Volkswagen is celebrating the 40th birthday of the most successful European car of all time: the Golf. More than 30 million vehicles of the best-seller have been sold and from the first to the seventh generation, the Golf has been a pioneer of technological progress.
Whether turbocharged engine, direct-injection engine, electric or plug-in hybrid drive system; whether ABS, ESC, XDS or 4MOTION; whether Adaptive Cruise Control, City Emergency Braking, trailer stabilisation or Automatic Post-Collision Braking System; whether automatic air conditioning, Dynaudio sound system, touchscreen with proximity sensor or LED headlights; whether GTI, GTD or GTE – it was always the Golf through which the most important technologies and trends of our time were democratised.
Golf Mk I: The first series production Golf rolled off the assembly line in Wolfsburg on 29 March 1974. Where for decades the Beetle and thus rear-mounted engines and rear-wheel drive had dominated the scene, a new era had now dawned: that of the transversely mounted front engine and front-wheel drive.
As the successor to the legendary Beetle, of which over 21.5 million units were built, the Golf Mk I, designed by Giorgio Giugiaro and Volkswagen Design, had to live up to the immense expectations that it would carry on the success story of what until then was the world’s most successful car. It worked: the modern and reliable drive concept, the excellent spatial economy and ultimately the design as well, won over the market to such an extent that by October 1976 the one-millionth Golf had been produced.
In launching the first Golf GTI (in 1976), Volkswagen heralded the introduction of greater dynamism in this class, while the Golf D (naturally aspirated diesel engine, 1976) and the later Golf GTD (turbodiesel, 1982) marked the breakthrough for diesel cars in the compact segment. With the Golf Cabriolet, introduced in 1979, Volkswagen launched an open-top car that was at times the best-selling cabrio in the world.
Golf Mk II: As of August 1983, passengers no longer sat quite so close to each other, as use of space have been improved once more. It was then on the Golf that the regulated catalytic converter was introduced (1984), anti-lock braking system (ABS, 1986) and power-steering to the lower medium class. In 1986, syncro was introduced, opening up the option of all-wheel drive in the Golf class.
Golf Mk III: With the launch of the third generation Golf in August 1991, Volkswagen heralded a new era of safety. This Golf was the first of the series to have front airbags, starting in 1992, while major advances in the area of car body construction also resulted in significantly improved crash safety. In addition, numerous other technological milestones of the model range are linked to the third Golf. Many new features made their debut in this new Golf: the first six cylinder engine (VR6), cruise control, oxidation catalytic converter for diesel engines (1991) and the first direct injection diesel engines (TDI in 1993). Likewise, ABS became a standard feature on all Golf models in 1996. In 1993, Volkswagen had also introduced a new convertible based on the Golf Mk III, a new all-wheel drive model (syncro II) and the first Golf Variant (an estate).
Golf Mk IV: Under the direction of Hartmut Warkuß, then Head of Design at Volkswagen (Group), the Golf Mk IV crystallised the clear, precise design that lived up to the history of the Volkswagen brand more than ever before while setting its course to the future. With the debut of ESC (in 1998), the car continued to democratise safety. Also in 1998, Volkswagen unveiled the first all-wheel-drive Golf with a Haldex clutch – the Golf 4MOTION. One year later, ESC became a standard feature, initially in Germany.
The first direct-injection engine (FSI) and the debut of the standard head airbag (window airbags) followed in 2002. Also in 2002, Volkswagen launched the R32, with a top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph). It was this top model of the range that in 2003 was the first to debut with the revolutionary dual-clutch gearbox (DSG).
Golf Mk V: This was the Golf that boasted levels of comfort and dynamic performance that left many competitors way behind in 2003. The same went for the car’s security features. One factor that underlines the stability of the laser-welded bodywork was the 35 per cent increase in torsional rigidity demonstrated when the Golf Mk V made its debut in 2003. On request, the Golf was now also available for the first time with side airbags – together with the six standard airbags (front, side front and window) there were thus eight protective air buffers on board. In comfort as well as dynamic performance, the Golf Mk V scored in numerous areas, including: its new four-link rear suspension, seven-speed DSG, bi-xenon headlights, panoramic sliding sunroof, plus the world’s first twincharger (in the 2006 TSI), combining turbo- and supercharger. In 2006, the Golf Plus made its debut; in 2007, the CrossGolf, a new Estate and the extremely fuel-efficient Golf BlueMotion (4.5 l/100 km or 62.8 mpg).
Golf Mk VI: In just four years, a further 2.85 million Golf cars had been produced by the end of July 2012, based on the sixth generation of the car launched in 2008. And once again safety made great advances too: the car body was so rugged that it passed the EuroNCAP crash test with flying colours, gaining the maximum five stars. Meanwhile, more TSI engines and a transition among the turbodiesel engines (TDI) from unit injection to the common rail system resulted in greater dynamic performance and lower fuel consumption. A top performer here was the second Golf BlueMotion with a combined fuel consumption of just 3.8 l/100 km (74.3 mpg), equivalent to 99 g/km of CO2. New assistance systems, such as Light Assist automatic main beam management and Park Assist, made the sixth generation the most advanced Golf to date.
Golf Mk VII: On 4 September 2012, Volkswagen celebrated the world premiere of the seventh generation Golf. The weight of the new Golf was reduced by up to 100 kg, thereby reversing the often cited upward weight spiral. Fuel economy was hence also improved by up to 23 per cent. The new Golf TDI BlueMotion consumes only 3.2 l/100 km (88.3 mpg) (equivalent to 85 g/km of CO2) under standard NEDC conditions. In addition, Volkswagen has equipped the Golf with an entire armada of new assistance systems – some as options and others as standard. In 2014, Volkswagen electrifies the compact class with the Golf: the all-electric e-Golf with a range of around 190 kilometres is already available to buy. In addition, the new Golf GTE will be launched in autumn. Its plug-in hybrid drive system achieves a standard fuel consumption of 1.5 l/100 km; in all-electric mode, the Golf GTE can be driven for 50 kilometres.
The Golf is the most successful model ever built by Volkswagen. In the summer of 2013 the 30 millionth Golf was built.
Note to editors: Bit of Friday Forty Year trivia for you… not only was 1974 the year the first Golf was produced, it was also the year the Terracotta army was stumbled upon by a group of farmers who were digging a water well, Richard Nixon resigned, and Lord Lucan disappeared.
Other 1974 inventions which have stood the test of time alongside the Volkswagen Golf include the Rubik’s Cube, Post-It notes (originally invented by accident in 1968) and liposuction.
Volkswagen UK is one of the country’s largest importers, accounting for almost one in ten of every car sold. The company sells a wide range of vehicles which range from compact city cars through the best-selling and renowned Golf, Polo and Beetle models, to luxury saloons and 4x4s.