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What Car? says

4 out of 5 stars

For The Mk IV Golf has superb diesels, a classy cabin and strong residuals

Against Costly to buy and the handling is stodgy

Verdict Fully deserves its image as a premium, high-quality small family car

Go for… 1.9 GT TDI PD 130 SE

Avoid… 1.4 petrol

Volkswagen Golf Hatchback
  • 1. Faults with the ECU (the engine’s electronic brain) can cause misfires
  • 2. Clutches can go as early as 40,000 miles
  • 3. The driving position will suit most sizes of driver
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Volkswagen Golf Hatchback full review with expert trade views

The Golf is the kind of car you respect more the longer you own it. Above all else, it conveys a sense of robust, deep-seated quality, from the classy cabin with its well chosen materials to the solid-looking (if rather plain) exterior.

Although there’s adequate space in the rear for adults, they don’t have as much room as in a Ford Focus. However, the driving position will suit most sizes of driver and the layout of the dash is logical.

The Golf errs more towards comfort and refinement, and rides reasonably well. It's a relaxed motorway cruiser, but the price you pay for the comfort is less-than-sharp handling, and it feels stodgy in corners.

With a huge array of engines available, there's a Golf for everyone. The best diesels are badged PD and combine a smooth, strong response with excellent economy. The petrols start with a sluggish 1.4 and top out with a blistering 3.2 V6, but the 1.6 is adequate for most needs.

Trade view

John Owen

Extremely popular used buy. A safe bet and best image in sector. GT diesels good news

John Owen
Buyer,
Fords of Winsford

There are three- and five-door versions, and a bewildering mixture of engines and trims. Petrols include a 1.4, 1.6 (100bhp and 105bhp) 1.8, 1.8 turbo (150bhp and 180bhp), 2.0, 2.3 V5, 2.8 V6 and 3.2 V6. Then there are the diesels: a non-turbo 1.9, and turbocharged 1.9s tuned to deliver 90bhp, 100bhp, 115bhp, 130bhp and 150bhp.

If that little lot starts to make you go blind, just remember this series of numbers and letters, 130bhp TDI - that's our favourite engine because of its extra muscle and minimal thirst.

Among the petrols, pass on the 1.4. The 1.8T has good mid-range punch and the V5 and V6 are swift, but the 1.6 has a better mix of performance and value. Of the hot versions, the GTI is underwhelming, but the high-performance R32 is a cracker.

Equipment levels improved over time, so you're best off buying as late a car as possible. All gained ISOFIX child seat mountings in June 1999, and air-con became standard on most models in January 2000, but a three-point third rear seat belt was optional for most of the model’s life.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Demand still strong especially for diesels, better specs from 2000 too

James Ruppert
Used car guru

It won’t be as cheap as a Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra. In fact, membership of the Golf club commands a premium over the majority of its rivals.

However, once you’ve shelled out, depreciation is slow, so you’ll recoup more when you resell it, and you’ll always find a ready market for tidy, cared-for Golfs.

Until then, you’re looking at a low fuel bill for diesel versions (between 51mpg and 58mpg, depending on the model), although insurance groups vary dramatically, from the 1.9 SDi’s group 4 to the hefty group 14 of the 150bhp 1.9 TDi PD.

You’ll need big pockets for the V6 petrols (group 17, about 25mpg), but the V5 is better (group 14, 32mpg). The 1.6 nudges 40mpg and is in group 5 or 6, depending on trim.

Golfs aren’t cheap to service, but their overall reliability record suggests you won’t fork out that often for repairs.

Trade view

John Owen

Extremely popular used buy. A safe bet and best image in sector. GT diesels good news

John Owen
Buyer,
Fords of Winsford

Generally, this generation of Golf is pretty tough, and Warranty Direct reports relatively few claims from owners. But, they tell us that, as well as an ECU glitch, the electric windows and central locking can be iffy, so do a thorough check of all the electrics. It’s well worth giving the axles and suspension a proper examination, too.

Other than that, faults with the ECU (the engine’s electronic brain) can cause misfires, particularly on early cars. Ignition coils have proved problematic on 1.8T models - although VW should have fixed most of them by now - clutches can go as early as 40,000 miles and there have been reports of 130 and 150 TDI engines failing.

In total, there have been nine safety-related recalls, so check that any required work has been carried out.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Demand still strong especially for diesels, better specs from 2000 too

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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