Greatest hits albums have always been a sore subject with me. While I enjoy hearing all the subjectively ‘best’ songs by my favorite artists, I have always lamented the compartmentalizing nature of compilations that pick and choose from other albums. They always feel like pieces from different puzzles forced to fit together since, generally speaking, albums tell a whole story you can’t appreciate just by taking the most radio-friendly parts and putting them in a playlist with other songs of that ilk by the same artists. With the Volkswagen R32, though, VW somehow managed to make a greatest hits album that does tell a full story. Evan Pickard, the owner of this MK5 R32, would tend to agree.
The MK5 R32 took the sleeker, more rounded, less economy-minded MK5 body and fitted it with their Haldex all-wheel-drive system, a first-ever DSG transmission, and the iconic narrow-angle VR6 3.2 liter 24 valve 6-cylinder powerhouse as a mash-up of VW’s best. While it isn’t as wild and kooky as the W12 rear-engine one-off model they built, it is something useable, drivable, and most importantly, enjoyable that offers a unique package from a Volkswagen.
This kind of driving engagement, amplified by the larger displacement engine that sends power to all four wheels when needed, is something the Volkswagen Audi Group generally reserves for their Audi lineup. Somehow, though, the R32 was allowed to exist following the success of its MK4 predecessor that bears the same name. For Evan, it was the perfect daily for all those reasons and more. In all honesty, he actually bought it as a winter car while he was transitioning out of his BMW E39 525i.
It seems, VW got the formula right with the R32. At least, right enough to bring someone with a background in BMW ownership to Volkswagen enthusiasm. This is a rare accomplishment, as most folks go the other direction. For Evan, the R32 was everything he needed: it was new enough to offer better reliability than his aging E39, had the hatchback rear for more usable trunk space, and sported the traction-on-demand Haldex system that would give him more confidence in the winter weather typical to North Eastern Ohio.
When he bought it, the R32 was completely unmolested. Never one to leave well enough alone, Evan quickly planned some changes as he became acquainted with the car. After driving it bone-stock for an appropriate amount of time, he set his sights on suspension. AST Coilovers found themselves supporting the car and aimed Evan down a path of tasteful upgrades and additions that display his individuality.
The coilovers offered a significant change in how the R32 handled on the street. With the ride height and snappy responsiveness the way he wanted, he decided some simple performance upgrades were needed. Just an ECS Luft-Technik intake and UM triple tune were all it took to give his R32 the power and punch it was missing from the factory to make Evan happy. Lastly, for fun, with the ‘flapper mod’ not being enough, Evan decided to upgrade to long tube headers and high-flow cats to give the car a screaming exhaust note.
After those simple changes, he focused on the car’s appearance. Enkei Tenjin wheels, Maxton Design aero components, Corbeau seats, and Schroth harnesses tied to a half cage gave Evan’s MK5 R32 the motorsport-inspired look and feel he wanted without making any sacrifices to usability or comfort, as he still drives the car regularly on the street as a daily.
Or, at least, he did. Recently, Evan has shifted his daily driver duties to his new MK7 Jetta that has already received tons of attention. What that tells us, though, is how much the R32 did for him. It wasn’t just a greatest hits album that gave him the superficial satisfaction of listening to his favorite band without having to hear any of their ‘weird’ experimental stuff. It was a car that brought with it a story of its own that allowed Evan to write himself into it as a tribute; music inspired by the sounds of VW and their VR6. Now, you can find the MK5 R32 driven on sunny days around the back roads of Ohio or parked menacingly at a show attracting all the right kinds of attention. With the R32 and the VW community, Evan found his home. With a little help from some good friends, he made that home his. This is Evan’s MK5 R32: enthusiast owned, enthusiast built, and enthusiast driven.