The magnificent seven
As we kick-off the countdown to the all-new Golf, we review its seven (and a half) glorious predecessors.
Since its introduction in 1974, the Golf has been regarded as the proverbial precursor of the compact class, the hot hatch or hatchback segment, also then coined the "Golf Class". Everyone else has had to compete with the Golf, although not many came close.
The Golf is a vehicle that has enabled automotive progress for everyone for seven generations. "No matter which generation: the secret of the Golf's success was and is the sum of its characteristics: a perfect companion for everyday life, embodying versatility, functionality, reliability and quality like no other car," says Dieter Landenberger, head of the heritage department at Volkswagen HQ in Wolfsburg.
More than 35 million units of the Volkswagen Golf have been produced in the last 45 years. From a purely mathematical point of view, that equates to someone somewhere in the world buying a new Golf every 40 seconds. More than an icon, this is the story of the Golf.
Golf I: 1974 - 1983
The year was 1974.
Germany was football world champions for the second time, the Terracotta Army was discovered in China, ABBA cinched a win at the Eurovision Song Contest with "Waterloo", and US President Nixon's Watergate scandal resulted in his resignation. And it was the year in which Volkswagen presents the first Golf, the successor to the Beetle.
The step from the Beetle to the Golf was revolutionary. With the switch from the air-cooled rear engine to the water-cooled front engine, a completely new vehicle layout was created at the time. Round became angular, it was a paradigm shift. The main design elements of the Golf I were its upright, solid C-pillar, the striking wheel arches and the horizontal front with the slim grille and headlights protruding downwards - elements still found in every Golf today.
The first Golf rolled off the Wolfsburg assembly line in March 1974. The advertising campaign had a clear slogan, "The new popular sport: Golf", and it was a vision that was to come true. The first generation makes its mark: the Beetle's successor is sold 6.99 million times.
Fun fact: The Golf 1 was locally assembled in Shah Alam for several years.
Golf II: 1983 - 1991
Yes, there is a successor! The Golf II is bigger and more aerodynamic, and the designers stayed true to the DNA of the Golf I, while introducing progressive new details.
The brief was simple - the Golf must remain a Golf. The new design did not stray from the Golf concept, but nevertheless it was a new car from bumper-to-bumper. The rear was radically designed - while the taillights of the Golf I were positioned at the very bottom just above the bumper, in the Golf II they were moved further up. No other car in 1983 had this. The C-pillar built a bridge between the generations.
Series production of the second Golf began at the Wolfsburg plant in June 1983. Technical innovations included anti-lock braking system (ABS), power steering and the "Syncro," the first all-wheel drive Golf. This was in 1989 - 30 years ago!
Volkswagen presented a prototype of this Golf with an electric drive (Golf Citystromer) and a Golf Hybrid study. It was also at the forefront when it came to the environment. By September 1984 it had a regulated catalytic converter for the first time in the 1.8-litre injection engine, five years before the mandatory introduction of catalytic converters in Germany. The first diesel engine with a catalytic converter followed in November 1989 - a world first.
A total of 6.3 million second-generation units, including all derivatives, were produced by the summer of 1991.
Golf III: 1991 - 1997
Yes, it looked different, but it was still immediately recognisable as a Golf: The Golf III was the first with a wedge form that was as dynamic as it was aerodynamic (drag coefficient value: 0.30). It had a powerful presence on the road thanks to its much wider track.
"As we moved from the first to the second Golf, we made the car bigger, installed more powerful engines and gave it better handling. In the third generation, design played a greater role. We found a look that is typical of the Golf, which radiated safety and quality," said Herbert Schäfer, then chief designer of the bestseller.
Volkswagen also ushered in a new era of safety with the Golf III, and it was offered with front airbags in 1992. Major advances in body design also led to significant improvements in crash characteristics.
Technical innovations included a six-cylinder engine (VR6), cruise control system, oxidation catalytic converter for diesel engines and direct-injection diesel engine (TDI), which raised the subject of diesel and driving dynamics to a completely new level. In 1996, the Golf received its first side airbags, and shortly afterwards ABS became standard for all Golf models.
The concept worked, and numerous derivatives increased sales even further. By the time it was replaced, the Golf III had sold 4.83 million units.
Golf IV: 1997 - 2003
Continuity lead to success. Golf IV was presented to the press in Bonn on August 18, 1997. Chief designer Hartmut Warkuß envisioned the fourth generation's long roof, steep rear and powerful C-pillar from the brand's design DNA. "The Golf was a monument, a car that seamlessly followed in the footsteps of the global success of the Beetle. It made sense to underline the company's strategy in an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary way."
