Nearly 40 Years and 30 Million Volkswagen Golfs Later

Four Decades of the Volkswagen Golf

The first Volkswagen Golf was introduced in early 1974, a replacement model for the iconic VW Beetle. This subcompact front-wheel drive model has also been sold as the Volkswagen Rabbit and is now in its seventh generation. Last week, Volkswagen hit the 30 million unit threshold mark when a Golf TDI BlueMotion model rolled off of a Wolfsburg, Germany, assembly line. Fittingly, it is also the most fuel efficient Golf ever built, rated at 73.5 mpg on the European cycle.

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Car of the Year

The Volkswagen Golf has won numerous awards including the Car of the Year 2013 award at the New York International Auto Show. That 2015 model goes on sale in 2014 stateside, a model already available in Europe.

Volkswagen has done some name shuffling with the Golf, calling it initially the Rabbit in the United States and Canada before using the Golf name universally beginning with the second-generation model. Curiously, VW marketers resurrected the Rabbit name for the fifth generation model, a name that was once again reserved exclusively for Canada and the United States. Beginning with the 2010 model year, Golf was again the global name for this hot seller.

Volkswagen GolfTransitioning from the Beetle to the Golf meant changing everything about Volkswagen’s smallest car. The engine was moved from the back to the front and front-wheel drive replaced rear-wheel drive. Designed by Giorgio Giugiaro, the boxy Golf was often copied and set the tone for entry-level vehicles of that era. Indeed, the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon were closely aligned, but larger than the Golf and initially powered by Volkswagen engines. Mazda, Chevrolet and Ford were among the manufacturers that produced similar-styled models, but none could match the success of the Golf.

Gasoline and Diesel

Early on, Volkswagen sold both gasoline and diesel models, the latter achieving upwards of 50 mpg on the highway. This writer can personally attest to that feat, having owned a 1978 Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel in the mid-1980s. That model was smokey, smelly, slow as molasses and rusty. Still, if mpg mattered to you it was a winner. I traded it in a year later for a new Ford Escort.

Volkswagen has used Golf to introduce technologies that were either new to the brand or considered revolutionary at the time. In 1984, models were outfitted with computer-controlled catalytic converters and in 1986 anti-lock brakes were first deployed. All-wheel drive was introduced for the European market in 1986 and in 1992 airbags were made standard.

First TDI Models

In 1993, the first turbo-diesel (TDI) models were introduced with the latest generation of this technology hitting the market in 2009. That later accomplishment enabled Volkswagen to field its first 50-state compliant diesels and meet both European and American emissions restrictions.

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf will provide customers with three engine choices: a pair of turbocharged gasoline engines and one TDI. Volkswagen claims that fuel economy will increase by at least 15 percent across its model line for a vehicle that comes in slightly larger, but lighter than the sixth generation Golf. The Golf TDI, currently rated at 42 mpg on the highway, may top 50 mpg.

Top Selling Models

In hitting its sales milestone, the Volkswagen Golf continues to go where no other model has gone. Indeed, it even has outsold the VW Beetle, a model that stayed in production through 2003. VW sold 23.5 million Beetles for the fourth place on the all-time sales list. The Toyota Corolla and Ford F-Series are the two top sellers all time with the Ford Escort, Honda Civic and the Honda Accord as other models of sales renown.

See AlsoBetter Than Ever: 2015 Volkswagen Golf

Photos courtesy of the Volkswagen Group of America.

Matthew Keegan
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