The Making of a Legend – VW Golf

With a new version of the Golf on the horizon, we’re looking back to see how it has developed since its 1974 launch


With sales of the ‘People’s Car’ Beetle dwindling in the early 1970s, VW’s market share was being lost to more modern cars that had been launched across the globe, it needed to respond.

It launched three cars, all of which remain in production through to today; the Passat, the Polo and the Golf.

The Golf took on the family car mantra of the original Beetle but had a huge task to replicate the bubble car’s huge sales success. By the time the Beetle’s production finally ended in South America in 2003 (65 years after it was launched), more than 21.5 million Beetles had been made.


With its up to date modern styling, courtesy of Italian designer Giorgio Giugiaro, and conversion from rear to the front-wheel drive as well as relocating the engine from the back to the front of the car, the Golf was born in 1974.

By the end of 2015, more than 32.5 million Golfs have been made, making it one of the most successful production cars of all time and with a new Golf due soon, we've taken a look back at what's gone before.

MK I – 1974-1983

VW Golf MK I

Produced in three-door and five-door hatchback form, 6.99 million MK 1 Golfs were made worldwide during its lifespan.

It was known as the VW Rabbit in North America and offered seating for five people and a good sized boot. The Golf was affordable to buy and cheap to run, making it popular with lower income households.

First-Generation Overview:

1976 - First GTi version launched with a 1.6-litre petrol engine developing 109bhp.

1976 - Golf D, the first diesel-powered version was launched with a 1.5-litre engine.

1979 - Cabriolet launched. A two-door with a fabric folding roof, the Cabriolet remained in production through the lifespan of the second-generation Golf, with production finally ending in 1993.

1979 - Jetta was launched, a two- and four-door sedan/saloon version of the hatchback.

1982 - First turbo diesel launched.

1984 - As the MK 1 Golf was replaced by the MK 2 across the globe, production of the MK 1 continued in South Africa where it was reborn as the Citi Golf. The Citi Golf was made for 25 years until 2009 and filled a gap in the market as an entry-level budget car, cheaper than the MK 2 Golf. In 1991 the MK 1 GTi was reintroduced as the Citi CTi.

MK II – 1983 - 1991


Production started in 1983 with the MKII having grown in length and width over the first-generation Golf, and weight increased as a result. After 6.3 million cars were made, production ended in 1991.

The look of the MKII remained similar to the MKI, with front round headlights, although the headlights were doubled from two to four during its lifespan.

Still to this day, the MKII GTi versions remain a favourite with hot hatch fans for their character, handling abilities and back-to-basics driver involvement.

The second-generation Golf introduced regulated catalytic converters and an anti-lock braking system (ABS) in 1984, and power-steering two years later. It was also the first Golf to get four-wheel drive.

Second-Generation Overview:

1984 - Second-generation GTi launched with a 1.8-litre 8-valve petrol engine developing 110bhp.

1984 - Second-generation Jetta launched.

1986 - Additional GTi launched with 16-valves and 137bhp and was capable of 120mph.

1989 - Golf G60 topped the range. It had a supercharged version of the 1.8-litre 8-valve engine, developing 160bhp, got from 0-60mph in 8.3 seconds and pushed on to a top speed of 134mph.

1990 - Golf Country arrived, ahead of its time. It had all-wheel drive, a raised ride height, bull bars for off-roading. It was made for 18 months.

MK III – 1991 – 1997


The third-generation Golf saw the first substantial change to the styling of the front of the car. The round headlights were replaced and the straight edged design of its predecessor was softened.

It was larger than the MKII but retained the same wheelbase and more than 4.83 million vehicles were made.

The MKIII was the first Golf with front airbags, cruise control and the first to get a six-cylinder engine in the VR6 (2.9-litre). It also got an Ecomatic transmission, oxidation catalytic converter for diesel engines (1991) and direct injection diesel engines (TDI, 1993. In 1996 ABS and side airbags were fitted as standard.

Third-Generation Overview:

1992 - Won European Car of the Year

1992 - Vento was launched, a renamed version of the Jetta, although the name remained in North America.

1993 - Second Cabriolet launched.

1993 - First Golf Estate / station wagon launched.

1996 - First Golf GTI with a turbocharged engine.

MK IV – 1997 - 2003


The fourth-generation Golf took a big step forward in quality and reshaped the car into a more prestigious hatchback, of which 4.99 million models were made.

Its styling was sleeker and the rear lights had a new shape with a new wraparound rear bumper. This generation’s GTi failed to excite but saw the introduction of the first powerful R32.

Introduced on this model was ESC, ESP brake assist, Xenon headlights, head airbags and a 6-speed dual clutch gearbox (DSG).

Fourth-Generation Overview:

1998 - Third Golf convertible launched.

