Since its launch in 1976 the Volkswagen Golf has not only become VW’s best-selling model, but also the third best-selling car in the world. Now in its fifth generation, the Golf Mark V has a lot to live up to. So in a bid to find out why it is as popular with football stars as it is with royalty, and to see if the hatchback really does stand the test of time Emirates Business took to the road in the latest model and the 1995 Mark III.
The VW has always been known as a brand with longevity. Some cars do not last more than five years – the DeLorean Renault Avantine anyone? – but the Golf seems to just keep going and going thanks to its continuous evolution, which has kept it at the top of its class for the past 30 years.
Hans-Dieter Keller, managing director of Volkswagen Middle East, says the car’s appeal is universal, as it “stands for driving fun, dynamics and overall vehicle perfection”.
Since it first appeared on the market it has been admired by young and old alike who love the sporty look and feel, and enjoy a comfortable yet dynamic ride. “The design of the car appeals to all and it is compact, but at the same time it’s very sporty. The myth of this unparalleled success of the GTI seems to be honoured, which makes the GTI valuable and fascinating,” says Keller.
But Georgia Lewis, the editor of Middle East Car magazine, believes the appeal is much simpler. “The Golf has always been a consistently high quality, high performance hatchback and one of the most potent on the market. You feel like you’re driving a sports car so you just want to get in and put your foot down. It handles well and it has that boy-racer quality,” she says.
There was a slight blip with the creation of the Mark III, yet despite this it still remained one of the cars to have during the 1990s. When the fourth generation was launched in 1998, Golf was back to its best and has gone from strength to strength since. And as customers demanded something faster, more powerful and supremely stylish, that is exactly what VW delivered.
In the driving seat with the 2007 Golf Mark V
The engine purred perfectly screaming “I’ve got power” and power it has. Whether you are starting from stationary or going from 80kmph to 120kmph, nothing fazes the new Volkswagen Golf GTI.
In a land where the 4x4 rules, the Golf is a welcome break from the gas-guzzling mean machines that take so much delight in clogging up our roads. And if there is one thing it is perfect at, it is doing it in style. From the 43cm alloy wheels to the black metallic paint and leather sports seats, this car has it all for the young driver wanting to stand out from the crowd.
In a society where image is everything, the Golf fits the bill. But it is not a case of style over substance, for under the bonnet lies a powerful FSI (fuel stratified engine), which produces 200bhp. The engine also does 0-100kmph in just 7.2 seconds, which lowers to 6.9 seconds if you opt for the double clutch gearbox. Even with a car full of passengers there is no way you are going to be lagging behind in this thanks to the 2.0-litre turbo-charged engine.
Despite the car’s power it is surprisingly economical on fuel, using just 10.7 litres per 100km with urban driving, which is good news for those doing the long commute between Sharjah and Dubai. The car also has the option of tiptronic shifts for that extra burst of speed or when you need to control braking on a steep hill.
But after all these positives, are there any downsides? Yes, although they are simply niggles. First of all, leather seats do not mix well with a hot climate. The driver’s seat also needs addressing because if you have short arms you might feel your legs cramped as you try to find a comfortable driving position. But it has smoother braking in regular drive mode compared to the sports option.
The cabin has come a long way, just like the smoothness of the ride. The electronic dashboard display panels are lit in blue carrying on VW’s theme, which is also seen in the Polo, and adding to the funky look of the car.
This is a fun car to drive and the ample boot space means you can get the whole family inside. It is rare a car that will tick every box, but in its class, it comes as no surprise that I would choose the GTI every time.
In the driving seat with the 1995 Golf Mark III
What a comedown. After four days in the new Golf, it was a little depressing getting behind the wheel of a 1995 GL model.
Although it is comfortable to sit in and has the ease of being an automatic, you need it given the effort that goes into just turning the wheel. The word tank springs to mind, which is not something I expected to say about the car that has been produced more than 25 million times in 31 years. As a city car, you expect it to be nippy but I would not want to have to move it out of the way quickly in an emergency. The same can be said of the brakes; my foot felt like it was about to go through the floor rather than stop the car, so they need replacing.
Yes the fuel economy is good, but a car that is more than 10 years old will rarely be eye-catching, unless of course you happen to be lucky enough to own a classic. And a classic this Golf Mark III is not. In a city where road accidents and breakdowns are as much a part of everyday life as going to work, you need a car that will keep going.
The paintwork on this 1.6l model has weathered in the harsh summers, but it does have the all-important alloy wheels for those who want a sports model but cannot afford the price tag.
Inside, the cabin has all the hallmarks of the Golf, but it is when you put your foot down that the lack of power really shows. Although it has a top speed of 187kmph I am not convinced you should push it that far. The car feels sluggish when you set off before seemingly out of nowhere finding the power to push itself into third gear. With a bhp of just 60, you know you will not be rivalling Lewis Hamilton on the track.
Despite being the most popular car in its class, the Golf Mark III is still snubbed as the car that proved to be the blip on the model’s radar. But it is not all doom and gloom. The car will get you from A to B and you know it will hardly ever let you down such is its reliability. If you want a car you can trust this is it, just do not expect it to be as pleasing on the eye as it is on the pocket.
Me and my car
Alan Devereux, A British father-of-one, 31, is the producer of Business Breakfast on Dubai Eye 103.8.
Drives: A black 1.8l 1992 Volkswagen Corrado G60
Cost: Dh5,000 in September 2007
Insurance: Dh600 a year
Why did you buy this car?
Because it cost Dh5,000!
How much horsepower and at what RPM?
I’ve no idea. I know it’s fast.
What do you love about it?
It’s a manual. After hiring several cars it’s great to do proper driving again.
I also like the electric spoiler. Once I hit a certain speed, the spoiler moves up. I think the idea is to increase the down force, which apparently makes a difference around corners. But because I never go faster than 100k/h, I don’t think it has an effect on me. But I can also move it manually, so if I am stuck in traffic with nothing to do, I lift it up and down to confuse the car behind me.
What do you dislike?
The AC. Because it’s 15 years old, it never really gets cold. And it’s not a family car either. I have a baby son and you can only fit a baby seat on the front seat.
Has it ever broken down?
Yes, twice. The first time it was the battery, which was something to do with the alternator – these are things I don’t understand. And the second time the radiator went.
If you could swap the Corrado for your dream car, what would it be?
I knew you were going to ask this and I’ve decided that until they bring a hybrid to the UAE, I’ll stick with this one.