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Volkswagen Golf

Golf IV

Volkswagen logo1 Oct 1998

By CHRIS HARRIS

Arguably the most influential small car of the 1990s, the fourth generation VW Golf (twinned with the Audi A3) wowed the world with its luxury-car cabin look and slush-moulded quality feel. And that’s it.

Dynamically it used the same old torsion beam rear suspension, just as the revolutionary Ford Focus was rewriting the rules with its multi-link independent rear end.

The steering and ride (other Focus fortes) were light and comfortable respectively but never inspiring.

The petrol engines offered locally were (’98-’99 1.8 20V and rare ’04 R32 excepted) disappointing in their performance and refinement, and prices were always pegged at a premium.

But a Golf is a Golf, the daddy of all small hatchbacks in many people’s minds, so it sold solidly – aided by high resale value, lovely styling and a comfortable and versatile cabin.

The Golf IV’s model’s local mainstay was the 74kW/145Nm 1.6-litre SOHC 16V GL (and limited edition GL Generation from late ’01), until revisions and a change from German sourcing in early ’02 to South Africa introduced a 75kW/148Nm 1.6 S, 1.6 SE (until May ’03) and then 1.6 Generation models.

The same timetable applies to the Mexican-made 85kW/170Nm 2.0-litre SOHC 8V engine in the GLE and its 2.0 S, 2.0 SE and 2.0 Generation successors, which sadly replaced the rorty 92kW/170Nm 1.8-litre 20V Audi four-cylinder engine in the original GLE, from July ’99. Confused? There was also the swift and sporty 110kW/210Nm 1.8 turbo in the GTI from March ’99, which remained the top Golf IV here until the 177kW/320Nm 3.2-litre DOHC 24V V6-engine R32 three-door hatchback (the only three-door Golf IV introduced) arrived in early ’04.

Featuring a Haldex-supplied on-demand four-wheel drive chassis, bodykit, high-level luxury cabin, Xenon headlights and a $65,000 price-tag, it was a limited edition.

In the end even VW realised that soft-feel dashboards and well-won laurels weren’t enough to sustain the Golf against the formidable Focus, so it adopted a version of the Ford’s rear suspension and worked hard to radically improve the driveability of its Golf V successor.

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