1998 - Fourth Golf GTI launched.

1998 - Four-door saloon / sedan launched. Once again the name of the saloon changed, this time from Vento to Bora, although again in North America it remained Jetta.

1999 - Estate version launched.

2002 - First Golf R32 with four-wheel drive and a 3.2-litre V6 engine generating 238bhp and went from 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds. It was the world’s first production car with a dual-clutch gearbox.

MK V – 2003-2009

VW Golf MK V

Launched in 2003, the fifth-generation Golf saw the biggest design change of all the Golfs, with a new head and taillight designs and a more curvaceous body.

The bodywork was stiffened by 80% to improve ride and handling and featured the first engine to be fitted with a turbo and supercharger with the 1.4-litre TSI petrol.

It saw the introduction of laser-welded bodywork, four-link rear suspension, automatically dimming rearview mirror, bi-Xenon headlights, park distance control and rain sensors.

For the first time since 1990, a new body style was introduced to the Golf range with the Golf Plus and CrossGolf, which contributed to the 3.4 million made.

This generation proved costly to make and had a shorter lifespan than many generations of Golfs while perceived quality had also dipped.

However, the Golf GTi was ‘reborn’ after recent disappointments. It received critical acclaim for its everyday ease-of-use, combined with thrilling handling and impressive performance.

Fifth-Generation Overview:

2004 - GTi launched with turbocharged 2.0-litre engine developing 197bhp and could get from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds.

2005 - R32 launched with the same 3.2-litre as before but with an additional 10bhp, meaning 0-62mph time dropped by 0.1 seconds.

2005 - Golf Plus launched. A five-door quasi-MPV version of the Golf with a raised roof for added interior space.

2006 - Rabbit name was reintroduced in North America while GTi badge made its American debut.

2006 - CrossGolf / Golf Plus Dune launched – Golf Plus gets a more rugged crossover look.

2006 - Volkswagen Eos launched in lieu of Golf Cabriolet. The Eos got a metal folding roof.

2007 - Third Golf Estate / station wagon launched.

2008 - First Golf to get 7-speed dual clutch gearbox.

MK VI – 2009-2012


Launched ahead of schedule, the sixth-generation Golf should have been a facelifted version of the fifth-generation but after criticism about the interior quality of the fifth-generation model, Volkswagen carried out a more comprehensive update, classing it as a new generation model.

Interior quality took a substantial leap forward, while styling received a minor revision.

In total, 2.85 million of the sixth-generation Golf were made. It achieved five stars in the “Euro NCAP” crash testing and got knee airbags for the first time.

New technology introduced in the sixth-generation included; stop-start system, battery regeneration, adaptive cruise control, hill hold assist, adaptive damper control, keyless access, LED reversing lights, navigation system with touchscreen, park assist and a reversing camera.

Sixth-Generation Overview:

2009 - Second Golf Plus launched.

2009 - Fourth Golf Estate / station wagon launched.

2009 - Sixth version of the Golf GTI launched.

2010 - Golf name replaces Rabbit name in North America.

2010 - Golf R replaced R32 and the six-cylinder engine is replaced with a 2.0-litre TFSI version. It retained four-wheel drive, while the 267bhp from its turbocharged engine meant a 0-62mph sprint of just 5.5 seconds.

2010 - Jetta saloon / sedan launched.

2011 - Golf Cabriolet returned with its fourth version. It had four seats and an electrically folding fabric roof which took 9.5 seconds to open and at speeds up to 19mph. It was also available in GTi guise for the first time.

MK VII – 2012-present / 2016


Wider and longer with more passenger space than the sixth-generation, the latest Golf builds on its reputation for quality, fine driving abilities and practicality. It’s also lighter than the model it replaces and sees the introduction of new alternate fuel powertrains.

With hybrid (GTE) and electric (e-Golf) versions introduced, the seventh-generation may, however, be overshadowed by the ‘dieselgate’ scandal rather than its all-round abilities.

The latest technology to feature includes; adaptive cruise control, city emergency braking, electric parking brake, lane assist, automatic post-collision braking system, park pilot, road sign recognition and cylinder shut-off (ACT / active cylinder management).

Seventh-Generation Overview:

2013 - Won European Car of the Year.

2013 - Won World Car of the Year.

2013 - New Golf Estate / station wagon launched.

2013 - Latest GTI developing 217bhp gets from 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds.

2013 - Golf R now gets 296bhp and a 0-62mph time of 4.9 seconds. READ OUR REVIEW HERE.

2014 - e-Golf launched.

2015 - GTE plug-in hybrid launched.

2016 - GTi Clubsport – GTi special edition launched with 257bhp. Clubsport S became the fastest front-wheel drive car to lap the Nürburgring.

2017 – midlife facelift to be announced.


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