Boy, it’s been a bit too long since we looked at a Volkswagen Van. In fact it’s been over a year since I last looked at a Vanagon. For shame! Because while I often lament the lack of good 1980s Volkswagens to consider for these pages, there are predictably two models you can find at any time. One is the Cabriolet.
Okay, admit it. While you tell your Corvette-owning friends that the Cabriolet was a travesty you’d never be seen in, they’re actually kind of neat and certainly have their place. After all, what other cheap manual German convertible can you buy….a Boxster?
The other model that’s ubiquitous with 80s search parameters is the T3. They occupy an interesting subculture within the German automobile ownership community. And once in a while, one pops up that I really take notice of:
While Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have all given us superb performance wagons (yes, even in the U.S.!), the German manufacturer with “Wagen” in its name has managed to skirt a really the opportunity to engage 5-door fanatics of ‘Freedom’.
But wait, you say, what about the Passat W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed?
Yeah sure. It was a really cool concept, and with the sport package BBS wheels it even looked really neat. But it wasn’t really a performance wagon. The follow-up 3.6 4Motion Variant actually did offer a bit more sport, but only came in automatic form. The more serious R36 never came here.
However, a few years ago Volkswagen launched an even MORE potent option – the Golf SportWagon R. With a 300 horsepower version of the 2.0 TSFI linked to the 6-speed manual or DSG dual-clutch box and utilizing the same Haldex all-wheel drive as the regular Golf R, the result was no surprise – a slightly bigger Golf R equaled a small performance wagon with few peers. 0-60 could be topped in 4.5 seconds and the quarter was gone in 13.3 seconds with the DSG, it topped out at 155 mph and yet would return 30 mpg on the highway. Eat your cake and have it too, indeed!
Of course, it hasn’t come here. But since it’s a VW and VW enthusiasts are swap-happy….
The last Golf I took a look at was a high-spec GLS TDi model from the end of the run. A popular niche vehicle, the turbo diesel Golf is a hot commodity and even with over 170,000 miles bids were quick to crest $4,000, finally ending with a $4,350 sale. Yet it’s far from the most desirable, or indeed the most valuable, model within a robust lineup of favorites.
There’s the all-wheel drive 3.2 liter VR6 R32, often with asks that rival multiple generations of M3s:
2004 Volkswagen Golf R32
There’s the 20th Anniversary Edition GTI, a turbocharged terror with great looks:
2003 Volkswagen GTI 20th Anniversary Edition with 9,800 Miles
There’s the Edition 337 – a limited collector-friendly model that kicked off a new generation of turbocharged Golf performance:
Feature Listing: 2002 Volkswagen GTI 337 Edition
And though it carried a ‘Jetta’ badge, we finally got the “Golf Variant” wagon, replete with your choice of 1.8T, 2.0, TDi or even a gutsy 2.8 liter VR6 hooked to a manual:
2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLX VR6 Wagon
So the Mk.4 range really has a devoted following and plenty of love to spread around to make you a bit unique. Today’s car, though, is none of those collector favorites. What we have here is a Flash Red first-year Golf. No TDi, no VR6, not even a GLS. No, this is a standard Golf. Except it’s not a standard Golf, because it’s an automatic. But before you click away, this one’s odometer hasn’t yet turned 23,000 miles….
Update 12/29/2017: After reportedly selling for $2,650 in October and after originally having a $6,500 ask, this Golf has been relisted with a $4,999 Buy It Now option.
Infrequently do we look at a standard Volkswagen Golf. To be fair to us, they’re not the most impressive vehicles ever designed, especially when you go back a few generations. They were oft the most expensive in category, but seldom the quickest, most tech-laden, most efficient, best handling, neatest or most reliable. Those items are the domain of vehicles like Hondas and Toyotas, who mimicked and improved upon the ideas of others many times over. Their sales reflected that.
