MK4 R32: Volkswagens Holy Grail or Crusty Cup?

The 2004 Volkswagen R32 is something that every Volkswagen enthusiast seems to lust over for so many reasons. It’s an AWD VR6 hot hatch, and it’s 1 of 5000 in the United States. Is it everything that you dreamed it to be, or will there be something left to be desired?

Ever since I delved into the hot hatch world with my first car, a MK4 GTI with a 24v VR6 that I swapped into it with the help of my friend. It wasn’t the car that just made me want it. I wanted the VR6, the engine is a beautiful symphony of combustion, and I needed it in my life. I fell in love with the headache that was my car but sold it because I needed to move on. I upgraded to a MK6, which is a platform that is so much better than the two so they are incomparable. The VR6 filled my heart with joy from the beautiful growl that the tractory sound of the 2.0T couldn’t replace.

So there I was still lusting for a VR6 back in my life (as I still do). My friend posted his for sale at a fair market value which is about $12,000. Which is almost absurd when you think about it. On paper all a 2004 R32 comes across as is a heavy, AWD, 250hp 6 cylinder hot hatch. Weighing in at about 3,400 pounds with a the Volkswagen Haldex system which  is a hydraulically driven clutchpack, not a classic differential as most people would assume. What you can take from that is if the power output is 50/50, like most people are after, the Haldex will wear out prematurely. So rather than all the time you are able to get a Haldex controller allowing you too determine how much power goes to the rear wheels with its max being 50/50. It’s FWD bias can be helpful but it’s depressing when on paper it is listed as AWD and is almost misleading if you don’t know what the Haldex system is. Haldex is a proven system but some argue it’s not true AWD (why?).

After a disappointing realization of what the MK4 R32 is on paper you get to the car in person and that’s when things start to change immensely for the better. It’s got the common problems of a MK4 but you can almost over look those. The sound of the 3.2 liter VR6 (with most parts derived from the 24v and that in itself is mostly just a head upgrade from the 12v). The only problem is that it is 250hp in a heavy chassis which isn’t flimsy but isn’t as agile as you’d like it to be. All Vr6’s have been under powered since the GTI itself has moved up to 200hp in it’s 4 cylinder engines. Driving it is an experience that I would not have passed up.

Getting to drive an almost completely stock R32 was quite interesting to say the least. The only things that were done was a newer Haldex that was tuned to make the car 50/50 AWD and OZ superleggras wrapped in some winter tires. The amount of road noise was surprising. The left directional had a slight illumination to it no matter what and the multi function indicator in the center of the cluster was starting to fade as many MK4’s do. The heated seat selector was slightly offset and worn. The car felt like an old friend. The leather seat had the normal tear on the bolster but it was comfortable all the same, and it held you in much more than any other seat that came in a MK4. The clutch was surprisingly light. It felt lighter than my 24v VR6. Being that the Haldex was tuned the car felt like it was on rails when accelerating hard. Because it was a few hundred pounds and all of the power wasn’t going to the front wheels it almost felt slower than my old MK4? It was an odd experience.

In all honesty, I think I would need to spend more time with the R32 to really appreciate it. As it stands I honestly think that I would pass on owning one for myself. It’s almost how the Grand Tour presenters say, avoid driving your dream cars. Overall I’d say that the MK4 R32 is a Holy Grail that has seen much better days.

Published by Vincent Wight Malatesta

I graduated from the College of Saint Rose in 2019. I’ve always loved cars! My Instagram's are clutchoutmedia, Vince_emkay6, and my personal is itsvincem.

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