Ever since the first GTI came to the U.S. in 1983, each successive generation got heavier and more bloated while under-compensating on power. This trend hit its peak with the Mk4 GTI, as Volkswagen went through several engines in an attempt to give the 3000-pound compact the sportiness its audience grew to expect. For the longest time, the Mk4’s greatest achievement was introducing a new generation to Nick Drake. So why did this 2004 Volkswagen Golf R32 just sell for $65,100 after fees?
Because the R32 is far from a standard Golf GTI.
Lack of muscle was not an issue in the R32, since VW gave it the largest engine ever in a production Golf. (I added the “production” qualifier because Volkswagen once mounted a 650 horsepower 6.0-liter Bentley W-12 behind the front seats of a Mk5 Golf. Unfortunately, it was a one-off.)
For the R32, VW managed to fit a 3.2-liter six-cylinder in the already crowded engine bay of the Mk4 Golf. This was possible due to the clever design of Volkswagen’s VR6 engine. A narrow-angle (15 degree) V-6 where both “banks” share the same cylinder head, it’s basically an inline-six with cylinders offset in a zig-zag pattern. This makes the length of the block much shorter than a traditional inline-six, allowing it to fit in smaller cars while benefitting from simpler construction compared to a V-6, which reduces cost. Also, it’s perhaps one of the best sounding engines of its time.
The R32’s VR6 made 240 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, but with great power came additional weight. At 3400 pounds, the R32 was 300 pounds heavier than the GTI VR6, the next heaviest trim in the Mk4 Golf lineup, and 1300 pounds heavier than the original 1983 Rabbit GTI. But 240 horsepower was still good enough for a 6.4-second sprint to 60 miles per hour—the same as the Mk4 GTI 1.8T with the 180 horsepower 1.8-liter turbo-four.
Quickness wasn’t the sole purpose in the R32’s design, as more focus went into handling and driving feel. All 5000 U.S.-spec cars came with a six-speed manual transmission. European markets were able to choose between the manual and a dual-clutch automatic—the first ever offered on a production car. The R32 excelled on the back roads, thanks to massive 13.1-inch front brakes, a 1-inch lower ride height, and all-wheel-drive with the first independent rear suspension in a Golf (both lifted from the Audi TT). The Haldex tranction-based system (branded “4Motion” in the R32 and “Quatrro” in the TT) sent power to the rear wheels when traction was lost. The R32 was the first all-wheel-drive Golf sold in America since the Golf Country of the early 1990s. This setup caught on, and an all-wheel-drive “R” variant of the Golf has been offered every generation since.
Although $65K for a 15-year-old hatchback sounds crazy, almost none are around in such a fantastic condition. Most original owners drove the wheels off their R32, so finding one with less than 2000 miles is more or less unheard of (although the seller says he knows of one driven only 200 miles). Of all 35 R32s offered on Bring a Trailer prior to this auction, the average mileage is over 73,000—many had close to 150,000 miles.
This big sale is the result of years of appreciation for the GTI brand. We’ve already seen the Mk1 GTI sell for record money, but now newer generations are following suit. The Hagerty Price Guide value for an Excellent (#2-condition) 1985 Mk2 GTI has increased 12 percent in the last two years (from $7400 to $8300).
The R32 is quickly gaining respect as a collector car, especially with people who were young when the car was new. Using insurance quotes as a sign of buying intent, Gen-Xers and millennials make up pretty much the entire market—counting for 43 percent and 46 percent respectively. As these generations aged into their collector car years, the value of R32s increased.
Anyone else kicking themselves for not buying one five years ago?