Curtain-type airbags that protect the heads of passengers in side collisions will become standard on the Golf and GTI later in the 2001 model year. This feature gives these modestly priced cars a component usually found on more expensive vehicles.
Side-impact airbags for the front seats and antilock brakes are standard.
The Golf and the sporty GTI are hatchbacks built from the same design as the Jetta sedan, and both use the same front-drive platform and engines. All were redesigned for the 1999 model year.
The Golf gets two- and four-door styling, while the GTI comes only as a two-door. Both versions measure 163 inches long 5 inches shorter than the Ford Focus hatchback and 9 inches shorter than the Jetta sedan. Styling for both the Golf and GTI is the same as the Jettas design except at the rear, where the Jetta is longer and has a regular trunk.
The upright design allows the driver and passengers to sit more vertically than in most small cars, and there is adequate space for four adults. The cargo area behind the rear seat holds 18 cubic feet, and the rear seatbacks are split on all models and fold for additional space.
All models have standard air conditioning, power door locks, a cassette player and a manual tilt/telescoping steering column.
Under the Hood
Consumers can choose from four engines, but their availability is confusing even with a scorecard because of Volkswagens alphabet-soup nomenclature. A 115-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder is standard in the Golf GL and GLS and the GTI. A turbocharged 1.9-liter, direct-injection, four-cylinder diesel with 90 hp is optional on the Golf GL and GLS models.
A couple more-potent engines are available on the GTI: a turbocharged 150-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder and a 172-hp 2.8-liter V-6. The 1.8-liter turbo also is optional on the Golf GLS. All engines come with the choice of a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission except the V-6, which comes only with the manual.
Volkswagen is back on top in the United States, with growing sales and young buyers flocking to VW showrooms. The European heritage, functional design and fun-to-drive nature of the Golf and GTI make them versatile enough to be the only car for a couple or a small family, and cool enough to warrant consideration by kids.
The 2.0-liter gas engine has adequate zip, and the turbo and V-6 engines are energetic and entertaining. The diesel is surprisingly quiet and quick, and it delivers impressive fuel economy 42 mpg city and 49 mpg highway with the manual transmission, according to the EPA.