– Many engine options
– Upscale interior
– Decent handling
– Expensive to maintain
– Styling getting old
– Few reliability issues
The fourth generation of the Volkswagen Golf was a huge success during its run of 7 years. The clean and conservative styling combined with a vague sense of being a status symbol made it a hit among well-to-do young folks in the Middle East, men and women alike. Most of these kids fail to realise that the VW Golf is the equivalent of a Toyota Corolla for the European market. However, the high prices and German badge are enough to make the Golf an upscale brand in this region. VW resale values were never strong, so they make great bargain European cars. Available in 3-door and 5-door models, with a variety of engine options upgraded over the years. Even a 4Motion all-wheel-drive model is available, though it may be hard to find in these parts.
After its 1998 makeover, the Golf got considerably more tasteful inside, with nicely contrasting colors and patterns making it feel less like a sea of plastic. The cabin offers sufficient room for six-footers, while the rear compartment is as small as any other compact. The cargo area under the hatch is huge for a compact, and the rear seats even fold flat for some serious hauling. Interior materials and workmanship are excellent. All seats are comfortably firm. Height-adjustable front buckets are supportive on long trips. Backlit gauges and switches are simple and smartly arranged. The audio and a/c controls are a little too low however and a stretch to adjust while driving. Rear seat access into 3-door Golf models is pretty easy considering they share the same length wheelbase as the 5-door models. A pair of airbags is standard on all models, with some getting side airbags as well.
Sporting road manners lead the Golf’s list of merits. The ride is firm yet comfortable, with stable cornering and accurate steering. The sporty GTI and V6 cars handle better than the base models with only a slight sacrifice in ride comfort, though they all still suffer more body roll than expected from a sporty car. Up front are a pair of independent MacPherson struts and a stabilizer bar, while the rear suspension includes a semi-independent torsion beam rear axle, coil springs and gas-charged shocks. The suspension doesn’t seem very eager to comply at the limit, although the body structure feels tight and reasonably rigid. In hard turns, the car feels as if it reaches the limit of suspension travel too soon, and there is a grinding sound from the front wheels. It’s highway ride is refined, and the faster models feel great to drive under full throttle. It may be a small car, but it has the trademark solidity expected from the Germans. It feels as stable, secure and easy to control at highway speeds as it does at parking lot speeds. Braking performance is excellent, thanks to its four-wheel disc brakes. Pedal feel is direct, and the ABS system does its job without drama.
With an automatic, the base 4-cylinder engines offer only modest acceleration for passing. A manually-shifted Golf GL takes more than 10 seconds to reach 100 kph. The quirky V5, larger V6 and high-strung turbo models have great acceleration and response, though the automatic transmission is reluctant to downshift at moderate speeds. A later model GTI with a 6-speed manual can hit 100 kph in just over 7 seconds. Base 1.6L and 2.0L models are surprisingly speedy around town, thanks to their torquey engines, and get terrific fuel mileage. The performance models also get decent fuel mileage, on par with any V6-powered midsize sedan. Noise levels are among the lowest in the class. All engines are quiet, and the turbo models don’t let on at all that they in fact have a turbocharger. Newer 1.8L turbo and V6 engines got a massive power upgrade of more than 25 hp, bringing those models closer to being a sports car, but not quite.
The most common Golf models found here are the 1.6L, the 2.0L and the V5 GTI versions. A few 1.4L models might be around, but it is probably easier to find a V6 than the basic 4-cylinder. Diesel-powered TDI models never made it to this part of the world. And 4Motion all-wheel-drive models are as rare as Ferraris. The market is flooded with grey-market imports, so try to use good judgement to decide whether a used example is a GCC-spec or a foreign-spec car. Stickers in a foreign language, stuck on the corner of a windshield or elsewhere usually give the game away. Also note that this generation of Golf is not known for their reliability. Some electrical faults may surface, so keep an eye out for those. Parts are very expensive for Volkswagens.