• 1974 - 2003 Volkswagen Golf

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  • Golf MK1
  • Rabbit Gti
  • Golf Mk2
  • Golf Mk2 G60 Limited Edition
  • Golf Mk3
  • Golf Mk3 Cabrio GLS
  • Golf Mk4
  • Mk4 Bora/Jetta
  • Golf Country
  • Golf Mk5
  • Golf Mk5 Plus
  • Golf Mk5 GTi - 5 Doors
  • Golf Mk5 GTi - 3 Doors
  • 2006 Cross Golf

The Volkswagen Golf (Mark 1 and Mark 5 badged as Volkswagen Rabbit in North America) is a compact car / small family car manufactured by Volkswagen. The Golf is Volkswagen’s best-selling model in history and world’s third best-selling model, with more than 24 million built.
Most production of the Golf has been in the 3-door hatchback style. 5-door hatchback, station wagon (estate/Variant) and convertible (Cabriolet) variants have also been available, as well as a sedan (saloon) car based on the Golf (Volkswagen Jetta). They have existed everywhere between basic personal cars and high-performance sports coupes. The success of the Golf popularized the use of the hatchback in the C segment of cars and started the entire golf class.


The Golf is nearly as historically important as the original Beetle. While the Beetle was widely and briefly copied from the Subaru 360 to the Corvair, all of these designs were abandoned not long after they had been created. In continuous production since 1974, the Golf pioneered the first widely successful front wheel drive hatchback. The Rabbit would spark another generation of VW-alike American compacts, the Omni, Escort and Cavalier in the 1980s, just as the Beetle inspired Falcon and Corvair in 1960s and subcompact Vega and Pinto in the 1970s. The Golf’s performance also defined the hot hatch before youth starting tuning their imports.

Replacing the Beetle was a vital goal for Volkswagen’s continued survival. By the early 1970s, the company had fallen into financial woe. The novelty of the Beetle had worn thin. Sales were in terminal decline. The front-engine, rear drive small cars like the Toyota Corolla were refined enough to woo customers away from Volkswagen’s noisy underpowered engines and dated styling. The Type 3 and Type 4 fastback and squareback failed to attract much interest, whilst the NSU-developed K70 was an unmitigated disaster.

The solution would come with Auto Union’s Audi brand. They had attracted a small following with their technologically advanced front-wheel drive medium sedans. Volkswagen had acquired the Ingolstadt Company in 1964 from Daimler-Benz. Audi’s expertise in water-cooled engines and front wheel drive would be crucial in mastering front wheel drive which had already been tried on cars like the Fiat 128. FWD offered more performance with lighter weight and more room in a smaller package. The Audi technology in Golf would regain for Volkswagen the engineering lead over rear drive cars that Ferdinand Porsche had bestowed on the original Beetle over its large conventional peers. The small Golf had to succeed in replacing the high volume Volkwagen sedan. The upmarket Dasher / Passat would be VW’s first front wheel drive car, and it was relatively well received for its lower volume market. The Golf would adopt an efficient 2-box layout with a steep hatch rather than a formal trunk, which would be later attached as the Jetta. The water-cooled engine would be mounted in front, mounted transversely. Work on the Golf began in 1969, shortly after Kurt Lotz became head of Volkswagen.

Mark 1 (1974–present)

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Golf MK1

The first Golf began production in 1974. Marketed in the United States and Canada from 1975 to 1984 as the Volkswagen Rabbit and in Latin America as the Volkswagen Caribe, it featured the water-cooled, front wheel drive design pioneered by the Citroën Traction Avant in 1934 with the addition of a hatchback pioneered by the Renault 4 in 1961. The Golf was Wheels magazine’s Car of the Year for 1975. The name is short for Golf-Strom, German for Gulf Stream; it was named for that oceanic current to reflect its international character. It was called the Rabbit in North America and the Caribe in Latin America.

While the Golf was not the first design with this layout (earlier examples being the Austin and Morris Mini of 1959, the Austin Maxi in the late 1960s and the Fiat 128 3P of the early 1970s), it was very successful, especially since it married these features with Volkswagen’s reputation for solid build-quality and reliable engineering.

The Golf was designed by Italian automobile architect / designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, of the ItalDesign design studio. A version of this original Golf model, known as the Volkswagen CitiGolf, is still produced in South Africa as an entry level car.

In 1978, Volkswagen commenced producing the Rabbit version of the Mk1 Golf in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, thus becoming the first European car manufacturer in modern times to produce a vehicle in the United States. Former Chevrolet executive James McLernon was chosen to run the factory, which was built to lower the cost of the Rabbit in North America by producing it locally. Unfortunately, McLernon tried to "Americanize" the Rabbit by softening the suspension and using cheaper materials for the interior. VW purists in America and company executives in Germany were displeased, and for the 1983 model year the Pennsylvania plant went back to using stiffer shocks and suspension with higher-quality interior trim. The plant also began producing the GTI for the North American market. (Rabbits were built in Pennsylvania throughout 1984.) The first VW Caddy pick-up, based on the Mark 1 Golf, was also created at the Pennsylvania plant.

