Forty years of the Volkswagen Golf
First on sale in 1974, the Volkswagen Golf has now been with us for forty years.
Across 7 generations of Golf, more than 30 million examples have been sold worldwide making the Golf one of the top three best-selling cars of all time.
The first Golf was conceived as a replacement for the Beetle - itself the best-selling car ever at the time - though the Bug continued in series production until 2003! Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the designer behind the Lotus Esprit a couple of years earlier, the Mk1 Golf offered Volkswagen a conventional and modern competitor in the small car market after almost 50 years of the Beetle.
After two years of the Golf's life, the badge that thrust the car to the fore made its debut - GTI. While not necessarily the first hot hatch on the market, the 110hp Golf GTI was the car that popularised the sector and it has been the car other manufacturers seek to match throughout every generation.
Coming along in 1983, the second generation of Golf is often a little overlooked but brought along a number of industry firsts in a car of this size. Of course the GTI model continued, with a power hike in 1986 as 4-valves per cylinder became the benchmark. The 1986 Syncro model was the first four-wheel drive Golf, followed up by the 4WD and raised Golf Country - predating the modern trend for small crossovers by nearly 20 years!
Supercharging came to the Mk2 Golf also, in the shape of 1989's Golf Rallye - a limited run homologation special - and then the Golf G60. A later version of this car, the G60 Limited, put out over 200hp and managed to hit 60mph in under 7 seconds.
Performance wasn't the only thing that the Mk2 brought to the table. A limited run of 100 cars in 1984 was the first electric Golf. The CitySTROMer was perhaps the first electric car built into a regular series production car, again predating a modern trend by almost a quarter of a century.
The third generation first appeared in 1991. While continuing both the GTI and, for a limited run of 250 cars, the CitySTROMer names, the Mk3 had its own firsts. The first estate model Golf, dubbed "Variant", was introduced in 1994 on the Mk3 platform and formed a more practical streak that continues to this day. The first V6-engined Golf appeared on the Mk3 too - 1991's VR6. Though more powerful than the GTI, enthusiasts preferred the more traditional and slightly lighter model.
Less popular than it should have been, the Mk3 soon gave way to 1997's Mk4 Golf. Volkswagen introduced fully galvanised body panels and there was a notable shunt upmarket towards the small vehicle offerings of more premium brands. Of course the GTI continued uninterrupted, but there was a new performance king in the Golf stable, with the R32. This model combined a new four-wheel drive system - named 4MOTION by VW - with a 3.2 litre V6 engine producing 237hp and the world's first production dual clutch gearbox (DSG). This made it the quickest Golf yet, just eclipsing the G60 Limited from a decade previously.
Surprisingly the Mk4 didn't survive too long either, replaced like its predecessor after 6 years and nearly 5 million sales. The Mk5 brought back the crossover Golf - now named CrossGolf - and added the first MPV version, named Golf Plus. The R32 and GTI performance variants persisted, naturally, but the Mk5 version of the GTI was the first in the history of the name to be turbocharged.
While the Mk5 was popular enough with customers, the car was relatively expensive and time-consuming for Volkswagen to manufacture and a Mk6 model soon arrived in 2008. The lineup of available engines and models remained broadly unchanged, with the exception of the R32. The pursuit of fuel efficiency lead to the adoption of smaller, turbocharged engines and the top performance model for the Mk6 was simply dubbed "R" - the 3.2 litre V6 from which the R32 took its name had been replaced with a 2.0 turbo. It didn't slow the Golf down though - this 270hp unit allowed the production Golf to hit 60mph in less than 6 seconds for the first time.
The present car replaced the Mk6 in 2012 and expanded the Golf line up to make it more versatile than ever. Alongside the persisting performance models, Plus MPV and Variant estate, the Mk7 Golf is the first to fully adopt electric motion in production form. The GTE is Volkswagen's first production hybrid and combines batteries that will drive the car up to 30 miles at speeds of up to 80mph with a 1.4 litre petrol engine, while the eGolf is a pure battery car in the spirit of those CitySTROMer models of old, with an 80 mile range.
Despite now racking up 40 years of production, outliving and outselling the car it replaced, there's no sign of the Golf slowing down with age. With each generation breaking new ground, what could the next 40 years bring?