Project R32 – Introduction

Volkswagen enthusiasts have waited a very long time for something like the R32. We’ve watched from the sidelines over the years as Europe got to play with the truly special models that always seem to escape our grasp – till now.

The R32 was never destined for our shores. Volkswagen, seeking to give the Golf IV platform its last big hoorah, gave the R32 a fully electronic all-wheel-drive system, a 241hp 3.2l VR6 engine borrowed from the Phaeton and bestowed with one of the finest sounding exhausts to ever grace a stock automobile, a proper six-speed manual transmission, revised front strut suspension and fully independent rear suspension, big 13 inch brake rotors up front, 18″ OZ Aristo wheels, quick-ratio steering rack, a thick leather sport steering wheel that would look at home in a Ferrari, beefy Konig sport bucket seats, aluminum trim inside and a subtle but aggressive front bumper, side skirts and rear valence. All this plus a host of luxury touches make the R32 greater than the sum of its parts.

The R32 was intended to compete with other hot hatches in the European market – Alfa 147 GTA, the Ford Focus RS and Renault Clio V6 to mention a few. Volkswagen AG only planned to build 5,000 R32s for the European market, but instead built more than 7,500 when demand completely outstripped supply.

While at a press event in Wolfsburg, intended to show off the Touareg, Dr. Pischetsreider invited U.S. journalists to “sample” the R32 at VW’s famed Ehra Leissen test track facility. Needless to say people were impressed, enough so that pressure fell directly on Dr. P. to bring the car to the U.S. Within weeks the R32 was given the go ahead for U.S. certification and at the 2003 North American International Auto Show Volkswagen announced that the U.S. would get 5,000 R32s in about a year’s time. American Volkswagen enthusiasts. (including us here at VWvortex) immediately put deposits in to their local dealers to reserve a place in line and waited and waited. Finally, in March of 2004, the first R32s arrived and customers were finally able to take delivery.

We received our Deep Blue Metallic R32 at the end of March. The only option available on the R32 was the choice of cloth or leather seating surfaces and we opted for leather. Our offices are located in the Chicago area, and the weather in March is still very much touch and go. With ice and snow still a threat we immediately replaced the stock Goodyear Eagle F1 tires with a set of 18″ Blizzak snow tires from our friends at the Tire Rack.

We can’t stress enough to R32 owners that if you live in a snow belt area, do NOT even attempt to drive your R32 in the snow with the stock ultra-high performance summer tires. Several R32 owners in our R32 discussion forum found out the hard way very quickly that the stock tires won’t cut it (as if there was any doubt to start with!). Our Blizzaks, even with a relatively short sidewall (for a winter tire) designed to accommodate the 18″ stock wheels, were a huge improvement and faired very well in the wet and snowy weather. Tire Rack also has replacement wheels and snow tire packages available, including a 17″ wheel and tire package as well. You can find more information on fitments in our R32 forum.

Once warmer weather set in and we crossed over the 1,000 mile break-in period we immediately put our R32 on the dyno to measure stock horsepower to the hubs; this gave us a baseline power figure for our future modification plans (more on that later). We called upon the guys at Genesis Racing Development in Naperville, Illinois, where they have a DynoPak all-wheel-drive HUB dyno. The DynaPack hub dyno is considered one of the most accurate dynos available and is unique from the more common “roller” dynos (DynoJet and Mustang) in that you remove the wheels from the car and attach the DynaPack pods directly to the hub:

The goal was for us to get a baseline dyno number for our stock R32. The dyno numbers below shouldn’t be compared to any other dyno run on another type of dyno as there are far too many differences in individual cars, individual dynos, weather, conditions, etc., etc. Also, the following dyno info is taken from an AWD dyno and is NOT comparable to the numbers you get on a regular FWD/RWD dyno run as there is more driveline loss associated with routing power from the engine crank, through the transmission and through the AWD driveline.

So, again, our goal here was to see what kind of horsepower and torque our R32 is getting down to the hubs on a DynaPak dyno as a baseline for further modifications. We also wanted to see the effect on power by disconnecting the exhaust flapper valve. The stock R32 exhaust has a flapper valve built into it that is activated by a vacuum line. When the flap is closed, the exhaust is much quieter up until about 3,000 RPM, where it will open up to allow more flow. This is reportedly built into the exhaust to help the R32 pass noise regulations in a variety of different markets. We had heard reports that disconnecting the vacuum line to the exhaust would potentially free up more power. So we did a few runs bone stock and a few with the exhaust flapper valve vacuum line disconnected and plugged.

