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New Car Review


by Tom Hagin

Golf Photo

SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 13,150
     Price As Tested                                    $ 16,435
     Engine Type                             2.0 liter I4 w/MPI*
     Engine Size                                 121 cid/1984 cc
     Horsepower                                   115 @ 5400 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               122 @ 3200 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                    97.4"/66.7"/160.5
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     2529 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  14.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P185/60R14
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/drum-ABS
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            23/30/28
     0-60 MPH                                       10.1 seconds
     1/4 mile (E.T.)                       17.3 seconds @ 79 mph
     Top Speed (Est.)                                    118 mph
     * Multiport fuel injection

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.