Hotter Hatch Comparo – WRX vs R32
No, I am not the first person to do one of these. In fact, the cars I drove are not new, so reviews and comparisons for these cars already exist. I don’t have access to a racetrack and I don’t own the sophisticated instruments necessary to get my own real world performance numbers. However, I am planning on buying one of these cars and that puts me into a different position than most auto reviewers. When this test is over I don’t simply ring Subaru and tell them they can have their car back. No, the winner of this hotter hatch comparo is coming home with me.
The hot hatchback has been a staple of the motoring world since the first Golf GTI debuted in the 198o’s. People love hot hatches because they can do everything; Seating for 5, check. Enough power to beat Vanilla Ice’s fox body Mustang to the mall, check. Trunk space for not one but two 60 inch TVs, check. Good handling to dodge all the moms busy texting in their Range Rovers, check. There’s also comfort, and reliability and many, many, MPGs. Now you might expect that would be enough for most people, and you’d be right, but I’m not most people and if you typed whiptalk.com into you browser then it probably isn’t enough for you either. In order to appease those of us who prefer a little more grunt, most manufacturers offer small numbers of special models that up the performance even further.
In 1989 Volkswagen introduced the Golf G60, which featured a 160HP supercharged engine and all-wheel drive. These items may seem common in today’s cars, but take into consideration that VW did this 25 years ago and you’ll start to see the beginning of hot hatches as a testing ground for some of today’s best engine and handling technology. Enough of the history lesson and on to the cars. Just which cars did I pick you ask?
After much careful debate into which features I needed and wanted, I arrived at a few simple conclusions. I needed all-wheel drive (it snows where I live), comfort on the highway (I drive a lot of miles), space in the trunk for my entire life, and enough power to keep me awake. Since most hatchbacks have trunk space and comfy seats I focused on finding a vehicle that performed and felt the way I feel one should. Which brings us to the finals, these are the top two hatchbacks that I could buy for 20 grand:
The 2010 Subaru WRX
The WRX has been a rally favorite and boy-racer’s dream since it’s inception, and with continued improvements has gotten better with each new generation (let’s not bring up the 08 model). I decided to go with the WRX over the even more powerful and sporty STI for two reasons. I can’t get a 2010 STI hatch for under 20 large and the seats in the STI, while very supportive, are rock hard. Subaru has grown by huge leaps and bounds over the past ten years because of the safety and reliability of their vehicles. Subaru’s AWD system is perhaps the simplest and best AWD on the market today.
While other companies try to reinvent the wheel, Subaru continues to use it’s center differential system which hasn’t broken in over 20 years. When driving this car you immediately notice the grip. The first corner I threw the car into I was shocked that the tires weren’t screaming. As I did a few figure 8′s I could really feel the outside wheels gripping through the steering wheel. The WRX is among the dying breed of hydraulic steering cars (even the Porsche 911 went to electric). The responsive steering wheel and excellent grip let me feel totally in control of the WRXs 265 HP turbo engine. I almost expected the car to be a little wild and while there was some turbo lag, when the boost did kick up I was able to rein it in easily.
The two things that I could poke at are the transmission and the brakes. The transmission is the same 5 speed you get with any other Subaru, which isn’t bad but it doesn’t feel great like the rest of the car does. The brakes were another issue, they are the same brakes you get on a normal Impreza which are adequate but I cant understand why Subaru would offer a performance model with brakes that are just “adequate”. The STI model fixes both of these issues with Brembo brakes and a nicer 6 speed manual.
The exterior of the WRX is as worked over as the the engine. The first thing you’ll notice when comparing this car to a standard Impreza is the hood scoop, unlike most vehicles fitted with one, the Subaru’s is actually functional, drawing in air for its top mounted inter cooler. It also has fancier plastic around the bottom and a wing on the back. I personally like the more aggressive bumpers but they do tread the line between real life and anime. The sound from the exhaust was softer than I expected from a car this racy, and it’s also more civil than the tone emitted from the old 2.5 liter engine. I think I actually miss the grumbling of the old engine. Overall no one will mistake the WRX for a base Impreza but your boss may mistake you for the guy dating his daughter.
The interior of the WRX is very similar to the standard Impreza with a few exceptions. It gets sport seats, metal pedals, and a fancy shifter. The WRX embroidered sport seats were fantastic. The side bolsters held my body in a way that only a back-hug from a strong, overweight man can. Perhaps it’s because i’m of a skinny/athletic build, but I cannot understand why all sports cars don’t have seats like this *cough corvette*. Leg room is good in the back, trunk space is good with the seats up and with the seats down theres enough room for supplies to go camping and never come back. The rest of the interior however, was Japanese economy class.
