About a year ago I wrote a post about one of the real legends among modern cars in general and hot hatches in particular, namely the Mk1 VW Golf GTI. As pointed out back then, the GTI became synonymous with a whole market segment for decades to come, and helped establish the Golf beyond being just another small car. The first Golf series was obviously also the first iteration of a car that’s still around today, although every generation has taken it a bit further away from the purity of that original version. Over the years there have however also been a number of special series of the Golf, or cars produced in larger numbers that have been extra special. This week we’ll look at a small selection of some of these!
Mk II Golf Country (1990-1991)
If most special edition Golfs have been focused on adding performance, the VW Country, arguably the quirkiest one of them all, certainly wasn’t. Rather, it was VW inventing a market segment that didn’t yet exist, namely that of the compact all-road estate or compact SUV. The Country was launched in 1990 at a time when VW was at the height of automotive experimentation and the Golf was rapidly becoming their most successful model. Trying to make it appealing to a wider audience, the Country was given all-wheel Syncro drive and an off-road suspension that both looks the part and gave it all of 21 cm ground clearance, coupled to the 1.8-litre, 97 hp engine. It also had bullbars front and rear, lots of additional headlights and one of the larger, all-terrain wheels fitted to the tailgate.
All this makes it look rather strange and really far too high for its length, but the Country saw quite some success notably in the alpine parts of Europe, and all in all, 7735 examples were produced until 1991 by no one less than Steyer-Daimler-Puch in Austria, builders of the far more famous Mercedes-Benz G-wagon. 50 Country cars were equipped with the GTI engine, giving them an extra 15 hp, and good luck in finding one of those today, Finding a normal Country isn’t that hard unless you’re in the US, as it was never sold there officially. This was however the car said to have inspired Audi to build the much larger Allroad a few years later, and also the whole market segment of small SUV’s such as the Toyota Rav4.
Mk II Rallye Golf (1988-1989)
Another limited series of the Golf that didn’t make it across the pond was the MK II Rallye, although the reason for it is much more tragic. James Fuller, president of VW America and and a big fan of the Rallye Golf was on the Pan Am flight which terrorists brought down over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988 and with him, the idea of bringing the Rallye to the US died. In Europe, 5.000 homologation cars were built as required by the regulation at the time, and these were fitted with the same 1.8 litre four-pot as the regular Mk II Golf, however with a so called G-lader, a scroll-type supercharger that helped the engine to 160 hp and 225 Nm of torque. The same Syncro four-wheel drive system as on the Country helped bring power to the ground, and the Rallye looked cool in a very 80’s way with squared headlights and flared arches, inspired by the Quattros, M3’s and Delta Integrales of the period.
Built in 1988-1989 and sold at around twice the price of a regular Golf, the Rallye was expensive. Even more so was the derived Golf Limited, built only 71 times, and essentially a four-door version with the same engine but with classical Golf looks and all options such as leather seats, electrical windows etc.. Finding a Rallye today is still possible although nice ones are getting pricey. Finding a Limited is rather difficult… The G60 engine was however also fitted to the regular Golf Mk II, and those are easier (and cheaper) to come by.
Mk V Golf R32 (2005-2009)
Most Golf enthusiasts agree that the Mk III and IV Golf series were really not much to write home about, with the once so pure Golf only getting fatter and less sporty. The Mk IV had however introduced on one hand the R32, six-cylinder engine and on the other the double-clutch gearbox, making the Golf the first car in the world fitted with a DSG gear change. Both were carried over to the better-looking and better-driving Mk V, from 2005 in Europe and 2007 in the US. The GTI was still there but the R32 was clearly the one to have, with 250 hp and four-wheel drive making it good for a top speed of 250 km/h and a respectable 6.2 seconds to 100 km/h. The chassis was great as was the drive, and the happily revving 3.2 liter V6 is obviously an engine that has been fitted to many other VW and Audi models.
The MK V R32 could be had both with Recaro bucket seats and with the mentioned DSG box, which in its manual paddle mode is a far better proposition than the standard manual. Looking for one today, those are the options you want to have and that make the car feel even more special! And in terms of power, with a few exceptions the Golf has also not really evolved further, so 250 hp for only 1500 kg is still pretty much up there!
Mk VII Golf GTI Clubsport S (2016-2017)
The last in this very unofficial listing of special ones is the only front-wheel drive car, which was in no way intentional, but more importantly, the Clubsport series is also the sportiest version of the GTI that can be had these days (alongside the even more powerful R, but that’s again a more refined, four-wheel drive car). So what to say then of the Clubsport S, which compares to the regular Clubsport like the GT3 does to the 911? With a stripped down interior with weight saved notably by removing the back seats as well as the spare wheel, the S weighed in at less than 1300 kgs. It had a far more aggressive suspension setting than the regular Clubsport, a slip differential and was riding on Michelin Sports Cup 2 tires. The four-pot was tuned to deliver 310 hp, helping the S to a top speed of 310 km/h, and also to a record time on the Nürburgring in 2017.
400 Clubsport S were made, and although the regular Clubsport is of course not comparable, it remains the purest and (except for special series) most sports-focused version after many years of the Golf getting more comfortable and ordinary. 265 hp in Mk VII version (the one the S was built on) as well as larger brakes, a lower ride height and different ratios in the seven-speed DSG gearbox compared to the regular GTI all give the Clubsport a different driving experience to the standard GTI. It’s a highly rewarding one and the Clubsport is not only far easier to find than the S, but also much easier to live with on non-track days!
So there we go – four different Golfs over 35 years that have all contributed to holding the Golf flag high, and also testify to the VW engineers’ willingness to engage in less ordinary things – however only up to a certain limit. Because perhaps with the exception of the very visible Golf Country, what they all have in common is that it’s never about power alone, but always in combination with a certain comfort, practicality, quality – and understatement. If they keep at it, the Golf will be with us for many years to come, hopefully bringing even more special ones!