1 Oct 1998
By CHRIS HARRIS
Arguably the most influential small car of the 1990s, the fourth generation VW Golf (twinned with the Audi A3) wowed the world with its luxury-car cabin look and slush-moulded quality feel. And that’s it.
Dynamically it used the same old torsion beam rear suspension, just as the revolutionary Ford Focus was rewriting the rules with its multi-link independent rear end.
The steering and ride (other Focus fortes) were light and comfortable respectively but never inspiring.
The petrol engines offered locally were (’98-’99 1.8 20V and rare ’04 R32 excepted) disappointing in their performance and refinement, and prices were always pegged at a premium.
But a Golf is a Golf, the daddy of all small hatchbacks in many people’s minds, so it sold solidly – aided by high resale value, lovely styling and a comfortable and versatile cabin.
The Golf IV’s model’s local mainstay was the 74kW/145Nm 1.6-litre SOHC 16V GL (and limited edition GL Generation from late ’01), until revisions and a change from German sourcing in early ’02 to South Africa introduced a 75kW/148Nm 1.6 S, 1.6 SE (until May ’03) and then 1.6 Generation models.
The same timetable applies to the Mexican-made 85kW/170Nm 2.0-litre SOHC 8V engine in the GLE and its 2.0 S, 2.0 SE and 2.0 Generation successors, which sadly replaced the rorty 92kW/170Nm 1.8-litre 20V Audi four-cylinder engine in the original GLE, from July ’99. Confused? There was also the swift and sporty 110kW/210Nm 1.8 turbo in the GTI from March ’99, which remained the top Golf IV here until the 177kW/320Nm 3.2-litre DOHC 24V V6-engine R32 three-door hatchback (the only three-door Golf IV introduced) arrived in early ’04.
Featuring a Haldex-supplied on-demand four-wheel drive chassis, bodykit, high-level luxury cabin, Xenon headlights and a $65,000 price-tag, it was a limited edition.
In the end even VW realised that soft-feel dashboards and well-won laurels weren’t enough to sustain the Golf against the formidable Focus, so it adopted a version of the Ford’s rear suspension and worked hard to radically improve the driveability of its Golf V successor.