The GTI version, launched in Europe in 1976 and in the US in 1983, virtually created the hot hatch genre overnight, and many other manufacturers since have created special sports models of their regular volume selling small hatchbacks. It was one of the first small cars to adopt fuel injection for its sports version, which raised power output of the 1588 cc engine to 110 PS (81 kW/108 hp). In 2004, Sports Car International announced the GTI Mk I as the 3rd best car of the 1980s. In the United States, the Mk1 Golf GTI was known as the Rabbit GTI.

There was a minor facelift in 1980 for North American versions only, which saw the adoption of larger rear lamp clusters (more in line with Guigiaro’s original concepts), larger bumpers, square headlights and a new dashboard with a more modern-looking instrument display.

The convertible version, named the Cabriolet, was sold from 1980 to 1993 (a convertible version of the Mark 2 Golf was not made, so the Mark 1 cabrio with slight modification was produced until the introduction of the Mark 3 cabrio). It had a reinforced body, transverse roll bar, and a high level of trim. The A1 Volkswagen convertible is of uni-body construction built entirely at the factory of Karmann, from stamping to final assembly; Volkswagen supplied the engine, suspension, interior, etc. for Karmann to install. The vinyl tops were insulated and manually operated, with a glass rear window.

As of 2006, Volkswagen of South Africa still manufactures two first generation Golfs, the five-door Citi Golf and the Pickup.

Volkswagen Rabbit GTI

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Rabbit Gti

The Volkswagen Rabbit GTI, the North American version of the high-performance Golf GTI, debuted in Canada in 1979 and in the United States for 1983 model year. Assembled from parts made in Mexico, Canada, Germany and the U.S. in Volkswagen’s Westmoreland, Pennsylvania assembly plant, the Rabbit GTI had the same Mark 1 chassis, and the same A1 body type as the Mk1 Golf GTI that had been on sale in Europe since 1976, with a few exceptions. Key distinct features of the Rabbit GTI were its GTI surname, the squared front end styling, blue or red felt and leatherette trim, and its alloy "snowflake" wheels. The squared styling of the front end, particularly the wraparound blinkers, gave it added safety and slight improvement in performance. Under the hood, the engine was a JH 1.8 liter 4-cylinder engine that ran on unleaded petroleum fuel. The JH 1.8l was transversely mounted, and it would peak in stock condition at around 80-85 HP. Claims to gas mileage of near-perfectly tuned Rabbit GTIs range between 25 and 30 miles per gallon.

Note that when the Rabbit GTI first appeared in Canada, it featured the 1.8l engine and five-speed transmission. It was initially available in red, white and black.

Mark 2 (1983–1992)

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Golf Mk2

The second-generation Golf was launched in 1983 (but launched in North America in 1985), and featured a larger bodyshell and a wider range of engine options, including a GTD (In euro markets, using the 1.6 ’umwelt’ diesel engine), a DOHC 1781 cc (1.8) 16-valve version of the straight-four GTI (as well as the tried and tested 1781 cc (1.8) 8v GTI), the supercharged 8v "G60" with front and four-wheel drive options, and a racing homologated variant of this, the "Rallye".

This Golf was marketed for the first time with that name in the United States and Canada. The Rabbit name used on the Mark 1 was meant to give a car a cuddly image, but with the eighties redesign of the car, Carl Hahn, the former Volkswagen of America president who was now chairman of the whole company, dictated that Volkswagen model names be standardized globally. James Fuller, head of the Volkswagen brand in North America, concurred in using the Golf name to stress the car’s Teutonic character. The GTI continued to be sold as a trim level of the Golf in Europe, but in North America it was (and continues to be) marketed as a separate model line.

A very limited edition hand-built Golf 2 variant exists, including all of the best features available at the time. Designed and built by the Volkswagen Motorsport division, only 71 of these "G60 Limited" models exist; featuring a unique number and plaque, the G60 supercharger was combined with the 16-valve GTI engine, mated to a sports transmission and Syncro four wheel drive mechanism. All of these special edition models came in black, with four doors (except two in three door), a plain two-headlight grille (not the usual GTI four headlights) and a unique blue grille detail (not red, as the GTI) and motorsport badges. It is rumored that two models were produced with air conditioning. In 1989, these cars cost in the region of £25,000 (about US$41,250 at the time) each and were primarily sold to VAG executives and management, although a few exist in Britain as of 2005. These cars produced 212 hp, making them the most powerful VW Golfs ever produced, until the introduction of the MkIV Golf R32 in 2003.

There was also a version called Golf Country, designed for light off-road driving. It had more suspension travel, four-wheel drive, bull bars (generally over a single headlight grill), a skid plate for protecting the engine area, and a spare wheel mounted externally on the back. In Europe it was offered with the acclaimed 114 hp 1.8 8v petrol engine, and in smaller numbers, the 75 hp 1.6 GTD turbo diesel engines. The Golf Country was particularly popular in Alpine regions in central Europe.

