In March 1974, the first production Volkswagen Golf rolled out of the factory. The new hatchback, penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro, was designed as a successor to the fabled and frugal Beetle – and, thanks in part to its modern design and styling, it would go on to prove a terrific success.
The introduction of the now-legendary GTI in 1976 would further solidify the VW’s position in the history books, and establish yet another nameplate that would enjoy immense popularity for decades to come. The sales were coming thick and fast, regardless; by the end of 1976, over one million Golfs had already found homes.
Now that we are on to the eighth-generation Golf, more than 35 million have been built in total. Not all generations of the practical VW have been alike, however, with each often adding new features and functionality to improve upon the capabilities of the long-running model. Read on for our rundown of every generation of Volkswagen Golf.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF MK1: THE FIRST GENERATION (1974-1983)
The first generation of Golf marked a significant departure from the preceding Beetle. It adopted a front-engined, front-wheel-drive layout – a modern and safer set-up at the time – and features such as the rear hatch boosted its practicality tremendously. Its fresh and sharp exterior design also made it far more appealing to buyers, while also serving up benefits such as excellent all-round visibility.
Diesel variants were soon offered, widening the appeal of the new Volkswagen, and the introduction of the Cabriolet, Caddy Van and now-legendary GTI hot hatch ramped up the Golf’s popularity even further. By February 1982, over five million had been built – and when production was phased out in 1983, almost seven million had made it on to the roads.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF MK2: THE SECOND GENERATION (1983-1991)
Aside from making the Mk2 Golf larger, to improve interior space, Volkswagen also sought to deliver a vehicle packing a wide range of modern technologies – which would help it meet ever-shifting customer demands, as well as increasing efficiency and safety concerns.
Consequently, the launch of the second-generation Golf marked the introduction of features such as power steering, anti-lock brakes, all-wheel drive, four-valve cylinder heads, supercharging and catalytic converters. Electric and hybrid powertrains were experimented with, too, as Volkswagen explored what the automotive future might look like. By the end of 1990, more than 12 million Golfs – including one million GTIs – had been built in total. When production of the second generation drew to a close in 1991, a total of 6.3 million had been assembled.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF MK3: THE THIRD GENERATION (1991-1997)
The third-generation Golf built upon the technical benchmark established by its predecessor by introducing safety-related technologies such as front airbags. These, which arrived in 1992, were later joined by side airbags in 1996. Other advancements included the use of environmentally friendly water-soluble paints and, later in its life, the use of laser welding in the construction of the car’s shell.
There was good news for those seeking a more upmarket and relaxed experience, too, as the launch of the Mk3 Golf also marked the introduction of the VR6-engined variant. This muscular compact hatch was ideal for those who wanted high performance and luxury in a car with a small footprint. The first estate variant of the Golf was also launched in 1993, widening the car’s appeal to those with families or hobbies. In the end, some 4.8 million were built.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF MK4: THE FOURTH GENERATION (1997-2003)
If you’re looking to buy a used Golf that’ll run and run, make a beeline for the Mk4. Besides being the first fully galvanised Golf, which helped stave off corrosion, it had a particularly high-quality body and durable engines – including turbocharged four-cylinder petrols and diesels, as well as the petrol 3.2-litre VR6 in the new flagship R32 derivative.
This generation was also offered with technology such as satellite navigation, in 1997, and electronic stability control in 1999. A six-speed manual gearbox was offered, too, and the launch of the R32 in 2002 heralded the arrival of the first production dual-clutch transmission. When all was said and done, almost five million Mk4 Golfs had been built.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF MK5: THE FIFTH GENERATION (2003-2008)
For many, the Mk5 Golf was the high point in the model’s history. Laser welding was employed in the fabrication of its underbody, roof and side panels, which helped make it far stiffer; this, in conjunction with a new four-link rear suspension set-up, made it far better to drive. Power outputs also continued to climb, as did the list of available technology – which now included bi-xenon headlights and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.
Volkswagen continued to introduce new body styles, too, such as the Golf Plus in 2006. This larger Golf offered more interior space, making it more appealing to those with families. Not long after, the total count for Golfs produced since 1974 climbed past 25 million. In 2008, when the Mk5 Golf was withdrawn, a total of 3.4 million had been built.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF MK6: THE SIXTH GENERATION (2008-2012)
The more sharply styled sixth-generation Golf was a relatively short-lived model on paper, in part because it was effectively a heavily reworked fifth-generation Golf. That, however, didn’t stop it from garnering plenty of attention – and, in 2009, it was awarded the prestigious World Car of the Year award.
One of the contributing factors in its success was the high degree of safety offered, which helped it attain a maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash testing. This generation of Golf also packed a wide range of hi-tech features, including an energy recovery system, LED tail lights and hill start assist; the net result was a car that was much more refined, safer, easier to drive and more comfortable. Enthusiasts’ needs were sated by models such as the Golf R and GTI, too. However, the shortened production run meant that a comparatively low 2.95 million were built.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF MK7: THE SEVENTH GENERATION (2012-2020)
Efficiency was the name of the game for the Mk7 Golf. Fortunately, the introduction of the new MQB platform reportedly helped reduce its kerb weight by some 100kg compared with its predecessor – which, coupled with more economical engines, reduced its emissions and fuel use. Volkswagen claimed heady reductions in consumption of up to 23 per cent, so its efforts were evidently not in vain.
A range of advanced features, including an automated emergency braking system for city driving and adaptive cruise control, were also made available. The highly regarded and eminently tunable R variant of the seventh-generation Golf was also launched in 2013 and quickly established a new benchmark for hot hatch performance. In total, around six million Mk7 Golfs were built.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF MK8: THE EIGHTH GENERATION (2020-)
The Mk8 Golf is, as was the case with the Mk6, an evolution of its predecessor. It uses effectively the same MQB platform but its revamped exterior styling offers reduced drag, fractionally aiding its efficiency, refinement and performance. A variety of hybrid powertrains are offered, too, helping deliver improved efficiency compared with the Mk7.
The other major highlight of the new generation is the wide array of advanced safety, driver assistance and media technologies which are now available; lane assistance, all-LED lights, a digital instrument panel, natural voice control and more make the new Golf even easier to live with and more appealing to a modern audience. As a result, the Mk8 will no doubt continue to build upon the success of the earlier models – and contribute in earnest to raising the current total of 35 million Golfs that have been built.
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