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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - GL 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Sporty handling, gutsy 2.0 engine, Euro chic
Room for improvement
Quality and longevity not up to legendary VW levels

23 Jul 2003

VOLKSWAGEN can hardly be accused of introducing new models every few years in the name of planned obsolescence.

The original Beetle was designed before World War II and continued in production until well into the 1970s.

Along came the Golf in 1974 and it is still going, stronger than ever - proof indeed that a sound design will stand the test of time and see more trendy rivals fall by the wayside.

The Golf is one of the biggest selling cars of all time and VW attributes its success to "Fahrvergnugnen" - the German word for driving enjoyment.

The company claims the package of driving characteristics - the steering, ride and handling that lets the driver keep contact with the road - makes it a pleasure to drive.

Certainly the Golf has always had a character that is clearly European.

Reversing the original air-cooled, rear engine Porsche design of the Beetle, the Golf is front engine and front-wheel drive.

The 1994 Golf GL is a small to medium-sized car powered by a 2.0- litre, four-cylinder, water-cooled engine with a body offering comfortable accommodation for four adults and adequate luggage space.

Model variations include a three-door Caravelle wagon, three- door CL hatch, TDi 1.9-litre diesel engine five-door hatch, smart two-door cabriolet and a VR6 hatch powered by a 2.8-litre V6 engine.

The multi-point, fuel-injected, single overhead cam engine drives through a five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed electronic automatic.

The suspension, a high point of the car, is by coil springs and MacPherson struts at the front and torsion beam rear axle with struts and coil springs.

Power-assisted disc brakes are fitted all round, ventilated at the front, while power-assisted rack and pinion steering completes the chassis package.

Safety was one of the foremost considerations in the design of the Golf.

Airbags are standard for both driver and passenger in the front.

The body shell is computer designed for maximum energy absorption in a crash, to the extent that the longitudinal members of the body shell are made of three sections of metal of varying thickness seamlessly welded together with the thickest section near the safety cell area, or passenger compartment.

The interior of the Golf is roomy with large and comfortable front seats that lack some side support. The rear seat is roomy, although the seat back is low and lacks head restraints.

Storage consists of open pockets, with no lockable glovebox, while front and rear seatbelt anchorage points are adjustable for height.

Luggage space for large items is restricted by the fixed beam that runs across the rear of the car.

Indicator and wiper stalks are reversed, in the European manner.

The ride and handling of the Golf set it apart from its Japanese rivals. Combining a supple, bump-absorbing ride with tight and accurate handling, it is excellent on rough or twisting roads.

The 2.0-litre engine is responsive and pulls well, and the boost level of the power steering is nicely weighted for both parking and higher speeds.

The four-wheel disc brakes are smooth, powerful and very effective, having only 1180kg of mass to slow down.

Standard equipment includes central locking, power steering/windows and a four-speaker radio/cassette player.

At the end of 1997 the equipment list was extended to include air-conditioning, cruise control and a six-speaker system but the 2.0-litre model was dropped less than a year later, replaced by a 1.6-litre GL.

The original Golf models suffered some mechanical problems, mainly related to carburettors and driveshafts, but the later versions enjoy the benefit of many years of development and refinement. Problems are rare.

Spare parts are a little on the pricey side but there should not be a great need for them.

The Golf has become a classic, as the Beetle was before it. Evolution has ironed out the bugs and it is a car that offers spirited performance, exceptional ride and handling, excellent accommodation and economical operation.

There is just that touch of refinement and "roadability" that sets the Golf apart from its efficient but less driver-friendly Japanese competitors.

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