During the life of the Golf 2, there were a number of external style revisions. The most notable was the introduction of so called "Big Bumpers", which were introduced in the European market with the August 1989 facelift. Other notable changes to the looks of the Golf 2 include the removal of quarterlight windows in the front doors, in favor of single piece glass, and the introduction of larger grill slats with the August 1987 facelift.

As with the North American Rabbit, the second-generation Golf was produced in Pennsylvania. When sales in North America failed to live up to expectations and with increasing productions costs, the Westmoreland plant was closed in July 1988. Subsequent Golfs sold in North America came from Germany and Mexico. The Mark 2 Golf was discontinued in Europe in 1991, but Mexican-made Mark 2 models remained available in North America for another year.

In its first year on sale in North America, 1985, the Golf 2 maintained sealed-beam square headlights, while the GTI bore flush headlights. All Golfs gained flush "aerolamps" in 1987 after a design freshening to move it more upscale in the wake of the introduction of the Brazilian-built Fox (Voyage in Brazil) in North America. The 1985 U.S. models are easy to distinguish from subsequent models due to the absence of a high-mounted brakelight; these became required of all cars sold in the U.S. for 1986.

The GTI was Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year for 1985, as well as VWVortex’s "Best Golf of all time". The Mark 2 GTI failed to make the same waves as the MkI, and failed to win back the Golf GTI’s fanbase which had adopted the Peugeot 205 GTI. In North America, where Peugeot did not sell the 205 in any guise, Volkswagen faced tough competition from the Honda Civic S (later Si).

As with the Mark 1, there was a "warm hatch" version known as the Golf Driver. Introduced in 1988, it featured the GTI’s exterior styling, namely the twin front headlamps, and wheelarch spoilers but with a standard 1.6 L engine. For the last year of production, the Driver was given a carbureted version of the GTI’s 1781 cc engine.

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Golf Mk2 G60 Limited Edition

Mark 3 (1991–1998)

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Golf Mk3

The third-generation Golf was launched in November of 1991, although it did not appear in North America until the spring of 1993. The delay in North America was due to Volkswagen’s decision to supply U.S. and Canadian dealerships with Mark 3 Golfs (and Mark 3 Jettas) from the VW plant in Puebla, Mexico. Quality control problems led Volkswagen of America to reject Golfs and Jettas from Mexico; shortly thereafter, labor unrest at the plant delayed the car’s North American introduction even further. The third-generation Golf and Jetta finally made it to North America, first as 1993 models in the San Diego, California area, then in the fall in the rest of North America as 1994 models. Three-door Golfs of this generation were mostly only available in North America in GTI form. The 1993 through 1995 Golfs were called "Golf III" in North America to make it clear that they were different from the previous generation. The second-generation Golfs had increased insurance premiums, due in part to stereo systems that could easily be stolen, and the third-generation models were meant to correct that situation. Once the badge distinction was no longer necessary for insurance purposes, the Mark 3 Golf lost its Roman numeral suffix for 1996.

The third-generation Golf was elected Car of the Year in 1992. For the first time a station wagon derivative was produced. The GTI variants (especially with the straight-four 4 cylinder engine) are considered to be the poorest of the performance Golfs, with significantly increased weight, but with minimal power increases. A "best of breed" VR6 variant exists which was available in a well regarded "Highline" trim; this 2.8 L VR6 engine gave a significant boost in power to 174 PS (128 kW/172 hp) for the Mark 3, a car weighing only about 1285 kg (2836 lb). Compare that to the Mk. II GTI that weighed 285 kg (629 lb) less but had only 139 PS (102 kW/137 hp) and a much smaller engine to tune (1.8 L). The convertible version was called the Cabrio.

A 16-valve version of the third-generation Golf GTI was introduced in 1993. This model was greeted with a muted sense of disenchantment with the motoring press. The engine was the same enlarged to 2.0 L, with power now reaching 150 PS (110 kW/148 hp). While underpowered compared to the VR6, it was still relatively popular with driving enthusiasts in Europe (North America didn’t get the GTI version proper, but had the name applied to the VR6 engine). Once again the Golf Driver version took its place as the official GTI-look-alike but with a more humble single-point injected 1.8 L engine.

The Golf Mark 3 was also the predecessor of the diesel craze that swept through Europe in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Volkswagen introduced the direct-injection system with the 90 PS Golf TDI in 1993. The 1996 TDI, at 110 PS (81 kW/108 hp) for a 1.9 L engine, wasn’t the first diesel engine installed in a road car to achieve over 50 hp/L, but it showed the public that diesel engines could be powered without losing their fuel efficiency, while also retaining massive amounts of low-end torque, in the TDI’s case, 235 N·m (173 lbf·ft) at 1900 rpm.

Economical variety for diesel lovers was a 47kW, 65PS atmospheric diesel engine well known for its durability.

During the 1990s, Volkswagen sponsored three high-profile rock bands’ European tours, and issued a special-edition Golf, with distinctive exterior markings, for each: the Golf Pink Floyd Edition (1994), the Golf Rolling Stones Edition (1995), and the Golf Bon Jovi Edition (1996).

