We look back at the history of Volkswagen's popular hatchback as it celebrates its 40th birthday
28 March 2014

The Volkswagen Golf has become a reference point in the hatchback world, a design which, like the Porsche 911, has evolved immeasurably over time whilst still retaining the essential character of the original.

Named after the Golfstrom, the German for gulfstream, the Mk1 Golf first appeared in 1974, when the hatchback genre itself was in its infancy. The Golf was arguably the car that turned the sector into the colossal market it is today. Now, 40 years and over 30 million sales later, we’ve arrived at the Golf Mk7.

Designed as a front-engined, front-wheel drive replacement for the Beetle, the Golf’s crisp lines were penned by famed designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. So instant was its success that by October 1976 the one millionth Golf had already rolled off the production line.

The Golf was a neat and efficient family car, but thanks to the efforts of a small group of enthusiastic VW engineers it became a bone fide performance car too. An after-hours project for a ‘Sport Golf’ grew into the Golf GTI, released in the late 1970s and kicking off the hot hatch boom which continues to this day.

Giugiaro’s design was sympathetically updated by VW’s in-house design team for the longer and wider Mk2 Golf, which arrived in 1983. It went on to sell 6.3 million units before the arrival of the all-new Mk3 at the end of 1991.

It scooped the 1992 European Car of the Year award after the Mk2 Golf had previously lost out to the Peugeot 205 and Fiat Uno. The plusher and more expensive Mk4 appeared in 1997, continuing the soft-edged styling theme with even smoother, rounder design language. The larger and faster Mk5 came along in 2003, subtly updated for the Mk6 in 2008.

There have been estate and drop-top versions too, the Golf Cabriolet and its distinctive basket-handle rollover bar (engineered out on the Mk6 Cabrio) originally being built by Karmann on a dedicated line.

Countless special editions have been released, with early ones some of the most sought-after by the Golf's legion of hardcore fans. Models like the Mk2 Rallye, which combined VW's supercharged G60 engine with its Syncro four-wheel drive system and the jacked-up soft-roader Golf Country are hugely collectable.

Even later models, such as the Mk4 20th Anniversary Edition and the later Edition 30 and Edition 35 command huge premiums, such is the regard that the Golf's followers hold them. More recently, the introduction of the new Mk7 GTI and Golf R looks certain to ensure that the popularity of high-performance Volkswagens continues.

“One of the keys to the Golf’s success lies in its continuity, says Walter de Silva, VW’s Head of Design. “There are a handful of cars with a design that, like the Golf’s, has been refined, tweaked and enhanced down the decades and thus become timeless.”

Read more Volkswagen reviews.

James Taylor

Our Verdict

Volkswagen Golf

Just how good is the mighty Volkswagen Golf, Europe's best selling car that's now in its seventh generation?

Join the debate

Comments
4

28 March 2014
1>2>6>7>5>3>4

I hope when the mk8 comes out VW don't increase the size any further, maybe even reduce, yet keep inside space on par with the 7. The perfect proportions of the mk1 have slowly been lost through the years.

rxl

28 March 2014
I stop seeing pictures from the MK 4 onwards, because all look the lame, sorry,same! :D

28 March 2014
A bit disappointed with the current styling but beyond a doubt Golf has become a legend. However must add that the styling has been going downhill since the MK1. With every ensuing generation it got worse until now. The current car - in isolation - is not a bad looking effort. However once you see it in line with its predecessors then it becomes unbearably boring.

30 March 2014
I disagree with the article when it says 911 design evolved. Over the years the design for the 911s remained same and unless you are an expert who is subjected to the 911s you will not be able to spot the difference, all look the same.
While the design for golf from the beginning is refreshing and every change it came with always had a tinge of freshness.

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • McLaren 720S
    Car review
    26 May 2017
    This is the first of McLaren’s new generation of cars — and what a way to begin it is
  • Suzuki Swift
    Car review
    26 May 2017
    Suzuki’s best-selling supermini returns in a new guise and with mild hybrid tech
  • Renault Captur
    First Drive
    22 May 2017
    Renault's big-selling compact crossover gets a mild cosmetic facelift
  • First Drive
    22 May 2017
    The hardcore track-focused Performante has active aerodynamics and more power than the standard Huracán - so, does it unlock the supercar's full potential?
  • Abarth 595 Trofeo review
    First Drive
    19 May 2017
    The 158bhp, 169lb ft 1.4 T-Jet Turbo engine delivers sudden bursts of urgent, energetic driving - but can it be too much sometimes?