Disclaimer: Due to circumstances beyond our control, we regret to inform you that the vehicle pictured here-the four-door Volkswagen R32-will not be imported to the U.S. We repeat: The car shown here is not coming to a VW dealer near you. (Please read on for another important announcement.)


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Okay, so the four-door R32 isn"t coming stateside. As disappointing as that bulletin is, do you really believe we"d be so cruel as to tease you with several pages of Teutonic excellence only to deliver crushing news that you can"t have it? Not even a taste? Truth is, you can and you will-as long you"re willing to settle for a bit less versatility.

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Last spring, Volkswagen invited journalists to sample the all-new, second-generation R32 in Europe, but due to scheduling conflicts, we were unable to attend. Fortunately, our colleagues at Sport Compact Car had more lenient calendars, so we got the scoop from them: The R32 is a luxury-infused pocket-rocket. The downside? Volkswagen was on the fence whether to import it to the U.S.


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Concerned that Motor Trend didn"t receive a firsthand taste of the R32, Volkswagen invited us to the brand"s Project Moonraker house in Malibu. For those not in the know, Project Moonraker is code for the brand"s Southern California-based think tank conceived by VW"s director of group product strategy Stefan Liske. A former BMW guy, Liske created Moonraker to analyze Volkswagen"s sagging sales in the U.S. market, with the goal of redefining the brand"s position, portfolio, and culture. As luck would have it, Moonraker had a European-spec four-door in its fleet to assess the R32"s viability in the U.S. market, which for us meant accessibility and valuable time behind the wheel. And, as it turned out, our test coincided nicely with a relevant announcement: In the third quarter of 2007, Volkswagen will begin importing two-door 2008 R32s to the U.S.


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While the four-door is arguably the better package-more apertures mean more versatility-the two-door is arguably the better-looking hatch, void of the added cut lines. Besides lacking the extra doors of our test car, the U.S. R32 will sport a few other subtle differences, namely sport seats with adjustable headrests and integrated side airbags in place of the race-style one-piece Recaros, and a slightly fatter rear bumper that complies with U.S. crash standards. Other than that, what you see is what you get: a 3.2-liter, 250-horse narrow-angle V-6, a six-speed DSG (a standard manual won"t be offered), 4Motion all-wheel drive, 18-inch alloys, bi-Xenon headlamps, and an estimated price tag of around $32,000. Our tester had an optional nav system-$1800 on the GTI-so figure some $34,000 for a loaded R32. At that price, the question isn"t will they sell, but rather how quickly.


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At the test track, the R32 ripped from 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and through the quarter mile in 14.4 at 94.5 mph. Compared with the GTI, with its 200-horse, 2.0-liter turbo, the R32 is 0.5 second quicker to 60 and 0.3 quicker through the quarter. Its fiercest competitors-the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru STI-are speedier machines, but they lack the R32"s overall refinement, due in part to the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of their turbo engines. In contrast, the R32"s iron-block motor is as linear as a runway, always urging you to push it past 6000 rpm, if only to enjoy the vociferous barks through the center-mounted dual exhaust with every pull of a shift paddle. Moreover, the R32 feels like an Audi (indeed, the R32 is really a reconstituted A3 3.2 S-line quattro), and as such seems more solid and sophisticated than the two Asians.


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Meandering through the lush hills of Malibu Canyon, the R32 feels planted and composed, its Haldex all-wheel-drive system in tune with the torquey V-6, its electric power steering nicely weighted for every speed and condition. While diving deep into turns yields mild understeer-the Haldex system routes power to the rear wheels when traction demands; thus, under braking, the R32 behaves like a front-drive car-getting back on the throttle mid-turn eradicates the push, rotating the rear, tucking in the front, and launching the car out of a turn like a spurred stallion. Although there are only 250 horses on tap, the power is tailormade for the car. The lighter GTI comes across more playful-400 fewer pounds and a turbo will do that-but the R32 feels more mature, a seasoned sense that becomes clear through the slalom (68.4 mph) and in 60-to-0 braking (111 feet), in which the R32 outperforms the GTI as well as the $70,000 Audi RS 4.

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Whatever the exercise, the harder you push the R32, the more it comes alive. That VW only plans to import 5000 per year is a crying shame-so many will miss out on the most satisfying Golf ever built.


2008 VOLKSWAGEN R32
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
DRIVETRAIN LAYOUTFront engine, AWD
ENGINE TYPE15 V-6 iron block/alum head
VALVETRAINDOHC, 4 valves/cyl
DISPLACEMENT194.6 cu in/3189 cc
COMPRESSION RATIO10.9:1
POWER (SAE NET)250 hp
2800 rpm
REDLINE6500 rpm
WEIGHT TO POWER14.6 lb/hp (est)
TRANSMISSION6-speed auto-clutch manual
AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIOS4.80:1 (I-4); 3.60:1(5,6,R)/2.97:1
SUSPENSION, FRONT; REARStruts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
STEERING RATIO16.2:1
TURNS LOCK-TO-LOCK3.0
BRAKES, F;R13.6-in vented disc; 12.2-in vented disc, ABS
WHEELS18 x 7.5-in cast aluminum
TIRES225/40R18 92Y Michelin Pilot Exalto
DIMENSIONS
WHEELBASE101.5 in
TRACK, F/R60.4/59.6 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT167.2 x 69.3 x 57.7 in
TURNING CIRCLE35.8 ft
CURB WEIGHT3600 lb
WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION, F/R58/42 %
SEATING CAPACITY5
HEADROOM, F/R37.4/36.5 in
LEGROOM, F/R41.5/33.5 in
SHOULDER, F/R53.7/52.5 in
CARGO VOLUME9.7 cu ft
TEST DATA
ACCELERATION TO MPH
0-301.9 sec
0-403.0
0-504.3
0-605.8
0-707.7
0-8010.0
0-9013.0
0-10016.3
PASSING 45-65 MPH3.1
QUARTER MILE14.4 sec
60 MPH
2400 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
BASE PRICE$32,000 (est)
PRICE AS TESTED$33,800 (est)
STABILITY/TRACTION CONTROLYes/yes
AIRBAGSDual front, side curtain
BASIC WARRANTY4 yrs/50,000 miles
POWERTRAIN WARRANTY4 yrs/50,000 miles
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE4 yrs/50,000 miles
FUEL CAPACITY14.5 gal
EPA CITY/HWY ECON21/27 mpg
RECOMMENDED FUELUnleaded premium