In 1996 Volkswagen produced a limited 1000 special-edition 3-door ’20th Anniversary’ GTI’s. These had the usual GTI specification but came with a checkered GTI logo’d Recaro sport seats, red seat belts, half-chrome golf ball gear knob, red stitching on the steering wheel and on the handbrake gutter and silver dialed instruments. The red theme continued externally with a red striping on the bumpers and red brake calipers, the wheels were 16" split rim BBS alloys, visually similar to the 15" that were found on VR6 model. Brush stainless steel rear twin tailpipes on the exhaust and smoked front fog and indicator lamps to match the rear lamps. 3 optional extras were made available; electric sunroof, air conditioning and metallic black paintwork. Insurance was based on the standard GTI which made this version a very desirable model. The edition was sold in only 6 colour schemes and the 1000 number figures that were produced was as follows; 600 8 valve models, 150 16 valve models and 250 TDI models. The diesel model was only produced for the European market and wasn’t sold in the UK. Together with the ’color concept’ version that was produced during the final months before the production of the Mk. IV version, the 20th Anniversary model will probably be seen as the one of the rarest Mk. III models. The Golf MK. III was also available in "Ecomatic" Form. It was powered with a diesel engine and a clutch-less manual transmission. The engine was switched off after 1.5 seconds of inactivity, whether by stopping or coasting. Re-starting the engine simply required depressing the accelerator pedal. VW had previously pioneered similar technology in the VW Polo "Formel E" in the 1980’s.

As with the Mark 1 and Mark 2, the Mark 3 would remain available in North America for a year after it was discontinued in Europe.

1997 Which? Magazine Best Buys - Best Family Car
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Golf Mk3 Cabrio GLS

Mark 4 (1997-2006)

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Golf Mk4

Launched in 1997 the Golf 4 was the latest version of Volkswagen iconic model, and it became the biggest selling car in Europe at one point. It was a deliberate attempt to take the Golf further up market, with a high-quality interior and higher equipment levels. Overall the level of maturity of the design and its target audience were also evident — the humorous plays on the game of golf which resulted in special edition models of the three earlier generations being called "Golf Ryder", "Golf Driver", not to mention the GTI’s "golf ball" gearlever knob were dropped, and replaced with a more subtly styled golf ball knob.

Design and engineering

As with the B4 Passat the year before, the Golf Mark 4 was a very significant car in its class. As with its big brother, not only was it the first step of VW moving its products upmarket to plug a gap between the mainstream machines and the premium cars, with SEAT and Skoda taking over as the mainstream brands in the Volkswagen Group; it also brought in a new level of interior quality and sophistication never seen before from a mainstream brand in the class. In fact, the quality of the Golf was on a par with its sister Audi A3 from the year before. Although costing slightly more than its rivals, the price difference showed when it came to luxury and upmarket feel. Rivals launched beforehand now appeared cheap, while, famously, Ford engineers and designers were so far advanced with the yet-to-be-launched Mark 1 Focus, they were unable to react to the Golf, and could only make minor changes to the Focus’ interior, which Ford initially felt would be ahead of rivals.

However, the advent of the Mark 4 Golf meant that many mainstream rivals in the class had to raise their game with interior quality to the point where there are now virtually no differences in quality levels between some mainstream and premium cars in the class. Only the budget brands in the class have not raised their game, but this is reflected in their prices. More telling, though, is that the quality of the Mk IV was not repeated 100% in its replacement.

The latest model remained faithful to the Golf concept but included some of the new ’arched’ styling themes first seen on the Mark 4 Passat. The overall effect was considered to be far more pleasing than the previous model.

However, the upgrade of the vehicle’s interior materials and exterior details appeared to have been done at the expense of the vehicle’s chassis, which was average. Although the ride and handling was inferior to that of the Mark A Vauxhall Astra/Mark 2 Opel Astra the average dynamics were reasonably well concealed in daily driving, though, and the car’s reputation was unscathed until the Ford Focus was launched a year later. The chassis ability of the Ford was to have a profound effect on the Mark 4 Golf’s replacement.

As with the Golf 2, a convertible version of the Golf 4 was never made. Instead, the Golf 3 Cabrio was facelifted to give it the frontal styling of the Golf 4 hatchbacks.

Volkswagen Bora/Mark 4 Volkswagen Jetta

A saloon version of the Mark 4 Golf was spawned. As with previous incarnations of the Golf, it had its own identity, and this time was called the Volkswagen Bora although the name Jetta remained in North America. Unlike its predecessors, the Bora/Jetta featured unique rear doors, front wings and bonnet. The front doors were the only body panels shared with the Golf. The interior, though, was identical to the Golf, featuring none of the very minor styling changes found on its predecessor.

The Golf 4 was made in Germany, South Africa, Slovakia, Brazil, Mexico, Belgium, and China. The Golf IV was also made in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Vogošća (near Sarajevo) in TAS, where Mark 1 andMark 2 models were also made. This Bosnian Mark 4 was for local market only.

