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01 Jul 2021
Rob Griffin Rob Griffin

The incredible history of the Volkswagen Golf

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Line of Volkswagen Golfs showing various generations

The stunning car has been hugely popular since the 1970s – and is now in its eighth generation.

It’s hard to believe the Volkswagen Golf has been around for almost half a century. The little car made its debut in 1974 as the successor to the hugely popular Beetle.

More than 35 million have since been made, and it's consistently in the top 10 best sellers - beaten only by the likes of the Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta.

While the model has been updated, tweaked and improved over the years, it’s managed to retain the cute style that made it a best seller.

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Volkswagen Golf Generations

Few manufacturers get the chance to create eight generations of a model – but that’s exactly what Volkswagen has achieved with the Golf.

There’s also been a Golf to suit virtually everyone’s needs. From families looking to transport children and belongings, to younger drivers wanting an eye-catching convertible.

Over the years it’s won critical acclaim for its designs – as well as picking up two World Car of the Year titles.

So, let’s take a closer look at each of the generations.

 

Mk1 – 1974 to 1983

Who doesn’t love a Mk1 Golf? It may have sharper lines in comparison to the smooth styling of today, but it certainly doesn’t look out of place.

The task of replacing the Beetle was handed to Giorgetto Giugiaro. He was a talented designer in his mid-30s who’d created stunning cars for Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin.

His design would be a staggering success.

The first production Golfs rolled off the Wolfsburg assembly line on 29 March 1974. By October 1976, a million Golfs had been made.

Variations also appeared during this period. The first Golf GTi arrived in 1976 and the Golf Cabriolet three years later.

The total number of Mk1 Golfs produced hit a staggering 6.99 million!

 

Mk2 – 1983 to 1991

The second generation Golf arrived as the glitzy 1980s were underway. It was bigger than its predecessor and more aerodynamic.

Production started at Wolfsburg in June 1983 - the same month that Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder was shown in the UK for the first time.

A number of developments and innovations were introduced to this model. These included the regulated catalytic converter in 1984, anti-lock braking system (ABS) two years later.

The late 1980s even saw a prototype with an electric drive system.

An impressive 6.3 million Mk2 Golfs had been produced by the summer of 1991.

 

Mk3 – 1991 to 1997

The third generation saw the distinctive round headlights disappear – and a host of technological advances ushered in during this period, including cruise control.

There was a lot of focus on safety. This included front and side air bags. Improvements to the car body construction also improved crash safety.

The first six-cylinder engine (VR6) also appeared, along with a new convertible and the first Golf Variant, which was an estate.

The third incarnation also sported an increasingly aerodynamic shape, while still retaining the ‘wedge’ look.

If you include all the various derivatives, a total of 4.83 million were made.

 

Mk4 – 1997 to 2003

The fourth generation appeared under the guiding hand of Hartmut Warkuß, who was head of design at Volkswagen (Group).

Almost five million of these cars were made and it’s easy to understand the enthusiasm. The car’s looks and developments set it apart from the rest.

Particular highlights included Electronic Stability Control (ESC) from 1998, as well as the introduction of the Golf 4MOTION, the first all-wheel drive model with Haldex clutch.

There was also the first standard head airbag in 2002, while the revolutionary dual-clutch gearbox (DSG) was seen a year later.

Then there was the arrival of a rather special GTi on its 25th birthday. The Golf GTI ‘Edition 25’ boasted 132 kW / 180 hp.

 

Mk5 – 2003 to 2008

It had taken almost 30 years but the Golf finally overtook the Beetle in 2002.

With 21,517,415 models produced, it became the most built Volkswagen.

The gradual evolution of the Golf was clear to see in the early 2000s. Despite the increasingly sleek, aerodynamic looks, it still somehow managed to stay looking like a Golf.

In 2020, Steve Huntingford, editor of What Car? made the case for the MkV to be the best car in the magazine’s history. He pointed out how well the Golf had stood the test of time.

Technical developments included rear side airbags, a four-link rear suspension, seven-speed DSG, bi-xenon headlights, a rain sensor and a panoramic sliding sunroof.

The first turbocharged direct injection petrol engine in the Golf GTI arrived in 2004, and the world's first twincharger turned up in the 2006 TSI.

 

Mk6 – 2008 to 2012

The sixth generation Golf was named World Car of the Year in 2009 – and it’s easy to see why when you consider the advances that were made.

Let’s start with safety. Its rugged car body passed the EuroNCAP crash test easily, gaining the maximum five stars.

It also had a knee airbag for the driver, illustrating Volkswagen’s focus on providing protection.

This incarnation was also the most advanced Golf of all time, with an impressive list of technological improvements to accompany its sleek looks.

These included:

  • Automatic main beam control Light Assist

  • Park Assist

  • Hill start assistant

  • Electronic damper control DCC

  • The start/stop system

  • Recuperation mode

  • Dynamic bend lighting

  • LED tail lights.

When you factor in all the derivatives, VW produced a total of 2.85 million sixth generation Golfs.

 

Mk7 – 2012 to 2019

Another version of the Golf – and another award. The Mk7 was unveiled to an enthusiastic audience at the Paris Motor Show in September 2012.

It was lighter, boasted an improved fuel economy, and came with a variety of standard – and optional – assistance systems

There was also a new type of digitised display. The attention to detail resulted in the Golf scooping the World Car of the Year title in 2013, just four years after its previous victory.

Given today’s focus on environmentally-friendly vehicles, this period is arguably the most important as it saw the introduction of electrification.

In 2014, Volkswagen brought in the all-electric e-Golf, which could achieve a range of around 190km. This was followed by the Golf GTE with plug-in hybrid (PHEV).

 

Mk8 – 2019 to present

The latest chapter in the illustrious history of the Golf is still being written. The world premiere of the Mk9 happened in Wolfsburg in October 2019.

Top Gear gave the latest Golf was given an impressive eight out of 10, which branded it 'a finely polished machine’.

Reviewers found it had better steering, better refinement, better safety, and more modern lighting than previous incarnations. Not a bad list of improvements for a car with such an impressive pedigree.

While still looking like a Golf, the latest model has obvious changes. These include narrower front lights and a leaner grille.

Inside is everything you’d expect from a modern VW. There are intuitive touch controls and a heads-up display that shows your speed and messages from the driver assistance systems.

 

A model that has stood the test of time

By any measure, the Golf has been an overwhelming success and will go down in the history books as one of the most enduring cars of all time.

The sheer number of Golfs made also means there’s plenty of choice.

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to buy the latest out of the showroom, or a Mk1 that’s been on the road for decades. There should be a Golf to meet your needs.

Now it’s a case of waiting to see what VW come up with for the Mk9 generation!

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