Bone stock our R32 put about 208.2 horsepower to the hubs. Torque on the stock car peaked at 206.4 lb-ft. The dip you see in the curve is the variable intake manifold kicking in.

With the exhaust flapper disconnected peak horsepower went up to 212.3hp and torque was up to 210.9 lb-ft at the hubs.

We’ve noticed through our own R32 discussion forum compared to others in the United Kingdom and Europe that the U.S. R32’s seem to be stronger power-wise than the original European models. Dyno figures, 0-60 mph and quarter mile times are all considerably better. Most of the European R32’s run 0-60 mph in around 6.3 seconds while the U.S. version hits it in 5.8 second according to Motor Trend and Road and Track magazines. Further, our own readers have managed high 13 second quarter mile times with trap speeds hovering around 98 mph with stock cars (no modifications) – overall pretty impressive and a pleasant surprise (condolences to our chaps in the UK).

While we don’t like to speculate, we’ve heard through various sources that Volkswagen of America and Audi of America decided to save costs during EPA certification of the R32 and TT 3.2 and gave them both the same engine management programming (minus a few changes for the standard DSG transmission on the Audi). Audi markets the TT 3.2 with 250hp while Volkswagen of America markets the U.S. R32 with 240hp. This wouldn’t be the first time Volkswagen has understated horsepower figures and one of the big reasons you can’t simply take the dyno figures we got and divide them by the supposed stock 240hp to try and figure out the driveline loss – if the car isn’t really at 240hp then it would be moot. This is the reason we choose not to try and guess what the actual crank horsepower is and will concentrate on our stock figures as a baseline and compare this to dyno plots in the future made on the same dyno after we’ve made performance enhancements.

So what are the plans for our R32? We’re really impressed with how quickly the aftermarket has responded to the R32. Within two months of launch of the U.S. model, there was already a twin-turbo and a supercharger kit available boosting horsepower to a staggering 450hp+ if you want it, suspension kits, sway bar upgrades, exhaust upgrades and more. Everyone on our staff really loves the R32 and debate often rages around here over how much we should modify this car. Bryan Joslin loves the car stock as is and if pressed would only change the suspension. Brad Beardow on the other hand would opt for a supercharger and the ultimate stock look putting stock Golf bumpers on the car so some poor sap wouldn’t have a clue what he was messing with. Myself, I’m torn somewhere in the middle. I have to admit that I’ve always been a big fan of the VR6 engine with its great low-end grunt, wonderful sound and strong top end pull. Put that in a package as complete as the R32 and it is darn near perfect – near being the operative word.

After some debate we’ve decided to take this course of action:

– HID conversion: The European R32 came with high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps that didn’t make it to the U.S. market due to DOT requirements and the cost and time involved to certify them for our market. So we’ll add the German-market original equipment headlamps back to the package.

– Wheels: Putting snow tires on our stock OZ wheels gives us a perfect excuse to upgrade the wheels and tires further and we have just the solution from a long-time partner of Volkswagen’s, BBS.

– Suspension: One other effect of U.S. certification resulted in the stock U.S. ride height being higher than the European models. While our R32’s ride a bit more nicely as a result, the change has dulled an otherwise sharp knife just a bit. To bring it back in line and to give us the ability to not only lower the car but to raise it back to stock in the winter months we’re going to fit a set of KW Sport Handling System (SHS) adjustable coilover suspension kit.

– When it comes to engine performance upgrades there are a lot of choices. As is usually the case in the Volkswagen aftermarket, more choices will continue to come forward as time goes on. While we could immediately set out to add forced induction with a turbo or supercharger kit, we’ve elected to wait and instead explore normally aspirated modifications first with chip tuning, exhaust, intake and cams. We’ve already seen a 20hp increase with just chip tuning alone, so stay tuned…

We will continue to refine and modify our plans as we progress including updates on the long-term life with our R32. So far so good putting lots of smiles on happy faces around here and even giving cause for some of our staff to put their existing cars up for sale bringing the total R32’s on staff to three so far. Considering how critical our staff can be around here that speaks volumes about the R32’s ability to impress people.

For more discussion on this story, click on the link to our discussion forums at the left.