Over ten years ago, Volkswagen introduced the MK5 R32 as the beefed-up hatchback that replaced the MK4 version with an updated VR6, Haldex AWD, and the first-ever for VW Direct Shift Gearbox. The brand new rounded style continues to define the Golf lineup, which makes the MK5 look relevant even at more than a decade old. Sporting a fantastic drivetrain and a comfortable interior, with hints of performance features underneath the understated exterior, the MK5 R32 is still a favorite pick for VW and Euro enthusiasts in general. Out of the box, these are clearly wonderful cars, but there are certainly some things we would do, both in areas of performance and maintenance, if we were to buy one today. Fortunately, our resident MK5 R32 owner happens to know exactly what he’d recommend as the top mods and services for your VW MK5 R32.
With the R32 being 10 years old now in 2019, the importance of immediately servicing your new-to-you hot hatchback is paramount. An oil change with filter, DSG, and Haldex services should be completed at the time of purchase. For the DSG and Haldex, these need to be serviced every 40k miles, so make sure they are done immediately unless you have written records that show they have been serviced within the last few miles. Fortunately, this is performed easily enough with the Assembled by ECS Tuning DSG Transmission Service Kit and a Haldex Service Kit.
When you can perform a service that doubles as an upgrade, you should do it. Upon purchase, you will likely want to have new pads and rotors installed. Upgraded pads and rotors are a must to help improve your car’s performance. Remember, the less time you spend braking, the more time you can spend on the throttle. Check out the Assembled by ECS brake service kits for OEM and upgraded options.
Before buying the car, you should have listened for the tell-tale sound of failing chain guides in your VR6. If you weren’t that’s ok, just know at 100k-120k miles, you need to listen vigilantly for the rattly sound of worn chain guides. If you hear nothing, don’t worry, but if you do, have them replaced immediately or suffer the consequences. You can go the DIY route with the Assembled by ECS Tuning Timing Chain Kits or have it performed professionally at a shop for a rather hefty price.
After you’ve performed your critical maintenance services, you can comfortably begin thinking about how to improve the R32. Initially, our R32 guru suggests trying the ‘flapper mod’ that gives your R32 a bit more growl from the exhaust all the time rather than just at wide-open throttle. This simple mod just requires that you pinch or otherwise remove the vacuum line to the valved section of the exhaust. With this done, the spent gasses will not be diverted through additional baffles and will sound much sportier at any RPM. Later on, however, Milltek Sport exhaust systems are the favorite pick for enthusiasts looking for a happy intersection between cost and quality.
There is nothing wrong with just opting for spacers to give the definitely attractive factory wheels more of a beefy stance. If you want to effectively change the look of the car, however, you should do so with a set of wheels that are the proper size and offset to give your R32 the stance you want. We have excellent options from ECS Tekniform, Rotiform, RADI8, Alzor, F1R, BBS, and others throughout the ranges of styles and budgets so you can get your ideal look. Don’t forget, grab a set of quality tires when you do this since they have the biggest single effect on acceleration, handling, and stopping as the last piece to the puzzle that allows your car to drive.
Lowering springs can give you the look you want, but for the best performance upgrade, you’ll be happier with coilovers off the bat. Since R32s are going to be higher mileage, it is likely the struts and shocks will need to be replaced along with a lowering spring installation, so your cost will be the same either way. Might as well give yourself more adjustment with coilovers that are designed to be driven at the height you want to ride so you aren’t replacing shocks and struts every few thousand miles. ECS Tuning Street coilovers, JOM, and Solowerks coilovers are all excellent options for someone looking to have everything they need on a street-driven daily or weekend toy.
Sway bars help resist body roll by acting as a pendulum of sorts between your left and right running gear. Upgrading to beefier sway bars, with adjustable settings, can help improve your handling and set your car up to behave the way you want in the corners. The Whiteline sway bar kit pairs exceptionally well with those coilovers and tires we mentioned above and includes all the accompanying parts like end links, bushings, and hardware.
The VR6 under the hood of the R32 is a phenomenal engine and doesn’t need much to be satisfying as a daily with some umph. With a performance intake like the ECS Luft-Technik Intake system and the exhaust mods you already should have performed, you will experience some moderate horsepower and torque improvements as well as excellent sound and looks.
These eight simple changes will dramatically change the look and feel of your MK5 R32 as well as ensure it will continue to put a smile on your face every day with the peace of mind your maintenance concerns have been addressed. With a fairly frugal budget, this list would be an incredibly good start for you to thoroughly enjoy the excellence that is the MK5 R32.