Engine choices included 1.4, 1.6, 1.8, 2.3, 2.8 and 3.2 L gasoline engines, and a torquey 1.9 L turbodiesel, with power ranging from 68 to 150 PS (50 to 110 kW). A choice of three and five-door hatchbacks or a five-door station wagon was available. The European Golf wagon was not identical to the North American Jetta wagon; the Golf wagon is shorter than the American Jetta wagon.

The Golf 4 was introduced to North America in mid-1999. Available engines for the Golf at its introduction to the American market were a 2.0 L gasoline engine, and a thrifty (48mpg) 1.9 L TDI engine. The latter soon developed a reputation for good low-speed torque and fuel economy, and can operate on alternative biofuels. A 1.8 L turbocharged gas engine was introduced in 2000, along with the 12-valve 2.8 L VR6. The 2.0 L gasoline engine was the base engine in the sportier GTI only as a 1999.5 model. For 2000, Volkswagen opted for the relatively new 1.8 L turbocharged gasoline engine as a base engine for the GTI. The top-of-the-line GLX model was equipped with Volkswagen’s torquey 2.8 L VR6, which put out an impressive 174 hp. The VR6 engine, with its narrow 15-degree camshaft design, was unique to Volkswagen. This engine is lighter than other V6 engines, which is benefits the handling characteristics of this front-wheel drive car. In 2003, Volkswagen introduced a 24-valve version of its VR6 engine. This engine had the same torque characteristics of the older 12-valve version, with an extra 26 hp. This engine featured the first 6-speed manual available in the Mark 4 platform. The 1.8T and VR6 models continued until 2005, when the Mark 4 platform came to an end. Leftover Golfs were sold in North America as 2006 models in anticipation of its fifth-generation successor.

  • 2000 CAP Used Car of the Year Awards - Best Small Hatch
  • 2000 Diesel Car 2000 Awards - Best Hatchback
  • 1999 Used Car Buyer Greatest Used Buy Awards - Best Small Family Car
  • 1998 What Car? Car of the Year Awards - Best Small Hatch
  • 1998 Top Gear Magazine Top Cars - Best Family Car
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Mk4 Bora/Jetta

Special Editions

GTI 337 edition (2002)

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Golf Country

The GTI 337 was officially introduced at the New York Auto Show and made it to dealers by late May 2002. The price of the GTI 337 was $22,225 in the U.S. and $32,900 in Canada. Only 1,500 units are being produced for the American market with an additional 250 specifically for Canada and it only came in Reflex Silver.

"The 337 name comes from the code name for the Golf model back in the early 1970s," said Frank Maguire, vice president in charge of sales and marketing at Volkswagen of America, Inc. "The GTI is the sport version of the Golf and since we didn’t begin selling the GTI here until 1983, the name 337 seemed like a nice way to recognize the history of this vehicle and make it meaningful to our most enthusiastic drivers. This is a very unique (sic) car for the Volkswagen lover."

Starting with a 180 hp 1.8T GTI GLS, the following extra equipment and changes have been made:

18" BBS RC Wheels with 225/40-ZR18 High-Performance Summer Tires; greatly improved sport suspension — 1" lower overall ride height; Votex body kit with front valance, side skirts, rear hatch wing and rear valance with 3" chromed exhaust tip; 315 mm (12.3") diameter vented front and 256 mm (10") rear vented brakes with red powder coated calipers; all-new six-speed MQ350 transmission; Recaro front seats in special "Le Mans" red and black cloth with custom GTI embroidery; brushed aluminum interior trim accents; red stitching on steering wheel, shift boot, handbrake knob and seats; special golf ball shift knob; aluminum pedals with rubber inserts; stainless steel exhaust with mild sound tuning; red trimmed floor mats; special exterior retro GTI badging; Monsoon sound system (U.S. only); and more...

20th anniversary edition (2003)

Due to the popularity of a commemorative 25th anniversary edition GTI produced in Europe in 2001 (GTI 337 edition in North America), Volkswagen of America produced 4,200 so-branded ’20th Anniversary Edition’ GTIs and 4000 were shipped to the United States and 200 to Canada. This event, in 2003, marked the 20th anniversary of the GTI’s first introduction to the U.S. and Canada, then called the Rabbit. Several special features distinguish this new GTI from the rest of the pack.

On the outside, the 20th came with throwback red-lettered ’GTI’ logos on the left front and right rear. The rear was also accompanied by a vintage-look chrome rabbit. Blackened headlights and dark-tinted tail lights added a distinctive look, while Votex front, rear, and side skirts along with a hatch spoiler and special edition 18" OZ Aristo alloy wheels complete the exterior transformation. These models were produced only in three colors: Imola Yellow, Jazz Blue and Black Magic Pearl. Distribution of production was 50% Black magic pearl, 25% Jazz Blue and 25% Imola Yellow.

