2006 Volkswagen Golf

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2000 Volkswagen Golf

This 2000 review is representative of model years 1999 to 2006.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.5
Pros:
  • Refined feel, especially for a hatchback
  • Turbocharged gas engine adds new personality
  • Sizable, flexible cargo room
Cons:
  • Not exactly entry-level pricing
  • Audible exterior and wind noise
  • Tight back seat for three

The Golf is a rare small car. It's a hatchback with the premium feel of a higher-priced European car, and its engine choices can appeal to both fuel-conscious drivers as well as performance-oriented drivers.

Small hatchback cars never stopped being stylish with Europeans, who contend with crammed roads and tiny parking spots every day.

But here in the more spread-out States, hatchbacks sort of lost their appeal for all but the most budget-strapped Americans after the early 1980s. Maybe it was the fact the old hatchbacks had names like Pinto, Vega, Gremlin and Nova and were hardly cars you'd want to remember. Maybe it stems from the oil shocks and rising gas prices of the 1970s and early 1980s which forced us to drive more fuel-thrifty cars that were, in many cases, small hatchbacks.

In any event, many auto industry officials today say Americans tend to equate "hatchback" with "cheap." And this makes the Volkswagen Golf an anomaly.

Golf gaining sales
Sales of the 5-door, compact Golf and its sibling 3-door GTI rose in the United States in calendar 1999 for the first time since the mid 1990s and totaled nearly 19,000. And officials at Volkswagen of America Inc. are projecting a 21 percent increase in U.S. sales of their VW Golf and GTI hatchbacks in the 2000 model year.

"The Golf is the ultimate hatchback," said Dave Huyett, head of VW of America marketing. "It's the only hatchback with the premium feel of a much higher-priced European car."

Newfound power
VW expects a new engine to help boost the Golf's performance and image. The 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine—called the 1.8T—is also used as the standard engine in the bigger VW Passat and Audi A4.

In the Golf, it "will have an appeal for driving enthusiasts," promised Stefan Krebsfanger, VW product strategy manager.

Indeed, the new, 1.8-liter turbocharged 20-valve double overhead cam in-line 4-cylinder in the test Golf GLS 1.8T model got the 2,900-pound car moving quickly. There was a strong pull right from a standstill that set me back in the seat. The surge didn't fall off quickly, either, since the engine has a long, flat torque curve that runs from 1750 to 4200 revolutions per minute. Maximum torque is 155 lb-ft.

The output comes on so cleanly, so smoothly, I suspect many drivers won't bother differentiating that this is a turbocharged engine, not a naturally aspirated one.

VW officials describe the performance as something akin to what you'd get in 6-cylinder car. Indeed, in the test drive, I zipped around city streets, making a real effort to stay within the speed limit. In passing moves on the highway, the Golf didn't behave at all as if it only had four cylinders under the hood. I sprinted by folks easily.

VW boasts that it takes just 8.2 seconds to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in the Golf GLS 1.8T with manual transmission.

Engine revs
Riders, however, notice the high rev sounds that accompany this performance. It's similar to what you get with high-revving Honda and Toyota four cylinders with variable valve timing technology.

Here, VW uses its 5-valves-per-cylinder technology to maximize engine performance. Three of the valves are for intake and two for exhaust.

Transmissions geared for fun
The Golf's 5-speed manual isn't as precise in its feel as I'd like. But even the Golf's 4-speed automatic is geared so it doesn't sap the engine performance.

The new engine is the third offered for the Golf. The others are the base 2.0-liter 115-horsepower four and a 1.9-liter 90-horsepower turbodiesel four.

It's worth noting that the turbodiesel helps qualify the 2000 Golf as one of the most fuel-efficient compact cars on the market, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Its 42 miles per gallon in the city and 49 mpg on the highway tops the Toyota ECHO in the compact class.

Premium handling
But engines aren't the only noteworthy features of the Golf. This hatchback has the road feel of a downsized German touring car. The front-wheel-drive 5-door test car traversed curvy mountain roads with confidence and stuck to its line even in gutsy maneuvers. Body lean is minimized.

I especially noticed, however, how forgiving the Golf's suspension is. You might expect a car tuned for "driving enthusiasts" to be overly firm—harsh even. But the Golf's front independent MacPherson strut and rear torsion beam axle configuration soaked up many of the sizable road bumps, and it did it with no fuss. Yet, the car felt well planted at all times.

As a result, a 2-hour, nonstop drive on highways, in mountains and in the suburbs left me energized, not fatigued. I wanted to go on, in fact, and was disappointed that my trip was over.

Bigger tires
The Golf's power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering also responded quickly to driver commands.

Note that standard tires and wheels in the Golf are 15-inchers while some other small-car competitors such as the Toyota Corolla and ECHO come with standard 14-inch tires.

Note, too, that front and rear brakes in the Golf are the more expensive discs, and an anti-lock braking system (ABS) is standard on all models. Competitors such as the Dodge Neon, Toyota ECHO, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus use standard rear drums and don't necessarily include ABS as a standard feature.

Supportive, adjustable driver seat
The Golf interior has VW's firm seats that provide good support on long trips.

And those of us who are of short stature are likely to find the Golf one of the most accommodating cars for us. It comes standard with a height-adjustable driver seat. It operates via a lever that you just sort of crank. A steering wheel that not only adjusts up and down but also telescopes out and back is standard. And the dead pedal that helps you brace yourself in aggressive driving is well positioned, even for shorter drivers.

Watch those cupholders
But I kept bumping my hand into the high-mounted dual cupholder in the center of the dashboard. I also noticed quite a bit of wind noise at highway speed.

I enjoyed the one-touch, power up and down side windows for the front seats. But three adults in back sit very closely.

The instrument cluster's lighting at night is the eye-catching, cool blue that's in the VW New Beetle.

And the cargo space is substantial, thanks to the hatchback design. A full 18 cubic feet of storage is available, when the rear seats are folded down. This is more than the 12.1 cubic feet in the Corolla and the 13.6 cubic feet in the ECHO and just shy of the 18.5 cubic feet in the Focus hatchback.

A number of safety items
Side airbags are standard in all Golfs. They're optional on the Focus and Corolla and not even offered in the Neon and ECHO.

In addition, VW has 3-point shoulder belts at every one of the five seat positions in the car, even in the middle of the back seat. Each passenger also gets a height-adjustable and lockable head restraint, too. There are no rear-seat head restraints in the Focus hatchback.

Not the lowest in price
The Golf doesn't come cheaply, however. Krebsfanger said the car offers 6-cylinder performance "at an affordable price." But it's still more than the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of many small-car competitors.

VW officials acknowledged at a press conference that they have moved upstream in recent years and may have moved out of the price range of some first-time buyers. As a result, at the start of calendar 2000 the automaker was re-launching its 5-year-old program that offers manufacturer warranties on certain used models.

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BB01 - 9/19/2014 9:04:33 AM