Royal Ford

2008 R32 offers rare experience

Volkswagen has juice, but only 5,000 on way

The basics

Base price/as tested: $32,990/$35,430
Fuel economy: 19.1 miles per gallon in Globe testing, premium fuel
Annual fuel cost: $2,036 (at $2.99 per gallon, premium, 13,000 miles per year)

The early line

May portend a more feisty future for VW, with Porsche as overseer.

The specifics

Drivetrain: All-wheel-drive
Seating: 4
Horsepower: 250
Torque: 236 lb.-ft.
Overall length: 167.2 inches
Wheelbase: 101.5 inches
Height: 57.7 inches
Width: 69.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,550 pounds

The skinny

Nice touch: The aggressive appearance of the grille. Looks like a racer out of the 1930s.
Annoyance: There's a four-door version sold in Europe. Why not here?
Watch for: All Volkswagen models to become sportier.

This car snarls. It's really the only word to describe both the sound and personality of today's test car, the 2008 Volkswagen R32.

Only about 5,000 R32's will be coming to the United States. The lucky drivers who get them will enjoy an incredible blend of power, traction and - of course - snarl.

Take a two-door hatchback. Bless it with a 3.2-liter, V-6 engine that pumps out 250 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque for tug when you most need it. Then toss in an all-wheel-drive system at the heart of an electronic stabilization program that doesn't allow the driver to make mistakes - but will let them creep to the edge - and it adds up to something of a rocket.

Inside, the R32 is outfitted with typical VW fit and finish: tight seating, firmly bolstered hip and side protection, and easily understood and manipulated controls for audio, climate, and a navigation system (which costs an additional $1,800).

But a lot of features come standard in the $33,000 base model.

They include a six-speed DSG transmission (the car can be driven as an automatic or true manual), speed sensitive steering, side protection and head airbags front and rear, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, and Tiptronic shift paddles on the wheel for when the urge to shift on your own becomes overwhelming. And there's more - a six-disc CD changer with MP3 link, 18-inch alloy wheels, and leather treatment for the seats and steering wheel.

This car is not a box. Think of it as a flying wedge, with snake-eye headlights, a looming faux aluminum grille, slicing black air intakes at the lower fascia, and a side profile that starts low, moves upward, and ends abruptly at a flat back hatch.

But enough on content and form - let's move on to performance. Riding on standard summer tires (meaning they are made for optimum performance), the car's grip is formidable, even when it's pushed hard into descending S-curves.

The surprising heft (3,550 lbs.) is not felt in hard cornering or acceleration.

Twenty-four valves on a V-6 engine will do that for you. It will zoom down entrance ramps, pull out smoothly for passing, and allow enthusiasts to use the throttle as a steering/traction device.

The R32, which is available now, can also be a commuter car if not pushed; it's that versatile. No, it is not a car for a family of five, and given the lack of rear seat space, it's probably not even suitable for a family of four. But Volkswagen is not aiming this model at the family market. Likely buyers are young singles, young couples, and middle-aged drivers looking for juice.

One warning: be sure to slap even cheap winter tires on the R32 before the weather turns bad. The summer tires will be worthless in the snow.

But if you're buying this car for the fun it promises, what's a few hundred dollars extra for seasonal security?

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