Inside, a few accents were noticeable. Unlike other models, there were no ’options’ available. The only true option is ESP, Volkswagen’s stability control feature. All 20ths had a sunroof, black leathered with silver stitching steering wheel, shifter boot and emergency brake handle, and sporty black cloth Recaro bucket seats with silver stitching accents and a red ’GTI’ emblem embroidered in the middle of the back rest. Aluminum trim came standard, complete with a numbered nameplate above the center console identifying the exact production number (US production only) of the vehicle and a black headliner. This edition also came with a special golf ball shifter knob. Volkswagen’s premier 8-speaker Monsoon(tm) stereo system was also standard.

Mechanically speaking, this was the average GTI 1.8T GLS with a few exceptions. A 6-speed manual MQ350 transmission marked the most notable departure from the norm, and upgraded suspension stiffened up the ride and lowered the car approximately 40 mm (uprated springs and shocks, increased sway bar diameters, and revised bushings in the rear). Upgraded disc brakes front (12.3" vented rotors) and rear (10.3" vented rotors) helped bring things to a stop, while red powder-coated calipers added a bit of flair to the package.

Golf R32 (2004)

In 2004 Volkswagen produced the Golf R32 in Europe. Again, due to unexpected popularity, Volkswagen (through Volkswagen of America) decided to sell the car in North America (except Canada) as the 2004 Volkswagen R32. Billed as the pinnacle of the Golf IV platform, the R32 included every performance, safety, and luxury feature VW had to offer including the all new 3.2 L VR6 engine producing 241 bhp, AWD, a new 6-speed manual transmission, independent rear suspension, automatic climate control, sport seats from Koenig, 18" OZ Aristo wheels, electronic stability programme ESP, massive (334 mm) brakes, sunroof, and model specific bodywork. The vehicle was available in only four colors, Tornado Red, Reflex Silver, Black Magic Pearl and Deep Blue Pearl.

In spite of outwardly appearing very similar to the 20th Anniversary GTI, the R32 shared the vast majority of its major components with the 3.2 L Audi TT, most notably, the engine, all wheel drive system, and both front and rear suspension geometries. Five thousand cars were produced and intended to be sold over a 2-year period. Each car was sold just 13 months later.

This was a venture put out by Volkswagen which was considered to be a corporate gamble. Volkswagen surprisingly sold all 5,000 R32s in America with little marketing and advertising.

The Golf R32’s competitors (at the time of production) were the Subaru Impreza WRX STi and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII, although, unlike these cars, the R32 was not run by Volkswagen in rally competitions, and lacked the playstation appeal and ultimate status as those cars. Instead of the boy-racer, go-fast approach of the competition, VW focused on the stability and drivability in everyday conditions.

The R32 remains the quickest car Volkswagen has imported to the U.S. Capable of 60 mph in only 5.8 seconds, and clearing the 1/4 mile in only 14.1@99.2 mph (though there have been times of mid to high 13 second 1/4 times reported and proven by extremely good drivers. The average mark of the 13 second R32 is about 13.7 @ 101mph.), it edges out its sportiest sibling (the Phaeton 6.0 litre W12 - 414 bhp) by a tenth of a second by the 1320 foot mark.

It also has a surprisingly high resale and used-car value; the Kelley Blue Book used car retail price (the price an individual might expect to pay for one from a dealer) for a model in excellent condition with low mileage actually exceeds the original retail price of the car in many cases, making it one of a few recent cars that have actually approached an increase in value over time. This premium can be explained mostly due to scarcity, both of the cars themselves due to low production and importation, and especially of ones that have not been driven particularly hard.

Mark 4A (2006 to present)

In Canada, the Golf 4 is now sold as the City Golf alongside the Mark 5 model, badged as the Rabbit. The Volkswagen City Golf, an updated Golf 4 (to be called "Mark 4A" here the sake for clarity), is available in the Canadian automotive market as of October of 2006. It is not to be available in the American market. It has a base price of C$14,900. The only engine available is the 2.0L SOHC with 115 horsepower. It is a less expensive entry-level alternative to the Rabbit. It is not related to the Volkswagen Citi Golf. Similarly, the A4 Jetta will be reintroduced for the 2007 model year in Canada as the City Jetta. The Golf 4A also continues to be sold in countries like China, Brazil, and Mexico.

Mark 5 (2003-present)

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Golf Mk5

The fifth generation Golf was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in October of 2003 and went on sale in Europe one month later. It was not released in the United States until January of 2006, however, and then only in GTI form through the spring of 2006. For the presentation of the new Golf, Wolfsburg was renamed "Golfsburg" for a week. Before the North American launch of the Golf in June of 2006, Volkswagen of America announced the decision to re-brand the Golf and return the Rabbit nameplate to the U.S. and Canadian markets. It continues to be sold in Europe as Golf. Volkswagen of America is promoting the cost economy and native manufacture in Wolfsburg, Germany. Most print ads for the Rabbit show the old Rabbit badge (a running rabbit, commonly recognized by most Americans) with the phrase "It’s back, at $14,990." TV ads show Rabbits chasing after each other with their numbers increasing until they fill the streets of a city, a sort of double entendre on the phrase "multiplying like rabbits".

