW R32 on the market, in MANUAL – I had to have it! I’ve always been a enormous fan of the V6 unique exhaust note and always knew when a R32 would fly down the street past my apartment window typically farting as the DSG would upshift gears, selecting the next the aural soundtrack to play.

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The R32, at first glance looked not much different to my previous GTI. The main differences being the signature mounted center exhaust at the back, and the front ‘chrome dipped’ grill. A real car enthusiast can also tell you that the rear bumper on the R32 is painted as opposed to the horrible mass produced flexible plastic bumper on a standard Golf. The interior was specced out with amazing Recaro leather racing seats; shared across multiple Audi ‘R’ badged cars. They really do hold you snug, and can get a bit uncomfortable for longer drives; though not really a factor for typical Hong Kong driving distances. The driving position instantly feels natural and for my above average height combined with the sloped down bonnet, makes the view great for choosing your lines and helps to obnoxiously push in-between cars when stuck in traffic!

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What sets apart the R32 from other Golfs, is the handling characteristics. The R32 delivers faultless confidence-inspiring traction and seems to have endless grip. However, it does feel a little heavy and slightly more sluggish than the GTI, this could be a result of the Eibach springs I installed and ridiculous power output that my previous GTI had. In Hong Kong, driving on the mountainous, twisty roads to Big Wave Bay or Tai Mo Shan, the steering feels very direct and you can balance the car extremely well on the longer corners. The cornering speed on the R32 is very impressive, allowing you to adjust your line even if you have braked too late for the turn; the car is effortless and easy to drive!

This car encourages you to drive with the windows down even if it is 36 degrees outside, just so you can hear the echo of the exhaust off the mountain sidewalls. It’s such a beautiful and rare exhaust note, if anything I wish it was slightly louder. I found myself slowing down more than I should before corners, just so that I could accelerate for slightly longer periods and let the engine rev out; guaranteed to put a smile on anyones face!

I thought about how to increase the volume of the exhaust and spent many hours on the internet researching forums and watching YouTube exhaust videos to try and find a suitable upgrade. In the end I decided that doing a simple ‘flapper mod’ was going to preserve the original sound, and kick start the orchestral sound at a lower RPM. To do this, all I needed to do was crawl under the rear of the car, cut a rubber vacuum line and plug one end shut. I immediately drove out my carpark and searched for a suitable pavement to park on and hang the rear end off; allowing me more headroom to access the line. Of course, being impatient and not realising how quickly an exhaust can heat up, I burnt myself in the process, but it was well worth it!

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The 3.2-litre V6 R32 may only have 250bhp, only 50bhp more than a GTI. But the way in which the car delivers it’s power is completely different to its cheaper brother. The power is very linear, and the car pulls strong from a complete standstill all the way till redline. Due to the larger engine and more torque, selecting the right gear isn’t as critical and overtaking in every situation is a non-event. Not completely satisfied however, I again spent some time researching forums to trying to figure out how to better improve the performance of the engine. Unfortunately, tuning a naturally aspirated engine is very expensive in terms of ‘bang for buck’ value, compared to a turbo. There are fantastic supercharger kits available, but if you’re going to blow that kind of money – buy different car!

In the end, I decided to try fitting a Neuspeed air intake system with a pod filter; which I installed myself on the car pretty easily. In terms of power gains, I don’t think much was achieved if I’m honest, however, I noticed it seemed to free up throttle response, and gave the engine a bit more throaty note – a winner in my opinion!


Overall the Golf R32 was is a great all round car for Hong Kong. It has enough power to fully enjoy every single bhp, without facing jail time and hefty fines. It fits 5 people comfortably, and the rear folding seats made it great to pack friends and wakeboards before heading to Sai Kung pier, and you wouldn’t need to sell it due to expanding family, as I see so often on the description for online car listings!

I did test a new model Golf R from the dealership before selling the R32. I arranged to test drive the manual gearbox, something which I regret after a friend pointed out that the DSG will keep the larger K04 turbo spooled, allowing you to remain within the power band during shifts, which is why the acceleration times between the manual and DSG is so vast in the Golf R. I was a little underwhelmed by the performance, and missed the rawness of the R32.

It’s probably accurate to say that today, the original R32 is the most respected and best-loved member of the R family, at least from the standpoint of driving and sound dynamics. It set the bar rather high. If I had money and space for a car collection, the R32 would definitely have a place.

Article by: Conrad Banks

Cover photo: Matthew Ng from Black Cygnus Photography. Check out Matthew’s Instagram @matthewngcarphotography

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