Few power options, plastics that don’t look great and make sure you call shotgun because the rear seat is a bench with some fabric on it. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, the interior is nice and quiet and black and thats all most people need but no one is going to complement you on it either. As a side note, a couple of available options this WRX did not have rear heated seats and heated windshield wipers. The addition of these options could have effected my final decision.
Final Opinion: Great grip, great steering, great driver’s seat, fun engine, safety, utility and reliability. The WRX has all the features a car guy could want but the luke warm interior and mild brakes may keep the Subaru from running away with my wallet.
The 2008 Volkswagon R32
The Golf is the hatch that started the whole genre. For the last 30 years no hatchback comparison has ever excluded the golf, and after putting in my own research I won’t be the first to break the chain. VW already bumps the performance of the golf up a notch with the Golf GTI but every 4 years they bring out a special model known as the Golf R32. The R32 has a little more than your average tune-up. The surgeons at VW swap out the 2.0 four cylinder engine for the 3.2 V6 from the Audi TT and change from front wheel drive to VW’s copy of Audi’s Quatro AWD system, including the very fancy dual-clutch 6 speed DSG transmission. For your own sake I won’t get into how all that works right now. All of this German engineering wizardry normally comes at a high price. The sticker on one of these can hit 40,000 even before people start fighting about who gets one of the 5000 made available. In 2004 the the first release of the R32 was so well received the value actually went up the second you bought the car and the 2004 model today sells for almost as much as the 2008 R32. Needless to say I was shocked to find that several of these can be had for around 20 grand and it immediately moved up my list of prospective vehicles. Driving the R32 is a very different experience than driving the WRX.
I had three other passengers in the car when I drove both cars and they commented that the VW felt slower and less sporty but also much more luxurious and comfortable. My experience as the driver disagreed. The R32 was so much smoother that they felt like as if were going slower but the speedo told a different story. As I was taking turns at 50 mph I felt as if I could drive in the same manner at 100 MPH easily. The naturally aspirated 250HP motor was more powerful in the low RPM Range which made the car feel more fun in traffic and at normal speeds. The suspension set up was equally as good as the WRX and the car gripped so ferociously that I had a hard time breaking traction at all. (in the effort of fairness, the R32 had nicer tires at the time I drove them. The R32 had Eagle F1 all seasons and the WRX had khumo all seasons. but both sets were new and the weather was clear). The brakes on the car were almost too powerful. The first few stops I made were pretty uncomfortable until I got familiar with the pedal, and even though the VW weighs a good amount more than the Subaru it stopped quicker and more consistently. However, the finest part of the R32, with out a doubt, is the transmission.
I have always owned manual cars, and I have driven several very bad button shift cars. so I questioned if I would want to drive a two pedal car for the foreseeable future. My fears were washed away on the first shift from 2nd to 3rd. The dual clutch system allows the engine to keep the power on while the transmission changes gear. The system works great, up shifting or down shifting. It even rolls backwards on hills. It feels like I just became 100 times better at driving a stick.
The exterior is much cleaner on this car, and it can be quite difficult to distinguish the R32 from a Golf GTI It doesn’t have aggressive bumpers and wings like the WRX. It does have different headlights and taillights which look very nice. The only real way to tell an R32 apart from a Golf is the center up exhaust. The dual tips in the center of the rear bumper look great and emit the best factory V6 note I can think of. It also gets a unique set of rims and body-colored brake calipers. This car is a bit too cute for bankers which is fine because they can buy an M3 and a bit too soft for those who put spikes in their hair, but if you wear odd socks under your business dress this might have just the right amount of flair for you.
The interior of the R32 is genuinely surprising. Volkswagen is known for making interiors that have an “all business” feel, a bit like a very nice briefcase. Sure its made of nice leather, but everything in it is designed for work. With R32, the Germans have managed to squeeze just a bit of sunshine into the austere black interior in the form of some very high quality, machined, aluminum trim pieces, a great stereo, and seats nice enough to race in and sleep in. Personally my favorite part on the inside is the steering wheel itself. It has great contours at the top and a flat bottom much like an F1 wheel. The stereo and cruise buttons were easy to figure out on the first drive and the button shifters felt very precise and comfortable to use.
I also really loved the unique number plate on the steering wheel that reminds you specifically which 1/5000 you are driving. Despite only having two doors compared to the the Subaru’s four, the R32 has a larger, more comfortable backseat and when you put the seats down it has more cargo space as well. In reality the only similarity between these two is that they both have five seat belts. The R32 is not only nicer inside than a WRX, it’s nicer than most cars on the road.
Final Opinion: Everything is great. Performance and Practicality perfectly executed. My only concern is if all this German magic is going to come with a high maintenance bill.
And the winner is….. The Volkswagen R32.
The WRX is an awesome machine and I would really love to own one.
Performance is very close between these two, but the interior refinement, smooth driving manners and American Idol exhaust note of the R32 put it well beyond the reach of the Subaru.
To me it’s the better car.