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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Mateja
January 26, 1997
We expected the Mercedes-Benz SLK to be better than it was, and the Volkswagen Golf to be worse than it was. Golf will win no beauty contests. It is, to be frank, butt ugly. This is the second attempt to get folks to forget the Beetle. First try
was the Rabbit. Now the Golf, which helps ease the pain that the Beetle is gone but doesn't erase it. Take heart because the Beetle returns within a year or two, a modern version of the old Bug with air bags and anti-lock brakes and a heater and
air conditioner and a gas gauge and . . . Hmm. Why did we like that old Bug? The new Beetle, first shown as a concept car three years ago, will be unveiled "well before 2000," VW says, which only leaves two model years. It probably will go
on the auto-show circuit just before intro, which means we might see it at the 1998 Detroit Auto Show, the site of Concept One's premier, and go on sale shortly thereafter. The new Beetle is an update of the car that put VW on the map--a
low-price, high-mileage, durable and dependable, if crude, machine. The new Beetle will be built in Mexico. Guesstimated price: $15,000 before popular options. But we digress. Golf arrived at the same time eight inches of snow did. Golf ran
in, out, around and through the snow. The worse the weather, the better Golf seemed to perform. Like the old Beetle, the more it was abused, the more it stood up to the punishment. Not a lot of flash, not a lot of dash, just a lot of confidence
that when the going got tough, the rough-looking Golf kept going. Golf was put on this planet to work, and that it did. You can't ask much more of a machine. The front-wheel-drive Golf is one of those basic cars. It came with a couple of air
bags and ABS and track-correcting independent torsion beam rear suspension. No one tossed it a thumbs-up, no one stopped to take its picture, but during a week of taking on Ma Nature, there was no slip, noslide, no wandering. Likea Timex watch and
that stupid battery-powered bunny, Golf just keeps going and going. Golf pretty well had the road to itself--along with some four-wheel-drives traveling way too fast for conditions. The 2-liter, 115-h.p. engine delivers 24 miles per gallon city/31
m.p.g. highway with its smooth-shifting 5-speed manual (22/29 with 4-speed automatic), meaning this German taxi offers great lousy-weather control and great fuel economy year-round. You might have to duck low when the much more attractive premium
luxury cars drive by, though they don't drive by all that often when eight inches of snow are on the pavement. One gripe, however. Maybe, in Germany the herrs and fraus don't worry about comfort when traveling the autobahn at 120 m.p.h., but in the
U.S. it's considered a big plus when your body can ease back into the cloth-covered cushion and relax for the 55-m.p.h. ride home. At 55 m.p.h. there's more focus on comfort
than at 120 m.p.h., because you have little time to be concerned with comfort at those speeds. And, the height-adjusting seats are a pain. We prefer that the seat go forward or backward, up or down, not forward and up and backward and down. One
move at a time please. The manual height adjustment has settings for everything but the proper and comfortable position behind the wheel. The Golf GL four-door sedan we tested starts at $13,470. Standard equipment includes dual power
mirrors, power locks, power steering, all-season tires, daytime running lamps, rear-window defroster and child safety rear door locks. Our test car added $485 for premium AM/FM stereo with cassette, $860 for air conditioning and $500 for freight.
If you choose four-speed automatic add another $875. If you want power windows you have to buy the $16,320 Golf GTi; the GL doesn't offer them.