Volkswagen, a name synonymous to German ingenuity, has marketed the Volkswagen Golf as a small family car. With more than 29 million units manufactured by 2012, the VW Golf is undoubtedly the most popular Volkswagen car ever, surpassing even the ubiquitous Beetle. As the world’s third best-selling model, the Volkswagen Golf is proof that excellent craftsmanship goes a long way.
1974–1983: First generation
The Beetle has long been Volkswagen’s longest-running car model since 1938. The economy car was only booted out of its position as the most popular Volkswagen car model when the VW Golf (also known as the Rabbit in the US and Canada) was introduced in 1974. This water-cooled, four-wheel drive hatchback resuscitated Volkswagen’s waning financial record after a sharp nosedive in the Beetle’s sales. Designed by Italian automobile artist Giorgetto Giugiaro, the VW Golf features creased lines on the body instead of curves. The vehicle also offers excellent handling, thanks to its first-rate front and rear suspensions.
1983–1992: Second generation
Most of the features of the older Golf were carried off to the second generation. However, the new Golf sported a larger wheelbase (from 94.2 inches to 97.3 inches). With added space on the vehicle, it’s not surprising that the car also packed a couple more pounds. Volkswagen also took a more logical approach to the naming of the vehicle. From Rabbit, the vehicle was simply called the Golf in the United States.
1991-1999: Third generation
Nothing much had changed in the layout of the third-generation Golf, save for a few other minor developments. The new Golf looked more rounded—beyond that, no other spectacular visual features set the third-generation Golf from its predecessors. Nevertheless, the new features appeared under the hood as the new Golf models carried either a VR6 engine or a Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) diesel engine, a trademark engine used in most VW vehicles. Launched in Europe in 1991 (1993 in North America), the latest generation of the VW Golf won the European Car of the Year in 1992.
1997-2003: Fourth generation
Wider and longer, the fourth-generation Golf offered more legroom and cargo space. Introduced in August 1997, the fourth-generation Volkswagen Golf became the top-selling car in Europe in 2001. With better interiors and upgraded equipment, the new Golf was set to compete with the high-end small family car Audi A3. Featuring a more stylish body, the fourth-generation Golf was Volkswagen’s stab at breaking the barrier between luxury cars and mainstream vehicles.
2003-2008: Fifth generation
The fifth-generation Volkswagen was introduced in Europe sometime in 2003, but it came out in the US only in 2006, bearing the Rabbit nameplate once again. With its 2.5 L five-cylinder engine, this new Golf was marketed as a fast vehicle—and a low cost one as well. Despite the new Golf’s strong drivability, it failed miserably in terms of fuel economy.
2008-2012: Sixth generation
Featuring excellent fuel efficiency and aerodynamics, the sixth-generation Golf sports upgrades of all the other Golf models combined. Overhauled interiors, first-rate drivability, and cheap price all make the Golf an attractive vehicle to own. By 2010, the name “Golf” was returned to the car’s nameplate, eschewing the well-worn Rabbit title.