The Volkswagen Golf R32 was an instant classic that attained cult status - selling out in months. Bryan Ruiz’s Deep Blue Pearl 2004 VW R32 is here to show us why.
In 2002, VW decided to do a limited run of the Golf R32 for the German market - the first car to ever come off the assembly line with a dual clutch gearbox for the DSG equipped models. It was released to much acclaim in Europe as model year 2003. Redone for the US market, it sold out of its 5,000 US vehicle allotment in a little over a year while only 200 were released in the Australian market. This Deep Blue Pearl R32 Golf is one of the only 2,000 of this color manufactured for the US market.
Initially called the Golf R32, it was only supposed to be introduced to the German market. For some reason we have yet to discover, VW didn’t think it would be a popular offering internationally. Once the outcry convinced them otherwise, they decided to offer the car to the US and Australia.
Though VW advertised it as the very best that the MK4 Golf platform could produce, the R32 was a bit of a chimera. It looks similar to the 20th Anniversary GTI but it shares its 3.2L engine, front & rear suspension setup, and AWD with the Audi TT. A large part of the appeal was the advertised 0-62mph sprint done in 6.2 seconds (or 5.9 seconds from 0-60mph).
Volkswagen’s design goal for the R32 was to bless its popular hot hatch with all of the features that it could muster, from performance to luxury accoutrements. In essence, they were aiming to create a limited edition, driver’s car whose 5,000 car allotment was scheduled to sell over 24 months; instead, they sold out in 13 months. Predicting this outcome was not rocket science if you know VW enthusiasts—the anticipation was palpable.
The cockpit stays true to the Volkswagen designers’ original intent to appeal to the driver in all of us. The substantial steering wheel alone promises to strike a compelling balance between visceral pleasure and precision handling. The muted color palette with silver accents hints at luxury and performance.
Even the gauge cluster is whispering its message of evangelism for the driving gods. The simplicity of the high-contrast labeling emblazoned with the, now iconic, R32 badging is all that any dedicated driver needs to seek out an empty road or canyon. Even the exaggeratedly hooded console staves off the sunlight for a better driving experience.
The rare sport seats embroidered with that iconic R32 badging are actually König seats from the original factory install. Again, VW was clearly dedicated to producing a car that appealed to every sense, from the look of the space to the driver’s tactile connection to the surroundings. Everything combines to immerse the driver in the experience.
Despite the sport luxury theme that pervades this car, VW does not overcomplicate things. German engineering is still very much minimalist and utilitarian, keeping things very simple where possible - even with a Climatronic Automatic Climate Control System as a standard feature, allowing for precision climate control within this R32.
Unlike in other parts of the world, the US only received the MK4 R32 with a 6-speed manual. The solid shift knob for the manual transmission is the perfect size and heft for ergonomic ease and economy of motion. The silver accents on black are a pleasing, if utilitarian, theme throughout the cockpit.
Everything about this car, from the lived-in look to the etched patina of the metal surfaces, ensures us that it is driven and enjoyed on a consistent basis. Bryan clearly made the right choice and was fortunate enough to locate and purchase the car of his dreams—a dream that was twelve years in the making.
The VW R32 is a rare vehicle, practically a collectible, but many owners like Bryan appreciate added personal touches. For Bryan, his biggest modification is an extensive Air Lift Slam Series air suspension system with Koni Sport Yellow shocks for the rear.
This blue wire jumper for the exposed fuse box allows Bryan to turn off his air compressor very easily for times he doesn't want it to pull juice from the car. Simple, but effective.
The air suspension switches are part of Air Lift’s manual air management system that allows precision control of all four corners of the vehicle, all at the touch of a button. This allowed Bryan to free up space in the R32 by removing the need for excess wiring and electronic valves, staying true to his “simple and clean” aesthetic.
Bryan’s glove box has been repurposed for easy, line of sight access to his Air Lift gauges. Overseeing the gauges is the Acting Manager of Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch, the 'toon Dwight Schrute. Much of car building (and ownership) is deeply tied to personal style, and Bryan’s stickers are an extension of his. For example…
Bryan’s Air Lift Slam Series tank provides air pressure for the entire air ride suspension system but it also reflects his personal outlook and quirkiness. From the Trap House to Trump on a scooter, there’s an entire California story in this array of modern sticker art.
To add to the existing eight speakers that come off of the factory floor already packaged in the stock R32, Bryan chose to enhance the original surround sound and take things to the next level with additional Rockford Fosgate speakers. Bryan, once again, sees his build ethic as “simple and clean”, much like the car he’s modding.
This feature provides a rest for the back of the rear seats as well as an extra bit of chassis stiffness for increased performance. Also equipped with an internal rear chassis brace, the integrity of the R32’s architecture was given special care and attention. Of course, these sorts of precautions had to be taken to ensure that the R32 would be the proper chassis to showcase its actual star…
The VR6. The crowning moment in the design of the R32 platform was VW’s decision to incorporate the 3.2 liter 24 valve VR6 at its heart. In fact, the 3.2L powerplant is what gives the R32 its name. An icon to VW enthusiasts the world over, the announcement alone that it was being used in a performance hatch caused shockwaves… as did the 240 horses propelling it from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds.
The naturally aspirated VR6 harnesses 240 horses and releases them with 236 lb-ft of torque at 2800 rpm. Clearly, that requires copious amounts of oxygen to fuel both its performance and its raging exhaust note which has been compared to “an angry Wookie.” Bryan chose the K&N Typhoon intake system to maximize the oxygen intake needed to feed the beast, and made sure the California CARB-legal stickers were extremely visible to nitpicking police officers just in case he were to get pulled over for speeding.
Filtering the copious amounts of air that aids in fueling the VR6, is a K&N carbon fiber filter. At one third the weight with much higher heat tolerances, carbon fiber makes an excellent material application for this purpose. Plus, it brings a little texture to the aesthetic.
The R32’s dual exhaust system helps to efficiently shunt the waste from internal combustion but, to be honest, the dual exhaust is a sexy look. The shiny chrome finish of the rolled exhaust tips, tastefully recessed within the arch of the Deep Pearl Blue molding, is a beauty to behold. Add that special, Wookie-like exhaust note and the world just seems to make sense… even if only temporarily.
The effect of a lowered chassis can not be understated. There’s something visceral to the perfect marriage of wheel well to wheel. However, being able to achieve this stance can be a double-edged sword. Bryan damaged quite a few oil pans and axles in pursuit of this perfection. He wouldn’t have it any other way, though.
Bryan chose these 18” GMB GS 105 wheels (8.5” front, 9.5” rear) to replace the stock 18” OZ Aristo alloy wheels (18” Ronal wheels were used toward the end of the production R32 production run). The chrome mesh is such a beautiful contrast to the Deep Blue Pearl. With the Federal 595 tires, the aesthetic effect is balanced by the promise of performance.
The owner, Bryan Ruiz, is clearly a reflection of his car and vice versa. He was a high school kid back in 2004 when the car was first introduced to the USA. It was love at first sight, but he didn’t have the $31K back then to own one. Fast forward twelve years to 2016 and the Deep Blue Pearl has found a faint echo in Bryan’s LA baseball cap and the onlooking LA sky.
VW, as usual, didn’t bother with overstatement in their design cues. They steered clear of the exaggerated aero kit styling and terraced rear wings and, instead, doubled down on timeless lines and shapes. It was, and remains, an instant classic that has kept its value remarkably well - both in resale markets and in the pantheon of cherished designs. It has a style all its own.
Story by Avon Bellamy
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you like this R32 Golf, you can find additional Volkswagen content at volkswagen.fcpeuro.com, as well as more build features like this one here. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS