The Volkswagen Golf is often hailed as the ultimate subcompact car. It has been in production since 1974, and it is popular the world over for its combination of good looks, compact sizing, performance, and comfort. The Golf came to market as an alternative to the Volkswagen Beetle, but just as the Beetle has gone on to prove its longevity, the Golf has firmly established its own rather large niche in a crowded market where quality counts.
The Golf started life as a three-door hatchback, with the addition of a five-door hatchback, an estate version, a convertible, and a saloon. The latter was marketed in Australia as the Jetta, before being rebranded as the Bora, which was then replaced by the Jetta once more. The Golf is perfectly suited to taking on this myriad of guises large enough to deliver an imposing presence in estate form, zippy enough to make the perfect compact three-door runabout around town, and classy enough to make the perfect convertible.
The earliest Golfs were assembled in Australia from kit imported from Germany, but this ended in 1977 following Nissans purchase of the VW factory. All later models are fully imported. Imports halted completely between 1981 and 1990, so other than the odd individual import, it is extremely rare to come across a used Golf dating from this time. The 8V GTI Golf 2, however, along with the Golf 1 Cabrio, hailed the return of new VW car sales, and there are now many examples from the past 13 years of manufacture available on the used car market.
The VW Golf GTi is the perfect drive for any road, at any time, in any conditions. This was a big seller throughout the second half of the past decade for good reason. Coming in three-door and five-door format, it gives plenty of poke whether on the open road or zipping around the town, with a 6-speed manual gearbox or 6-speed auto, though some owners complain that the latter is a little slow on the uptake and jittery in busy urban driving conditions. The handling is excellent, with great traction control and, for the most part, Golfs that have been looked after have stood up well to the test of time.
Power in the petrol version comes in the form of a 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo engine, giving 147kW and 280Nm of torque, delivered via front-wheel drive. At 8.1L/100km, fuel economy is fair, and in keeping with its European pedigree, the Golf has a five-star ANCAP rating for safety.
As you would expect, the TDI from the later model range fares better on fuel economy, ranging from 5.3L/100km to 7.7L/100km depending on the engine, while a newer TSI with 1.4L engine comes in around 6.5L/100km.
The VW Golf seemingly has it all looks, charm, personality, and a long list of quality kit. On a typical 2010 Trendline model, expect to find 16-inch alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes, air-conditioning with pollen filter, a whole range of front and rear airbags, MP3, power windows, and smart leather trim to gear stick, hand brake, and steering wheel.
The subcompact car market is crowded, and the Golf spans so many guises that its competition is great. Many of the Japanese and Korean models are pretenders to its throne, but as yet, none have really managed to top the Golf from its position. The earliest Golfs stack up against the Mini Cooper S for funky looks and performance.
If you are thinking about buying a used Golf but are worried about the price tag, there are others that are certainly worth consideration, such as the Getz from Hyundai, Nissan Micra, Mitubishi Colt, and Yaris from Toyota. For sporty runabouts with plenty of poke, consider the Ford Focus XR5T or Subaru WRX.