But there’s still something nostalgic and lovely about the simplicity of the first two generations of the Golf. It grew up considerably between the A1 and A2 chassis, in weight, size, power and refinement, but the recipe remained the same. Recently I’ve looked at two of the best performers in the chassis overall (and the fastest offered to U.S. customers) with the 1991 GTI 16V and 1987 GTI 16V. Deep seat bolsters, special trim, dual overhead cam high compression inline-4s, close ratio 5-speed manuals, alloy wheels; these represented the pinnacle of performance in the hot hatch segment. Today’s car has none of those things.
What we have instead is a bit of a curiosity. As you can no doubt see, it’s a pretty standard 4-door Volkswagen Golf. It appears to be Ascot Gray Metallic (LA7U) with cloth interior. There’s nothing special under the hood; it’s a standard RV 1.8 inline-4 counterflow engine, running Digifant II injection and good for 100 horsepower. No, what’s unique about this car is where it’s come from…
Update 12/23/2017 – This R32 is back with almost no changes a year and a half later – except the price. When I looked at it in June 2016 the seller was hoping for $16,700. It’s now up to $17,400. Will this bold strategy pay off?
For a few generations, Volkswagen fans were denied the cream of the crop for Volkswagen products. It took several years to finally get the original GTi to these shores, and then it wasn’t quite as hot as the European version. The second edition might have sported twin cams and 16 valves, but Euro customers got the addtional option of a supercharged, all-wheel drive version. There were plenty of cool options missing from the U.S. lineup in the 3rd generation, too – including the 2.9 liter VR6 Variant Syncro. So there was a bit of rejoicing finally when the all-wheel drive hot hatch was finally added to the U.S. lineup after the initial launch in 2003. Sporting the same 3.2 VR6 found in the TT, unlike the Mk.1 TT it was 6-speed manual only. It was also only available as a 2-door model, with special body kit unique to the R32 and dual exhaust to help announce its sporting intentions. With the best part of 240 horsepower on tap, it certainly seemed like the ultimate Golf and the sound generated from the narrow-angle 6 was mesmerizing. While heavy weight meant it wasn’t considerably quicker than the 1.8T models, it nonetheless has secured a spot in U.S. fans hearts as the top trump from the Mk.4 generation:
Where to start….where to start….
So, in the realm of ‘Least Desirable Volkswagen Products’ enthusiasts bemoan, the New Beetle must surely rank very high on the list. But every once in a while one pops up that is worthy of consideration. Maybe they have low mileage or are a neat color. Sometimes they’re turbocharged, making them pretty quick, too – all attributes of this 1999 example. Presented in L9L9 Cyber Green Metallic, it’s traveled only 23,000 miles in its life and its the more macho 1.8T speedbug. Though it’s clearly not stock, we’ve recently looked at a well modified Beetle that pulled off big-dollar mods at a budget price.
Tuner Tuesday GCFSB Alumnus: 2002 Ruf Volkswagen Beetle Turbo S Concept
So when I first caught the gallery shot, it looked as though the owner of this car tried to replicate the super-sweet Beetle RSI – not a bad thing, if it was pulled off correctly.
This one is not pulled off correctly.
However, if you’d like a few chuckles, read on.
Much like the S4 I posted over the weekend, the Jetta GLI 16V is a car which on paper I should like very much. After all, I’m a huge fan of the same-generation GTI 16V, and the Jetta was little more than a trunk added to that formula. Underneath, there were almost no changes between the two. You got the same high-strung 9A 2.0 16V with Motronic fuel injection pushing 134 horses through that open-diff front end. Your only choice was a 5-speed manual, of course, and it was a close-ratio one – enjoy those highway speeds! Brakes were updated to 10.1″ and dual tailpipes emerged from the new ‘big bumper’ A2 refresh. Central locking and a cassette player were standard, while you could opt for many power options including windows, mirror, anti-lock brakes, trip computer, cruise control and of course a sunroof. The GLI also carried over BBS wheels from the pre’90 1.8 models, in this case the 15″x 6.5″ ‘RA’.
