I’m not going to be shy. I have been a Volkswagen fan for years. Perhaps even as soon as I could comprehend what a car was. Years have gone by and I’ve seen the brand evolve and where one particular car is concerned, I’m not sure that I like where they’ve ended up.
The car under my scrutinous eye is the new Volkswagen Golf R. Volkswagen’s continuation of the “R” series of Golf models.
To bring you up to speed, the “R” that this latest offering replaces is the R32. The R32 debuted in 2004 and was built upon the fourth-generation Golf chassis. It was a buffer looking Golf. The front and rear bumpers were larger, smoother and had a dominating and sporty look to them with gaping front air inlets and a rear bumper that looked just as good. It looked more sporty in comparison to even the Golf GTI of the time.
Pop the bonnet, and beneath you’d find the R32′s namesake: a 3.2 liter pearl of a VR6 connected to Volkswagen’s 4-motion all-wheel-drive system. Eureka! In my opinion, the best sounding six-cylinder in it’s class. The raspy, angry-yet-refined exhaust note, coupled with the R32′s looks and all-wheel-drive are still a seductive hand of cards. Even today, I hear and see an R32 drive past and I have to listen and watch. If I’m in my car and come upon one, I’ll coax the driver into what he thinks is a race, only to roll down my window and listen to him roar away. They look great. They sound great.
Then, Volkswagen re-faced their entire lineup. Egads! I never liked the second iteration of the R32. Based on the fifth-generation Golf, it had a ridiculous brushed aluminum nose that resembled a poorly sized prosthetic. Gone was the aggressive bumpers and it didn’t end there. The interior had also gone downhill. Those fantastic seats from the previous R had been pulled in favor of squared-off seating that resembled dentist chairs. And the cherry on this horrid cake was that some genius decided that we no longer needed to keep our left food occupied. Thus, equipping the this bastard incarnation with a flappy-paddle gearbox. It definitely sounded the same, but it was thrashed.
In 2009, while I was home during a deployment to Iraq, I took my 2004 GTI to the local dealership. Despite much discouragement from my family, I was going to test-drive, with intention of buying, a 2009 Deep Blue Pearl VW R32. It was short-lived.
Upon looking more closely at the interior and having a seat in it, I didn’t like it at all. I drove it for 20 minutes. I ran it through the gears and played with the gearbox. I took it around some nearby turns. Then I returned to the dealership, parked it back on the lot, threw the key to the salesman and walked off without so much as a word.
Rude as I was, I was that put off. The car was only decent. A commuter car at best. It was a boring movie with an awesome soundtrack. My family was happy. Despite being five years older and built on a “worse” chassis (I’ll admit that’s true), my GTI was more fun to drive than Volkswagen’s second iteration of their top-shelf performance Golf.
Some time later Volkswagen announced a third “R” car. This was to become the Golf R.
“Brilliant!”, I thought.
Then, the news got a little better.
Not only would it be offered with a manual gearbox, but it would have Volkswagen’s latest 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine, putting out 20 hp more than the outgoing 3.2 liter-powered model. Thus, not only would the front would be lighter, improving handling, but the car should theoretically be more lively overall, as a result. Quite an improved recipe.
I was ecstatic, thinking how glad I was, to have not purchased that horrible R32 the year before.
Then the photos were released.
So, with all of the fantastic improvements, the new Golf R looks like something designed by a banker. It’s boring. Tragically boring.
Why, in comparison, the sixth-generation GTI makes the Golf R look horribly under-dressed. While stunning with it’s trademark lip-gloss and tartan seating and red-stitching, the Golf R just looks…..um….well. Lost.
While Volkswagen has (and I’m sure) made a fantastic car with the Golf R, they have again managed to forget their history in the process. Just as the third and fourth generation GTI wandered aimlessly from the path their predecesors had laid, both R32 generations and now this boring Golf R has done the same.
What Volkswagen should do at this point is crack a book and brush up a bit. Try the late 1980s.
In the late 80′s, Volkswagen was competing in the World Rally Championship with a front-wheel drive Mk2 Golf and after Group A became the main category, Volkswagen went back to the drawing board. The result was something most people don’t have any clue about, except for Volkswagen enthusiasts.
Enter, the Golf Ralleye…..Volkswagen’s original “R” car.
Powered by a 1.8 liter, supercharged 4-cylinder motor, the Ralleye had Volkswagen’s Syncro all-wheel-drive system and it went like stink. Best part of all, since rally cars had to be based on road-going versions, the Ralleye was produced in limited numbers for the public.
Unfortunately, Volkswagen seems to have forgotten all of this, or even ignored this bit of history. Reason being, the Ralleye project was plagued with reliability and performance issues and became a huge embarrassment to the company for it. However, despite being such a problem child to the company, there is a mystique and personality present in the Ralleye that is missing in Volkswagen’s “R” cars of today. Take heed Volkswagen, you could stand to learn a few things by revisiting your little bastard “R” car from the late 80s.
Oh, but wait!!! Volkswagen may actually be moving in the right direction. And that’s a big “maybe”, as earlier this year it was announced that a Volkswagen would once again be competing in the World Rally Championship. With a Polo.
Like I said….BIG “maybe” on the “right direction” statement. Time will tell.
In the meantime, I still yearn for a clean first-gen Golf R32. Yeah, I know it may not be as focused as the GTI is on it’s roots, but with a manual gearbox and great looks, I think I’d forget about that every time I let that 3.2L roar through the revs.