The Golf IV was not only visually groundbreaking, it was also technically groundbreaking. With the Golf IV, Volkswagen had achieved a new quality standard in the segment and was the first manufacturer to break through the class boundaries.
At the same time, the democratisation of safety continued with the debut of the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) in the Golf (1998).
Technical milestones were also reached in the fourth generation: in 1998 the first all-wheel drive Golf with Haldex clutch, the Golf 4MOTION, was introduced. Shortly after, the 6-speed transmission was introduced.
On its 25th birthday, a special GTI model with 132 kW / 180 hp, the Golf GTI "Edition 25" (now a collector's item) was launched. The most sporty Golf to date was introduced in 2002 - the 250 km/h fast Golf R32, and with it, the revolutionary double-clutch gearbox (DSG).
On June 2002, the Golf overtook the Beetle. With 21,517,415 models produced, it became the most built Volkswagen of all time. By 2003, 4.99 million units of the Golf IV had been produced.
The concept worked, and numerous variants increased sales even further. By the time it was replaced, the Golf III had sold 4.83 million units.
Golf V: 2003 - 2008
The Golf made history in 2003 when it became the best-selling German car for almost three decades. It was regarded as "das Auto" par excellence, as the only vehicle in the compact class with a classless status. And the fifth Golf?
The DNA of the first generation remained the basis - but number V itself was visually reinvented. The characteristic C-pillar, a powerful rear, sporty front end and a muscular silhouette rising to the rear was dynamic. A Golf novelty was the front section - for the first time, the hood followed the contour of the headlamps similarly to a sports car.
The fifth generation also impressed with many technical innovations - a laser-welded body, rear side airbags, four-link rear suspension, 7-speed DSG, bi-xenon headlamps, rain sensor and panoramic sunroof.
In addition, the Golf V scored with a turbo gasoline direct injection system in the GTI and the world's first Twincharger (TSI).
The Golf Plus made its debut in 2006, followed in 2007 by the CrossGolf, a new Estate and the economical Golf BlueMotion.
The fifth generation of the Golf outperformed many of its higher mid-range competitors in terms of comfort, dynamics and quality, and 3.4 million units were sold. In March 2007, the Golf celebrated a major anniversary - 25 million units produced since 1974.
Golf VI: 2008 - 2012
The Golf VI was a quiet revolution, offering safety technologies and features previously found only in the luxury segment.
Its laser-welded body was so stable that it achieved the maximum five stars in the EuroNCAP crash test. The knee airbag was standard, and there were a variety of assistance systems very much valued in the Golf today - automatic main beam control Light Assist, ParkAssist, Hill start assistant, electronic damper control DCC, the start/stop system, recuperation mode, the dynamic bend lighting and LED tail lights.
The sixth generation Golf was presented to the world's press in Iceland in September 2008, and unsurprisingly, was voted "World Car of the Year" in 2009.
In the following four years, 2.85 million of the sixth generation Golf would roll off the production lines.
Fun fact: The Golf 6 GTI was the first Golf launched by Volkswagen Malaysia.
Golf VII: 2012 - 2019
Something's different - but it looked damn good! The seventh Golf generation, launched in 2012, was the first Volkswagen model series based on the modular transverse kit (MQB). Thanks to the MQB and completely new proportions, the design was also more dynamic - its front wheels were placed significantly upfront, and as a result, the front overhang was shorter while the bonnet looked optically longer.
Volkswagen chief designer Klaus Bischoff had only good things to say, "The vehicle cab moved visually to the rear, giving a so-called 'cab-backward impression'. That's what we call the proportions of luxury class vehicles - where the bonnet is long, and the cab is very far back. That's why the Golf VII had proportions otherwise found only in higher segments."
Technologically, its design set new standards, its weight was reduced by 100 kilograms, and fuel consumption was 23 percent lower (depending on the engine). The seventh generation Golf came with a digital display (later known as the Digital Cockpit) and assistance systems usually found in more luxurious cars.
The Golf reached another milestone in 2014 with the all-electric e-Golf, which had a range of around 190 kilometers. Shortly afterwards, the Golf GTE3 with plug-in hybrid (PHEV) drive was launched.
The Golf is and remains the most built Volkswagen model of all time, with a total production of more than 35 million units. About six million Golf VII have left the assembly line to date.