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24 Apr 2014
Rob Griffin Rob Griffin

The best and worst Volkswagens


Volkswagens combine German engineering prowess with some great-looking machinery. Rob Griffin looks at the best - and worst - VWs.

Best VW cars

Maybe it's the big screen success of Herbie – the car with a mind of its own – that has made us believe Volkswagens actually have souls, or perhaps it's their reputation for reliability.

Either way, VWs have made a remarkable impression.

It's also fair to say that there have been very few bad VWs ever made which can make composing a list of the best and worst a bit of a challenge. But we rose to the challenge.

The best Volkswagens ever made: Golf MkII

VW Golf

While the MkI Golf is credited with sparking the craze for hatchbacks when it burst onto the scene in the early 1970s, its successor, which arrived a decade later, is arguably the more significant machine.

With more comfort and a higher build quality, the MkII was an instant hit and went on to become one of the best selling cars of the 1980s.

A particular highlight was the GTI version that was produced from 1984.

The best Volkswagens ever made: Beetle

VW Beetle

Yes the original one! What's not to love about this car? Apart from being unbearably cute looking, its straightforward construction and durability meant that it was produced for more than 60 years.

Designed by Dr Ferdinand Porsche as an economy car that could cope with being driven at speed on the Autobahn, it enjoyed success on the race track and became a firm favourite with the custom car community.

The best Volkswagens ever made: UP


Not all great VWs are old. Take the UP for example. This new breed of city car taps into what VW has done well for years – produce great looking, economical, spacious machines that are fun to drive.

Available in a variety of formats costing between £8,265 to just over £13,000, it has two power options, both of which are variants of a 1.0 litre three cylinder engine.

There is also the choice of three and five-door models.

The worst Volkswagens ever made: New Beetle

VW Beetle

In advertising literature, VW declares "The icon returns". Well, the name may be the same but it bears absolutely no resemblance to its supposed predecessor.

While it's clearly a decently engineered machine, it misses the mark in a number of ways. 

As well as having a cheap, plastic feel, its weird sloping design means it's not that practical either, so I'm not really sure who would find it appealing.

Surely anyone wanting a car of this size would opt for a Golf or Mini instead?

The worst Volkswagens ever made: Phaeton

VW Derby

There are certain things that VW does very well. Building premium class machines, however, is an area in which it struggles.

Not because they are necessarily bad at producing them, but more that they will never compete in the kudos stakes with the likes of Mercedes. 

Giles Chapman, author of The Worst Cars Ever Sold, describes the VW Phaeton as a "classic lemon", despite being a decent piece of technology.

"VW identified a type of executive that was more interested in engineering than expensive branding," he says. 

"The Phaeton was like an anti-capitalist limo but the problem was that this idea didn't really work outside of Germany."

The worst Volkswagens ever made: Derby

VW Phaeton

While you'd struggle to think of really bad Volkswagens, there are a few mad ones and the VW Derby, which arrived in the late 1970s, certainly fits this definition, according to Chapman:

"It was the size of a Metro but with a tiny boot on the back that turned it into a stupidly small saloon," he says. 

"This must have been intended for those who always had a big car with a separate boot and on retiring to Bournemouth wanted the same but with the running costs of a Polo."


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