Design and engineering

While the interior quality of the previous model startled rivals and led most of them to up their game in revised/replacement models, the astonishing chassis and all round ability of the Mark 1 Ford Focus startled Volkswagen (and indeed other rivals). In order to counter criticisms of the average dynamics of the previous model, it is widely reputed that Volkswagen poached from Ford the engineering team who designed the multi-link ’control blade’ rear suspension system of the Ford Focus, widely regarded as the class benchmark for ride and handling. Indeed, the rear suspension of Golf V (a modified wishbone arrangement) bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the Focus.

The suspension changes, along with careful tuning of the chassis, led to the Mk V Golf delivering road manners which challenged the Ford Focus, and although the chassis ability was only just short of the Focus’, the overall ability of the rest of the car led to the Mark 5 Golf being the best car in its class until the Mark 2 Ford Focus arrived in 2004.

The bulletproof interior quality of the previous generation appears to have been lost, and although still of a very high standard and ahead of other rivals the Golf no longer matches its in-house rival, the Audi A3. Many believe the reason for this step back in quality, also seen in the Mark 5 Passat of 2005, is to allow daylight between the marketing and price positioning of Audi and Volkswagen products. The previous generation Volkswagens were on a par with their Audi cousins.

The Golf 5 has proven expensive to build - largely due to its uncommonly long 50-hour build time. According to multiple reports in the European press, its replacement is thus likely to be rolled out in 2008, a good two years earlier than originally scheduled. This means that the production run of the U.S. version of the Mark 5 - the Rabbit, introduced only in 2006 two years after its world debut - is likely to have an uncommonly short production run.

  • 2005 Auto Express - Best Hot Hatch (Golf GTI)
  • 2005 Auto Express - Best Sporting Car (Golf GTI)
  • 2004 What Car? Car of the Year
  • 2004 What Car? Best Small Family Car
  • 2004 Winner - AutoExpress New Car Honours
  • 2004 Best Hatch BBC Top Gear Magazine Awards


1974 - 2003 Volkswagen Golf
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Golf Mk5 Plus

Options for engines and transmissions vary from country to country, but the Golf is available in petrol 4-cylinder and a new PD diesel unit-injector TDI engine. Transmission options include manual, automatic, Tiptronic, and direct-shift gearbox (DSG). North American-spec Rabbits will use the same 150 hp 2.5 L five-cylinder gasoline engine that powers the Jetta and New Beetle in these markets. North American transmission choices will include a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic with Tiptronic. All of the Golf’s engines, including the VR6, have the engine mounting points in the same place, making it possible to remove one engine and replace it with another while making few other modifications to the car

Mark 5 Jetta

A trunked version of the Mark 5 Golf was spawned in 2004 and, as with previous incarnations of the Golf, it maintained its own identity, a practice long abandoned by most rivals. While the Jetta name has always remained in North America the name made a welcome return to Europe, Volkswagen choosing to abandon the Bora handle of the previous Golf saloon.

As with its predecessor the Jetta featured unique front wings and rear doors, but the front doors were also unique so the only external panel shared with the Golf was the bonnet. As with all Golf saloons, the Jetta featured a unique grille which is only shared with the contenporary Golf R32 (although the GLi variant has the Golf GTi’s front end). Unlike all previous saloon variants however, the front lights were now shared with the Golf.

As with the previous Jetta/Bora, Volkswagen is again trying to market the car as a rival to mainstream large family cars, such as the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall/Opel/Holden/Chevrolet Vectra, leaving the Passat to compete against the premium marques. The smaller Jetta, though, is still a Golf saloon whose true rivals are the Ford Focus, Vauxhall/Holden/Opel Astra, etc.

Mark 5 marks the return of the Rabbit name in the United States. Volkswagen has stated that the change in name was due to Golf not being as important in the US and it allows for creative marketing in hope to make the car more competitive. Because of the preference for sedans in the US market, the Jetta outsells the Golf 10 to 1.


In December 2004, Volkswagen announced the Golf Plus variant of the Golf 5. It is 9.5 cm taller than the standard Golf, but 15 cm shorter than the other compact MPV of the marque, the seven-seater Touran. The Plus would replace the Variant station wagon in the Golf lineup, although a Variant may yet be released.

There will be no convertible version of the Golf 5, as the Eos coupé convertible (introduced in Spring 2006) will be marketed as a separate model and the New Beetle convertible makes a droptop Golf redundant. The Eos does not share body panels with any other Volkswagen model, although it is based on the Jetta/Golf platform.

At the 2006 Paris Motor Show Volkswagen released the new CrossGolf compact MPV, which is essencially an off-road version of the Golf Plus. It was developed by VW Individual brand which developed the Golf R32 and CrossPolo. The CrossGolf is only available in front-wheel drive configuration (like the CrossPolo) and is powered by two petrol engines 1.6 & 1.4 TSI and two Diesel engines, 1.9 TDI & 2.0 TDI with output ranging from 75 kW / 102 PS to 103 kW / 140 PS.

