The Volkswagen Rabbit is the car that brought compact front-drive
sedans to the U.S. mainstream over 20 years ago. Since then, the economy
car market has become fiercely competitive, and VW's newest small car
offering, the Golf, is recapturing some of the territory Volkswagen lost
to the Japanese and more recently, American compacts. It does so by
marketing it as a roomy car with a small price, and lots of extras.
OUTSIDE - Look closely and you'll see a vague family resemblance
between the new Golf and the boxy Volkswagen Rabbit of 20 years ago. VW
stylists have "massaged" its rough edges and given it a tidier and a
more updated appearance by softening its angles, "raking" the windshield
and trunk lid, and extending its doors over the roof line for easier
entry. The Golf sedan's four-door hatchback design provides lots of
versatility, as it carries four adults comfortably, and it can double as
a pickup for light hauling duties with the flip of the rear seat. Full
wheelcovers and twin outside mirrors are standard equipment, as is
tinted glass, body-color bumpers and a black bodyside rub strip. Despite
its econo-car look, a small rooftop rear spoiler houses a high-mounted
stop lamp and gives the car a sporting flair.
INSIDE - Practicality is a Golf virtue, which translates to plenty
of space inside. Four full-sized adults can find a comfortable seat, and
a fifth can be seated in a pinch. Its supportive front bucket seats are
covered in stylish fabrics, accented with colorful checks - a typical VW
touch. The dashboard layout is curved and its rotary ventilation knobs
are simple to use, while soft rubber-covered nubs wrap the controls for
the outside mirrors and window cranks. The addition of a passenger-side
airbag eliminated its glovebox last year, but one has been added for
1996, and it compliments an ample number of storage cubbies scattered
about the cabin. A dash-mounted central locking system enables the
unlocking of the doors, rear hatch and windows and is new this year, as
is a standard-equipment anti-theft alarm. Other no-charge items include
an electric rear window defogger, rear wiper/washer, intermittent wipers
and a digital clock. Our test vehicle came with an optional power glass
sunroof, along with air conditioning and an AM/FM cassette stereo.
ON THE ROAD - Standard Golf power comes via a 2.0 liter inline four
cylinder engine which gives 115 horsepower and 122 lb-ft of torque.
Geared for highway driving and economy, its gentle acceleration is a
disappointment to performance aficionados, but freeway cruising is the
Golf's strong point. At highway speeds, its engine spins at low rpms,
which explains the 30-plus highway miles per gallon we achieved. Yet
with a quick downshift, there was plenty of power left for passing. The
optional four-speed automatic transmission zaps some of this response,
however, but still offers good drivability and more convenience.
Performance-minded drivers wanting more power should consider the Golf
VR6 model, which features a 172-horse V6 engine, five-speed manual
transmission and traction control as standard equipment.
BEHIND THE WHEEL - The Golf feels predictable and agile on winding
roads, and its front-wheel-drive layout works well to pull it through
corners. Its suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front,
supported by coil springs, and a beam-type rear axle, also using coil
springs. Front and rear anti-roll bars help flatten the ride during
spirited driving, although just like front-drive VW models of the past,
its inside rear wheel lifts from the pavement in tight, abrupt corners.
There is considerable body roll as well, but its power-assisted
rack-and-pinion steering is quick to respond and provides excellent road
feel. Golf's power front disc and rear drum brakes can be fitted with an
optional anti-lock braking system (ABS). Our test car was so equipped.
SAFETY - All Golf models are fitted with dual airbags, side-impact
protection (which meets 1997 Federal standards), daytime running
headlamps and emergency tensioning retractors for the front seat belts.
ABS is optional.
OPTIONS - We recommended ABS at $775, and air conditioning at $860
more. Its premium stereo system adds $485 and the sunroof is $590.