Volkswagen almost abandoned the U.S. a few years ago. It's good that it didn't; we'd miss its newest offerings, the 1999 Golf, Jetta, Cabrio, and EuroVan. And don't forget the New Beetle.
The fourth-generation Golf and its GTI and Cabrio derivatives are completely new cars, as is the Jetta. Unlike previous Jettas, the new version is far more than a "Golf with a trunk." The EuroVan makes a comeback. The New Beetle, introduced in early 1998, is still turning heads and will soon have a new high-performance engine. The current Passat, introduced a mere year ago, is now the oldest vehicle in the Volkswagen lineup. It has important new features for its second year.
Golf, GTI, and Cabrio
The Volkswagen Golf has been the most popular car in its class in Europe for over two decades. Its status here has never been quite that good, but the newest version will certainly help. It has been on sale in Europe for the past year, and provides the underpinnings for the New Beetle. The styling of the 1999 Golf and its derivatives, the Cabrio and GTI, is an evolutionary development of the style of the previous generation, but leaner and more graceful with a very contemporary headlight treatment. Interiors of all are very well- equipped, with features rarely found in their class, including seat- mounted side air bags.
The Golf is available in two-door GL and four-door GLS body styles. Power is from the same 2.0-liter, 115-hp overhead-cam four- cylinder engine found in the New Beetle. A torquey, frugal, and quiet 1.9-liter turbo direct injection (TDI) diesel with 90 horsepower will be available soon.
Two models of the two-door GTI are offered this year. The GLS has the same 115-hp engine as the regular Golf, while the VR6 GLX uses Volkswagen's unusual 2.8-liter, 174-hp narrow-angle V6 engine. The VR6 engine has been extensively enhanced for better torque and power characteristics.
The ever-popular Cabrio also comes in two models, a value- priced GL and premium GLS. Both have the 115-hp engine. A fixed roll bar, integrated with the body styling, is a standard feature of all Cabrios.
Until now, the Volkswagen Jetta sedan has been a Golf with a trunk. No more. The 1999 Jetta has its own distinct style and identity, placing it squarely between the smaller Golf and larger Passat. Three trim levels are available, GL, GLS, and GLX. The 115-hp four- cylinder engine is standard in the GL and GLS. The 174-hp VR6 powers the GLX and is offered for the first time in the GLS. The fuel- miserly but powerful TDI diesel will soon be available.
The New Beetle (that is the official name) has succeeded beyond VW's wildest expectations. It was first available in the U.S. early in 1998, with European availability later. There are waiting lists around the world, so it would be easy for Volkswagen to leave it alone for 1999.
That's not the way the company works. As the original Beetle looked the same outside but was updated under its skin, so it goes with the New Beetle. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes and many interior enhancements are standard on all 1999 Beetles. A new, upgraded GLS trim level is offered. In early 1999, Beetles will be available with a 150-hp, dual-overhead-cam, 20-valve 1.8-liter turbocharged four- cylinder engine in addition to the current 115-hp gasoline and 90-hp TDI diesel engines. 150 horsepower in a Beetle? Wow!
Remember 36-hp VW Microbuses? They're only a memory. The 1999 VW EuroVan is considerably larger, and is a front-engined, front-wheel-drive vehicle powered by a 140-hp version of Volkswagen's 2.8-liter VR6 engine. Hills should pose no problem.
Three versions are offered, regular-wheelbase the GLS and MultiVan (MV) , and the long-wheelbase Camper. An optional "Weekender" package for the MV has many of the features of the Camper, including the pop-up roof and two-person bed.
The Passat was last year's new star at Volkswagen, and is now the company's oldest model. So, of course, there are plenty of new features available on 1999 Passats. During the 1998 calendar year, the original GLS sedan was joined by a wagon, and a 190-hp, 2.8-liter V6 became available in addition to the original 150-hp, 1.8-liter turbo four. New for 1999 is the Passat GLX, a premium-level, V6-powered, sedan. Both engines are matched to a five-speed manual gearbox or an optional four-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission with the Porsche-developed "Tiptronic" manual shifting system.