It’s now 20 years since the first Golf Mk4 was registered in the UK, and to mark the occasion Steve reviews whether or not the fourth generation Golf could be considered a future classic?
The fourth generation Golf was introduced to the UK in mid-1998 to replace the aging mk3 model and was available in 3 or 5 door hatchback, estate or cabriolet even though the latter was just a facelifted Mk3 Golf convertible which naturally confused buyers. The Mk4 Golf brought with it various improvements over the outgoing model as it was both longer and wider than the previous model as well as being taller which all improved the cabin space. One key improvement over the mk3 variant was the fact the mk4 Golf body shell was galvanised to prevent against rust and backed up with a 12 year perforation warranty. This was a big thing as the mk3 became notorious for rust, so much so it equally matched with the Ford Escort and Ford Ka on the amount of rust issues that developed.
Another major advantage of the Mk4 Golf was that it achieved 4* on the Euro NCAP crash tests which was due to the array of airbags installed which were fitted for the front driver, passenger and in the sides of the front seats. To further safety the golf was one of the first cars to be fitted with Isofix child seat restraint system which was developed in collaboration between Volkswagen and Britax. In addition, the Mk4 Golf was fitted with both anti-lock braking systems and Electronic Stability Program to further improve the safety of the vehicle.
As previously mentioned the Golf was available in 3 door hatchback, 5 door hatchback, 5 door estate and cabriolet. The latter confused buyers, as unlike all the other models available in the golf range the cabriolet was just a facelifted mk3 Golf cabriolet. As such, it retained the Mk3 body shell and interior but gained the Mk4 front end and steering wheel.
In the UK the Golf was available in various trim levels and catered for most budgets. These specifications include:
E was the entry level Golf and was fitted with wind up windows, Beta tape cassette, split folding seats, wheel trims and height/reach adjustable steering wheel. Engine options included a 1.4 petrol producing 75bhp or a 1.9 diesel engine producing 68bhp.
S had all the features of the E model but gained electric front windows, electric mirrors, sunroof and central locking. Engine options were the same as for the E model but buyers had the additional option of a 105bhp 1.6 petrol engine or 1.9TDI diesel which produced 90bhp and replaced the E models 68bhp unit. The S spec was also available with a 4 speed automatic gearbox as well as the manual.
SE spec added quite a lot of features over the S spec, such as; electric windows front and rear, manual air conditioning, CD player with 8 speakers, multi-function computer, remote control alarm system and armrest built into the rear seat. The SE had the 1.6 petrol and 1.9tdi engines which were available on the S spec along with the option of manual or automatic gearbox.
GTI is the spec level everyone remembers and one of the most common but is separated into two categories. The GTI spec got all the features of SE but added sports seats, leather trimmed steering wheel as well as having 15” alloy wheels and smoked rear lights. This version of GTI was offered with either a 2.0 115bhp petrol engine, 1.9tdi engine with 110bhp and fitted with a 5 speed manual gearbox or the 1.9tdi PD engine with 115bhp and fitted with a 6 speed manual gearbox. The latter was also known as the GT TDI.
GTI 1.8T was a model in its own right as it boasted many extras above the standard GTI which included sports seats with built in lumbar support, leather trimmed steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake handle and 16” alloy wheels. It will come as no surprise that this model of GTI was offered only with a 1.8 turbo petrol engine which produced 150bhp and a 0-62mpg in 8.5 seconds.
GTI Anniversary was launched to mark the 25th anniversary of the Golf GTI being on sale. It had all the features of the normal GTI 1.8T but gained a body kit, 18” alloy wheels, Recaro front seats, brushed aluminium golf ball gear knob, dash/door card inserts, sports pedals, red trimmed seatbelts plus special floor mats. Only 1800 Anniversary Golfs were produced, each having a numbered plate in the cabin. When new the price of a GTI Anniversary was £18,660 which was £2,075 more expensive over the normal GTI 1.8T. Picture below shows the GTI Anniversary model.
