Many of us know what it was like to have a younger sibling to boss around. Unfortunately for most of us the experience ended too soon. One moment you were king of the hill and the next thing you knew, your next of kin was a full-grown adult and the playing field had evened out, in some cases it had even tilted against you. Much of this scenario applies to the Volkswagen household.
For its entire first generation, VW’s impressive R32 was lusted after by sports car enthusiasts for its engineering brilliance and race-worthy underpinnings. However, these same enthusiasts scoffed at the idea of owning a VW GTI. Sure both vehicles shared an identical body and interior design, but aside from a couple of peppy engine choices, the GTI had to make due with a stale and clumsy suspension setup that was such a curse on the racetrack, it completely overshadowed the benefits of its healthy power plant choices. For 2006 VW engineers decided that it was time for the GTI to graduate from its “hot hatch” moniker to the level of a true enthusiast’s car. Therefore, a sport-tuned fully independent rear suspension system, much like the one found on a VW R32, was passed down to the VW GTI. Since 2006, further tweaks have been made to the GTI’s overall suspension tuning to make the already capable VW truly competitive not only on winding back roads, but on the racetrack as well.
So now it is time to answer a question that many in the automotive community have begun to pose: Is the current generation VW R32 really worth its $33,000 asking price when you can now get a racetrack worthy GTI for roughly $25,000? Read on to find out the verdict in this issue of Sibling Rivalry.
Let’s face it. The only real reason anyone chooses to buy a hatchback over a more conventional notchback (trunk equipped) vehicle is for the utility advantages of having a hatch. While both the R32 and GTI offer a useful hatch, there are other advantages that are unique to each sibling. The R32’s Ace in the hole: All-Wheel-Drive. Sure the VW’s 4-Motion Haldex all-wheel-drive system is intended more for performance benefits on a race track, but one can’t help think about its fowl weather advantages. Furthermore, if you enjoy snowboarding or skiing excursions in the middle of winter, the R32 is the only vehicle of the two that will be permitted to enter most worthy ski resorts without being equipped with snow chains.
The GTI on the other hand can be ordered as a five-door, whereas the R32 must make due with only three doors. Unless you are the get-away driver for a band of bank robbers, the conveniences of having four passenger doors probably will not outweigh the benefits of all-wheel-drive. However, when you factor in price, you may decide to spend the extra eight grand on a year's worth of helicopter rides to the top of the mountain rather than driving up to it.
If luxurious amenities such as heated leather seats are a must-have, the price difference between the four-door GTI and the R32 drops to roughly five and a half grand. The R32 does have a few extra tricks up its sleeve, however. First of all, fully automatic dual zone climate control is standard on the R32. With the GTI, the two front passengers are more likely to get into a quibble over who gets to control the single zone manual climate control system. Either way, someone is going to be disappointed. Secondly, contrary to popular assumption, the R32 has a more relaxed highway ride than the GTI. It seems that VW engineers wisely decided to rely more on the R32’s all-wheel-drive system rather than a stiff suspension setup when they were considering racetrack lap times. Since the GTI can only depend on two drive wheels to pull it out of a turn, stiffer springs were required to prevent the rear wheels from stepping out of line.
Of course if five-passenger luxury is important, the GTI’s four doors will surely sway the decision away from the R32. Furthermore, the extra $5,500 in your pocket will be more than enough to afford the optional DVD Navigation system with Ipod adapter. If long carpooling commutes or spur of the moment road trips are often occurrences in your life, the GTI has the upper hand.
In the end, it will most likely be the subtle differences between the VW siblings that will determine your choice, should you be in the market for a fun, yet useful compact car. Both vehicles have very different characters. While the R32 offers a more exotic exhaust note and slightly more potent power delivery, the GTI is nine tenths as fun and will save you at least $4,000 on initial purchase and significantly more at the gas station. As for the initial question concerning whether the R32’s asking price is justified. Well, much like precious gems, R32s will be scarce. In fact there will only be 5,000 R32s put into production for 2008. If being in an exclusive vehicle ownership club is high on your list of things to do, the R32 is relatively inexpensive compared to other limited production vehicles on the market. With that said, the decision is up to you.
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