From the Armchair: No Love for the Golf

One Saturday not long ago, making the best of some remarkably hard-to-find free time, I set about working on the installation of some new seats in our Project Golf 1.8T. Those following the Golf series know that it’s less about hardcore, and more about building a car along the lines of higher-content European Golf 4-doors.

Recaro GTI seats fit that bill perfectly, and as I noted a decal on the bottom reading “GTI 4DR,” it got me to thinking. On the other side of the pond, Europeans can purchase 4-door Golfs in Sport Editions, GTIs and even R32s, yet here in America we can only get that sporting kit if we buy the 2-door only GTI.

I must admit that when I saw 337s and 20th Anniversary Edition GTIs start popping up on the road, I was tempted to put our 2000 4-door Golf 1.8T project car up for sale. The Anniversary cars seem to have it all, right out of the box. Either is a car I’d buy and do relatively little to, which is saying something having fairly severe case of “modificationitis” that afflicts so many of us.

However, it was on a trip to Custom Import Performance in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains to pick up those very same Recaro seats that opened my eyes to one of the GTI’s few flaws. I had a Jazz Blue Anniversary Edition from Volkswagen and was enjoying it immensely, until it was time to load the Recaros in the back. I soon realized just how much more utilitarian the 4-door is. Those two additional doors that I was so used to simply weren’t there, forcing me to reach in from the front of the cabin to pull the seats in.

As much as I love the kit on the GTI Anniversary Edition, I still love the practicality and utility of my 4-door more. Unfortuantely, the 1.8T was dropped after only two years, leaving buyers with the choice of either the relatively uninspired 2.0 or the admittedly cool, though slower, TDI diesel. These cars are nice enough, but fall short when attracting buyers who appreciate performance and practicality. And there in lies my rub; while it can be done, it’s a relatively costly and time-consuming process to build our own 4-door Golf Sport.

Admittedly, enthuisasts who have wanted a sporty Golf with 4 doors haven’t had great selection during most of the car’s history in the USA. There are a few exceptions, however. There was the Golf GT on the A2 platform, available in once the 16V GTI was released. Then came the cross-marketed Golf K2 and Golf Trek, finalized with the Golf Wolfsburg Edition for the A3s. Finally there were just two short model years of GLS 1.8Ts. That’s not an overwhelming offering, but it’s enough to tease those of us who want a higher-end four-door into keeping the faith.

In the same time, Europeans have had the super-rare Golf Limited with G60-equipped 16-valve, Golf VR6, Golf Highline with 2.9-liter VR6 from the European Corrado, Golf Sport Edition, Golf V6 4Motion and R32 4-door to name but a few… and that’s not even considering three generations of 4-door GTIs.

While manufacturers are racing to market with “niche-creating” 4-door hatchback vehicles such as the Vibe, Matrix, Malibu MAXX, Focus ZX5, Focus SVT 5-door, etc. etc., the car that really did create the niche (The Golf), remains almost unchanged as it continues on since 1999. A pity.

Such conservative packaging in the USA has kept it the slower selling of the family, even though its probably the most practical and has a more than proven track record in the rest of the world. Here in the States, it’s been relegated to “entry-level” Volkswagen, translating to not much content.

In the meantime, there’ve been plenty of special edition cars based on other models, including the GTI 337, GTI 20th Anniversary Edition, New Beetle Sport Edition and Jetta GLI. Unfortunately, there’s been no such love for the Golf.

So what could Volkswagen do? Well, at this point in the lifecycle, they are somewhat limited; however we’ve heard that the Mark V 4-door Golf won’t debut here in the USA until fall 2006. That’s a year behind the Jetta, and about 6-months behind the GTI of the new fifth generation platform. I’m not sure if that leaves time to do anything to this Golf or not, but chassis generation aside, they should try to infuse some energy into the oft-overlooked world car.

Doing a sport-minded, higher-content, 4-door Golf with both TDI and 4-cylinder turbocharged engines would be a great start. Leave the VR6 for the GTI so it can maintain its supremacy, but give the owners who love the car what they want.

I’d start with the GTI’s sport cloth interior, including the Recaro seats from the canceled GLI VR6 models and the aluminum trim from the all-new 1.8T GLI. Include an MFA trip computer like that of the R32, especially for TDI owners who will get giddy watching their average fuel mileage. 17-inch wheels, a six-speed transmission and Anniversary Edition suspension would also be welcome additions.

With the Golf IV on its last hurrah, maybe they should consider going even wilder if it’s not too late. A special limited edition final-run Golf TDI “R-Line” might be most realistic, as that motor is still sold in the car, keeping costs down. Go nuts and add 18-inch wheels and the Anniversary Edition body kit along with the content listed above and I bet Volkswagen would sell out of them almost as quickly as the Anniversary GTI or the new Jetta GLI.

Volkswagen Accessories will soon debut the “R-Line” of Golf and Jetta accessories here in America, including that Anniversary Edition body kit, so doing a Golf TDI R-Line would help promote sales of not just the Golf, but also Volkswagen Accessories.

Selling Golfs like a proposed Golf TDI “R-Line” would probably cost Volkswagen very little in development, though such a practical car with a serious eye on performance and sport might make more than a few car magazines sit up and take notice. A hot diesel mode for sale in the states would be niche-creating, even for a car that has already created a niche once or twice.

Proposed Additional Equipment for Golf TDI “R-Line”

Equipment (Source)

18″ BBS Wheels (337)

12.1” Front Brakes (20th Anniversary Edition)

Blue Painted Brake Calipers (R32)

Front/Rear Valances, Sideskirts and Upper Rear Spoiler (20th Anniversary Edition)

6-Speed Manual Transmission (20th Anniversary Edition)

Black Sport Cloth Recaro Seats (Jetta VR6 GLI)

Matching Sport Cloth Rear Seats (GTI)

Aluminum Interior Trim (Jetta GLI 1.8T)

6-Speed “R” Logo Shift Knob with silver stitched boot (R-Line Accessories)

Silver Stitched Black Leather E-brake Boot (R32)

Silver Stitched “R” Logo 3-Spoke Sport Steering Wheel (R32)

Brushed Silver Inner Door Handles (20th Anniversary GTI)

Brushed Silver Door Lock Pins (20th Anniversary GTI)

Instrument Cluster with MFA Trip Computer and “R” Logo (R32)

Floor Mats with “R” Logo and Silver Edging (R-Line Accessories)

Tinted Tail Lights (GTI)

TDI R Badge with blue “TDI” lettering

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