V5 was the next level up in luxury and included great features such as climate air conditioning, 6 CD auto changer, rain sensing wipers, automatic dimming interior mirror and 16” alloy wheels. Predictably the V5 model was fitted with a V5 petrol engine which produced 170bhp.
V6 4 motion was the top spec Golf (excluding the R32 which we won’t be covering in this article) and came with all the features of the V5 model but added Sat Nav, heated leather seats, chrome exhaust tips, wood dash and door card inserts and wood effect gear knob. This specification was equipped with a 204bhp v6 petrol engine and aided with 4 wheel drive. Below is a picture of the V6 4 motion.
Please note we have not covered R32 models in this article as we feel it deserves an article in its own right.
Driving the mk4 Golf
The Golf I have on test is a 2001 five door GT TDI with the 1.9 115bhp PD diesel engine and fitted with the 6 speed manual gearbox which has covered 116,000 miles. Sliding into the black leather seats it’s clear that the interior is well laid out and the seat/steering wheel has good adjustment. Furthermore, despite the age of this Golf the interior has worn well the exception being the door pulls, ashtray cover and electric window plastic surrounds which have suffered from the common lacquer peel on the plastics. It is also apparent that all interior features work, such as the electric windows and air conditioning and shows the car has aged well. In addition, there is a good level of leg room for both front and rear passengers and the boot can hold 330 litres of luggage.
Turning the key and the 1.9tdi engine bursts into life, with a gruff tone which is synonymous with these engines, but on pulling away it has more than enough grunt to cope with day to day activities. The 6 speed gearbox on this car is smooth and having the 6th gear does help quieten the engine on the motorway, as well as increasing the fuel economy but the clutch is slightly heavy compared to more modern vehicles.
The ride on this particular Golf is good and it absorbs the bumps well, whilst precise steering makes the Golf a doddle to park and provides reassuring characteristics when on country roads. Road and wind noise is kept to a minimum, and the main noise noticeable is the engine. The brakes are also very good on this car, and brought the car to a stop in a safe and controlled manner.
Moving onto a more awkward topic, the Golf Mk4 got a lot of complaints from owners with regard to electrical gremlins, turbo issues on diesel models and rust issues on the front wings. Speaking to the owners of this particular car it’s clear that the car hasn’t really suffered from any electrical problems other than with the remote central locking. Furthermore this Golf is now on its 3rd turbo, the first one giving up whilst the car was in warranty. With regard to the last issue, it’s obvious that this golf has been well cared for by its owner and has only started getting rust through on the passenger side front wing. The rust on the front wings was a common issue of VAG cars from this era, and was caused by the Volkswagen group installing foam inserts between the wing and wheel arch liner. Over time this foam absorbs water, and thus causes the wing to rust from the inside out. Its an issue that affects the Mk4 Golf, Bora, Passat, A4, A6 and certain Seat models.
The Motorists Guide View:
Despite the fourth generation Golf entering its 20th year on British Roads, I feel it’s a design that has aged well and well cared for examples will surely increase in value as time goes on. Furthermore the Mk4 Golf has had a lot of negative press but I feel it isn’t completely justified. Let’s face it, the more modern Golfs are suffering from the emissions scandal which this Golf can hold its head up high and claim to be one of the last trust worthy Volkswagen products. I feel the models which will be most desirable in the future include the V6 4 motion, V5 and GTI anniversary models. The latter, bringing exclusivity being a limited production run. If you are considering a Golf Mk4 my advice would be to try and find one with a full service history and try and buy unmodified examples as sporty Golfs in standard form will inevitably be worth more in the long term. Especially, when you compare it to the likes of the Mk1, Mk2 and even the Mk3 Golf GTi models.
So will the Mk4 Golf become a future classic?
Only time will tell, but just like the Mini, the VW Beetle, Citroen 2CV and Ford Escort the Golf is a clear favourite with the motoring public and is a cult car for sure. As sure I feel confident that the Mk4 Golf will become a classic, just not yet.
Curb weight: 1238kg