These items should have conspired to produce a deeply desirable product for me. And yet, somehow I never really took to the Jetta though many did. I suppose it’s the same as the 4000 quattro/Coupe GT fan bases. Rarely do they seem to cross over, yet there’s a mutual respect between them. I like the Jetta, and in the absence of the GTI it would probably be a great favorite of mine. It was aimed at being a more refined alternative to the racier hot hatch. But ultimately it falls second fiddle to the GTI, which always seems (and, arguably is) just that little bit more neat.
For enthusiasts, though, that means potential value. As GTI 16V prices climb steeply with no real relent in sight and few good examples hitting the market, you can get a bit of a value if you don’t mind the junk in the trunk:
Continuing on the diesel theme from yesterday, let’s take a look at another no spark Volkswagen. Again we have one that flies below the radar but is worth a lot more than you’d expect. The pre-scandal TDis have a serious niche following. While not quite as set-it-and-forget-it as the 1Z, the derivatives – first the AHU, then the later ATD/AXR and other models similar to today’s example, were nonetheless high-mileage warriors. Rated at 100 horsepower and 177 lb. ft of torque, performance wasn’t outstanding – 0-60 took a few ticks over 11 seconds, it’d take a half minute to hit 100 and top speed was limited to 115 mph. But then you weren’t really buying this car for it’s straight line acceleration. What you were buying it for was notable longevity and, of course, fuel mileage. At a time when the standard 2.0 inline-4 struggled to return about 30 mpg at best and the 1.8T was no better, the premium for the TDi gave you 33 mpg city and over 40 on the highway. You could stretch it even farther on a tank if you were careful. Impressive? Well, for the time, it was one of the very few diesel motors you could buy in the U.S. and set the stage for the popularity of the Mk.5 models.
As we saw with the Jetta Wagon, the ‘GLS’ trim moved upscale and included nicer wheels and interior bits. But just like that Jetta, the combination of a 4-door Golf, GLS trim, the turbo diesel motor and a 5-speed manual are quite hard to come by:
As much as I like to talk about the high prices being fetched for Corrados, GTIs and Sciroccos, the reality is the biggest numbers being asked and pulled from 1980s and 1990s Volkswagens are the vans. They’re not something I generally cover, but once in a while one pops up that is surprising and worth note. Today’s is no exception.
What attracted my attention first was the year – 1991. Of course, the main problem there is that in the U.S. market, the Eurovan didn’t launch until 1992. Volkswagen of America was still selling the niche and expensive T3 at that point. So was this a case of a transposition error or just an uninformed seller?
While I spend most of my early 2000s Volkswagen attention on Passats and GTIs, there was another pretty compelling package in that period. The Jetta Wagon launched in 2002 and brought with it a myriad of engines and transmission options. Finally, the United States had access to the ‘Golf Variant’ that the rest of the world had enjoyed through the 1990s. And, you could have a TDi, a VR6 or even the 1.8T hooked up to a manual. Aside from it being called a Jetta and therefore you had the same car as all of the ‘Jenna’s from ‘Jersey (‘Cause, like, it’s like almost the same like spelling as like my name is like OMG!!!), there weren’t many drawbacks to the small wagon.
Judging from the number of Mk.4 Jetta Wagons that I still see on the road, the TDi was the most successful model sold in this area. Neat – in theory – is the VR6 model with a 5-speed manual, though finding one can be a bit of a trick. And they were pricey; you’d assume the Jetta would be cheaper than the more upscale Passat, right? Not always. While my 1.8T GLS Passat went out the door around $26,000 in 2002, if you opted for a modestly equipped VR6 Jetta you’d pay over $27,000. And while the VR6 may have seemed to be the best bet, I’d argue that the 1.8T was better value.
That’s because for the 2002 model year, Volkswagen reprogrammed the 1.8T to make a bit more twist. The resulting AWW was seen in the GTI and GLI cars, but also carried over unchanged in the Jetta. Rated at 180 horsepower, it produced 10 horsepower more than the Passat and 6 more than the 2.8 liter SOHC 12V VR6. While the GLI package didn’t carry to the wagons, you could still get 17″ wheels, leather interior, a 5-speed manual and some pretty colors, too: