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Fun to drive. Chunky but distinctive styling. Seat comfort. Rare four-door hatchback. Great powertrain warranty. Free scheduled maintenance for two years or 24,000 miles.
Engine spunky, but needs a few more ponies.
Available Golf Hatchback Models
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The Trek and Jazz models disappear for 1998, but the winter-enthusiast K2 model sticks around. Late in the model year, Volkswagen offers the upscale Wolfsburg Edition, which comes standard with sport seats; upgraded velour upholstery; silver/white-faced gauges; leather-wrapped steering wheel, hand brake and shift knob; the eight-speaker sound system with cassette player; air conditioning; a power moonroof; a cargo net; alloy wheels; a chrome exhaust tip and a roof-mounted antenna. And you can option the Wolfsburg with useful features like cruise control, power windows with one-touch operation and heated power mirrors. All Golfs get keyless entry, and side-impact airbags are now optional across the line. The four-speed automatic gets a new shift logic pattern, which should enhance shift timing.
The Golf is the descendant of the wondercar that started the econobox trend in the U.S. In 1975, Volkswagen introduced the Rabbit to Americans (elsewhere, this car was known as the Golf). Stubby and blocky in style, the Rabbit was inexpensive, fun to drive, and sipped fuel. Unfortunately, it also broke down, rusted quickly, and cost more than most were willing to pay to maintain. A switch to production in the United States doomed the Rabbit, and VW finally replaced it with an all-new hatchback -- this time bearing the Golf name -- in 1985.
The Golf was similarly stubby and blocky in style, inexpensive, fun to drive and sipped fuel. It too broke, rusted and cost extra to maintain. VW aficionados swore by them, though, claiming that once you found a mechanic who could fix one properly, VW ownership was like a cool club that only the automotively astute wanted to join.
Great for aficionados, but Volkswagen needed a broader customer base to keep afloat in the States. The third-generation Golf is stubby and blocky in style. It is fun to drive. It sips fuel, though not as frugally as it should. It is affordable. It is also supposed to dispel reliability fears by offering a 10 year/100,000 mile warranty on the powertrain, which VW advertises heavily. Since its arrival in 1993, we haven't heard any horror stories about maintenance costs, breakdowns or rust, so maybe this Golf will do the trick for Volkswagen.
Then again, VW must contend with a U.S. market that historically, at least, has dismissed hatchbacks as bargain-basement, "I couldn't afford a sedan" vehicles. However, Volkswagen sales have been on the upswing since the car was introduced, and VW management has begun to pay closer attention to the desires of American consumers.
For 1998, Volkswagen is offering the four-door Golf hatchback in GL, K2 and Wolfsburg trim. All are powered by the familiar 2.0-liter inline four that manages 115 horsepower and 122 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm. A five-speed manual is standard, and a four-speed automatic is optional. Fuel economy isn't great for an economy car -- the Golf is rated at 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway with a manual and 22/28 with an automatic.
Standard features in the Golf GL include dual front airbags, power locks, keyless entry, an alarm system, height adjustable seatbelts, 14-inch wheels, a 60/40-split folding rear seat (yielding 41 cubic feet of cargo space) and a rear window wiper and defroster. New this year are a glovebox, retractor locking seatbelts (so you can get your kids' car seats snugged down more securely) and a central locking switch. Features that most people are sure to want, like air conditioning, a stereo with a cassette player (and eight speakers) and antilock brakes, are all on the options list, along with luxuries like a power moonroof and a CD changer. Side-impact airbags for front occupants are a new option for 1998.
The better equipped K2 appeals to winter enthusiasts and offers the buyer the choice of skis or a snowboard; a roof rack to carry said gear; heated front seats, windshield washer nozzles and exterior mirrors; special cloth upholstery; silver/white-faced gauges, the eight-speaker cassette stereo and a flexible roof antenna. The K2 is eligible for all of the remaining Golf GL options, except antilock brakes -- we've never understood the wisdom behind this decision.
The Wolfsburg is a new trim level for 1998, and it is the most upscale of the three. Standard features include bolstered sport seats; upgraded velour upholstery; silver/white-faced gauges; leather-wrapped steering wheel, hand brake and shift knob; the eight-speaker sound system with cassette player; air conditioning; a power moonroof; a cargo net; alloy wheels; a chrome exhaust tip and a roof-mounted antenna. You can get cruise control, power windows (with one-touch operation and pinch protection) and heated power mirrors as options.
Regardless of which trim level you choose, our experience has shown that the Golf would be a rewarding car to own and drive. Though not particularly speedy, it keeps up in traffic with no problem and feels stable at highway speeds. Unlike most economy cars, the Golf's suspension and steering communicate with the driver, and even in the guise of a four-door hatchback with seating for five and 17 cubic feet of luggage capacity (with the rear seats in use), it could actually be called fun to drive. Certainly, the Golf lacks the stellar reliability record of competitors like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, but for those seeking a bit more individuality and fun in an economy car, it might be worth the risk.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.