Performance models

1974 - 2003 Volkswagen Golf
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Golf Mk5 GTi - 5 Doors

The Golf 5 GTI is hailed as a return-to-form for the progenitor of the genre. The Golf GTI features a 2.0 litre turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine with FSI (Fuel Stratified Injection) direct-injection technology, which produces 200 hp. It is available in both 3-door and 5-door hatchback body shapes, and comes with a choice of either 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic DSG gearbox which greatly reduces shift time to only 8ms . The concept GTI was first shown to the public at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2003. The first production model was initially unveiled at the Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris in September 2004 and went on sale around the world shortly thereafter. At the Los Angeles Auto Show in January 2006 the GTI made its long awaited North American debut in 3-door guise (a 5-door variant has since become available). The new GTI has a considerable increase in price over the previous model, mainly due to the features mentioned above and the fact that the exterior itself had not seen such a dramatic design change in years. The innovative DSG transmission and the 200bhp engine all helped raise the retail price of the car.

In late September 2005, the Mk5 R32 went on sale in Europe. It features the same 3.2-liter unit fitted to the previous version, but with an extra 10bhp courtesy of a reworked inlet manifold. Maximum power is now 247bhp at 6,300rpm; torque is unchanged at 236lb ft but comes in 300rpm lower down the rev range. It reaches an electronically-governed top speed of 250 km/h (154mph). Going from 0 to 100 km/h will take a brisk 6.5 s, reduced to 6.2 s with the direct-shift gearbox. As with the previous R32; there is 4MOTION all wheel drive through 18" Zolder 20-spoke alloy wheels. Stopping the R32 comes in the form of blue-painted brake calipers with 345 mm discs at the front and 310 mm disks at the rear.

After much speculation, information on the Golf R36, the Golf 5’s high-end flagship, began to leak in April 2006. It was to get the 3.6 litre V6 engine from the Passat, and cost around £1,500 more than the R32. However, during development, VW engineers were unable to fit the DSG transmission behind the large 3.6L V6 in the engine bay. Volkswagen of America has decided to bring 5000(again) of the Mk5 R32 over to the US in the guise of a 5-door, DSG-equipped model only.

In September 2005, the Golf 5 GT was announced, which featured a 1.4 L engine in a new and impressive twincharger configuration. This new TSI engine is based on the recent FSI, but with a pair of chargers forcing the induction of the air. The chargers are a single supercharger that disengages after a specified rev-range, at which point charging of the air is handled by a single turbocharger. This system could benefit from both of the efficiency of the supercharger in the lower rev ranges, with the longevity of the turbocharger higher in the rev range. This results in no turbo lag, constant power delivery along the rev range, and better fuel efficiency than similarly powered V6 2.4 L due to its small size.

The initial American ad campaign for the GTI featured the "fast", which Volkswagen says is the feeling and force inside you that likes driving and encourages your driving passion, with the tagline "Make friends with your fast". However, recently those ads were replaced with a series of ads starring Peter Stormare as a "German engineer" hired to "un-pimp ze auto" by taking tuner cars and smashing them, giving their owners a GTI instead. The slogan for the campaign is "Pre-tuned by German engineers", however it has been Stomare’s lines of "VDub: representing Deutschland!" and "V-Dub: German, engineering, in da haus!” delivered with a stilted German accent and coupled with a "VDub" hand motion, that have popularized the ads.

1974 - 2003 Volkswagen Golf
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Golf Mk5 GTi - 3 Doors

1974 - 2003 Volkswagen Golf
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main image


In Australia, 1982-2004 Volkswagen Golfs were assessed in the Used Car Safety Ratings 2006.

  • (1982-1994) - "worse than average" level of occupant protection
  • (1995-1998) - "average"
  • (1999-2004) - "significantly better than average"


  • The Volkswagen Rabbit, the original U.S.-spec Golf, saw use in a taxi fleet. The Yellow Cab Company of Lexington, Kentucky, bought eleven Rabbits in the late seventies as part of an effort to save money on fuel, estimating an annual savings of $135,000 in gasoline costs.
  • Part of the popularity in the UK of the Mark 2 drew from one 1987 advert "Changes" starred model Paula Hamilton, made up to give her a close resemblance to Diana, Princess of Wales. She is seen leaving her husband, posting her wedding ring back through the letterbox and ditching her mink coat, chucking the house keys at the cat, rejected the fur coat and pearl necklace - but kept the Mk II car keys. If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen ran the tagline.The advert spawned a new era in car advertising (Armstrong 1998 p15)
  • In 1999, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Catholic Church’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II, purchased a fourth-generation Golf to drive around Rome in, and sold it in 2005 after John Paul’s death in anticipation of retiring and returning to Germany. Instead, he became Pope Benedict XVI. His 1999 Golf sold for nearly a quarter of a million U.S. dollars shortly thereafter.
Caesar Alvarez
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