Recently, I spent a day flogging a MkV R32 around a race track, thanks to Volkswagen of America. VW already knows what a great car it has in the new R32, I think it just lets people like me drive them to see if we can break them. The stiffer chassis, improved suspension geometry and more horsepower make this car even better than the original. Before I could even get my helmet off, the VW rep was dying to know what I thought. I said I loved it, it is a really great car and I was surprised at just how good it is, and even more surprised at how much better than the previous R32 it is. Then I said that if it were mine, I would add stiffer anti-roll bars, BBS wheels and a more aggressive exhaust-something that sounds like very large, angry caged growling animals, who also happen to play brass instruments.
It's amazing how fast a person's face can fall with just a few words. Like a lemur shot with a tranquilizer dart, the VW rep's face hit the ground in front of me. If you have ever inadvertently told someone your honest opinion of their six-year-old daughter's dance recital, you know what I mean. Apparently, VW thought the new R32 was perfect. And comments from the journalist with the chronic case of helmet hair didn't sit quite right.
The thing is, I wasn't insulting the car. Far from it. I think it's great and I would love to own one. However, there is room for improvement, or at least change. I have come to the realization that I can't leave well enough alone. I consider the 997 GT3 to be just about the best track car you can buy over the counter, yet there are still things on it I would change. I can't think of a single new car I would buy and leave stock.
VW is starting to realize that I am not the only person who feels the need to monkey with everything it produces. Along with the R32 and a few other cars, VW also brought out a GTI fitted with an array of performance parts. Everything from big brakes and coilover suspension system to a larger turbo and limited-slip diff. I didn't get a chance to drive the car, but I can tell you, just from examining the components, this thing would perform with most of the other aftermarket-equipped GTIs out there.
I suppose the real question is how much of this stuff will hit dealerships. Some of that depends on customers. In the North American market, customers have a problem of wanting to walk into a dealership at noon and drive off in their new car at three. Part of this is the dealership's fault. They create a sense of urgency to sell that car right now and get the person off the lot with it. In order for a selection of dealer-installed performance parts to work, people need to be willing and able to purchase them along with their new car. For that to work, we may need to change our system of buying new cars. When you go in to buy a car, you may have to spec everything out and then be prepared to leave without the car, coming back for it once everything is installed.
If VW were to play it this way, we may also have to pay slightly more for dealer-installed components. VW will likely offer a full warranty on these products equal to what the factory component came with. In order to do this, it will have to charge a little more. When you buy a VW product, you know it has gone through the same amount of testing as the factory equivalent, so it will work equally well. Even the most diligent aftermarket manufacturers don't test to the same extent the factory does. The downside: all that testing costs money.
Will these products be worth the extra cost? I would love to be able to walk into a dealership, choose my performance parts, have them installed there and have the whole thing financed in one loan. Do I want to save for months to buy a suspension kit? Or worse yet, put it on a credit card when I could just pay an extra $25 a month on my payment? Plus, I'd never again have to worry about arguing with a VW service manager about how my aftermarket exhaust caused my water pump to fail.