What's New for 1999
Volkswagen offers two generations of the Golf for sale in 1999. The third-generation Golf has been around since 1993, and it is a carryover for 1999. VW deletes the K2 model from the lineup and adds content to the upscale Wolfsburg, including cruise control, power windows (with one-touch operation) and heated power mirrors. Later in the model year, the company introduces a completely redesigned Golf with an improved version of the base inline four and an available turbodiesel four, which delivers up to 49 mpg on the highway. If you can hold out for a 2000 model, VW will offer a 150-hp 1.8-liter turbo for four-door hatchbacks.
The third- and fourth-generation Golfs are descendants of the wonder car that started the econobox trend in the U.S. more than two decades ago -- the Volkswagen Rabbit. The first Golfs were much like the Rabbit -- stubby and blocky in style, fun to drive, fuel-efficient and inexpensive to buy, but unfortunately, costly to maintain and repair. Introduced in 1993, the third-generation Golf is still chunky in appearance if a bit sleeker than its predecessors. It is fun to drive. It sips fuel, though not as frugally as it should. It is affordable. And Volkswagen has attempted to dispel reliability fears by backing it with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Through the end of the 1990s, we hadn't heard many horror stories about maintenance costs or breakdowns involving third-generation Golfs, and the overall staff consensus is that this would be a rewarding hatchback to own and drive. However, this Golf is now in its sixth year of production, so Volkswagen has seen fit to introduce the completely redesigned fourth-generation Golf halfway through the model year.
Both generations will be sold as 1999 models, but the new version is easily the better choice. Advantages include greater structural rigidity, which yields tighter body panel fits and improved handling characteristics; engine, suspension and brake upgrades; more standard equipment; and a more stylish interior (replete with VW's signature blue and red backlighting at night). Further, the redesigned Golf has a slightly longer and wider body and rides on a longer wheelbase; the result is more interior head- and legroom and another cubic foot of cargo space.
The standard engine for both Golfs is a 115-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four, but a new cross-flow cylinder head in the redesigned hatchback allows drivers to access the engine's horsepower and 122 pound-feet of torque lower in the rpm range. You can choose either a manual or automatic, though fuel economy is nothing to write home about with either transmission (24 mpg city/31 mpg highway versus 22/28). Instead, long-distance commuters will want to check out the new Golf's available 1.9-liter turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel four-cylinder, which is rated at 42/49 with a manual and 34/45 with an automatic. Although the TDI is low on horsepower, its 155 lb-ft of torque at just 1,900 rpm will ensure that your Golf has plenty of pep for quick maneuvers. If you want more power with your Golf, just wait until the 2000 model year when VW offers its 150-hp 1.8T engine for the four-door Golf.
Trim levels for the third-generation Golf include the base GL and the well-equipped Wolfsburg; both are sold only as four-doors. The GL comes with keyless entry, an anti-theft alarm, and power windows and locks; options include air conditioning, a stereo with cassette player, ABS, side airbags and a moonroof. The Wolfsburg gives you the A/C and the cassette stereo, along with cruise control, power windows (with one-touch up/down operation), heated power mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and alloy wheels; you can order a CD changer as an option.
Fourth-generation Golf buyers can choose between GL and GLS trim; both engines are available at either level. Right away, you'll note that VW has substantially increased the amount of standard equipment, as even the GL includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes, side airbags and a telescoping steering wheel, as well as A/C and a stereo. The GLS adds heated power mirrors and cruise, with a moonroof, CD changer and alloy wheels available as options.
Though engineered to provide a comfortable ride, both Golfs are endowed with communicative suspension and steering setups, which makes them more fun in corners than your typical Honda Civic. Besides that, the fourth-generation Golf gives you a lot more style and content than you could ever hope to find in the Civic. What the VW doesn't give you is Honda's reputation for dependability, but we've been impressed by the solid construction of the Golf specimens we've examined recently -- enough so that we feel that most Golfs can provide years of entertaining service.