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The History Of the Golf - Part II

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The History Of the Golf - Part II

Post by VWVR6T on Sun Dec 21, 2008 8:28 pm

Second-Generation Golf: 1985-1993

In a startling fit of rationality, VW decided to call the new second-generation Golf the "Golf" when it went on sale in the United States. The Rabbit name was dead, but the basic ideas of the first-generation car carried forward.

The 1985 Golf came from VW's own styling studios and wasn't anywhere near as distinguished in profile or detail as the first. It wasn't ugly by any stretch of the imagination, but it seemed awkward where the first was taut and indistinct while the original was iconic. The new car was OK, but it would never be beloved like the first-generation Golf.

In general layout the second Golf was almost indistinguishable from the first. It was still available only as a hatchback with either two or four doors. The front suspension was still a pair of MacPherson struts while the rear now used a torsion beam solid axle. The four-cylinder engine still sat transversely in the nose and it still turned a five-speed manual transaxle or optional three-speed automatic. And that standard engine was a revised version of the GTI's fuel-injected, SOHC, eight-valve, 1.8-liter four rated at 85 hp. The GTI engine had the same displacement and layout, but had a slightly higher compression ratio and carried a 102-hp rating. The 1.6-liter diesel was also back in two versions: a naturally aspirated one making 52 hp and a turbocharged one making 68 hp.

The Golf was larger in virtually every dimension over the Rabbit. The wheelbase now spanned 97.3 inches (up 3.1 inches), overall length was now 158.0 inches (up 2.7 inches) and the overall width was now a full 65.5 inches (up 2.0 inches). Fortunately those larger external dimensions translated into more room as the EPA now rated the Golf as a "compact" rather than a "subcompact." Unfortunately the car was also heavier with its weight approaching 2,200 pounds for some models.

While the Golf (along with its trunk-wearing brother, the Jetta) was all-new, the Rabbit Convertible was left practically untouched. The big change for that vehicle was a name change from Rabbit to Cabriolet…and it continued to attract more buyers to its cult of cute, cuddly, pastel and feminine.

The Golf lineup went through 1986 with no significant change and then received a significant power boost when a new DOHC, 16-valve version of the 1.8-liter four was introduced for the 1987 GTI. But there was also a power loss on the diesel side as the turbodiesel engine was killed.

Rated at 123 hp, the 16-valve engine made for the quickest GTI yet and its smooth operation made the car feel even more sophisticated than before. However, while it's generally conceded that the 16-valve GTI was a superior car to the Rabbit GTI, it has never engendered the sort of affection that its predecessor enjoyed.

With the GTI now boasting that multivalve engine, what had been the GTI was rebadged as a "GT" and was still sold with the 102-hp version of the 1.8-liter, SOHC, eight-valve engine.

The GTI was offered with genuine Recaro seats during the 1988 model year, and the base Golf engine was rerated to 100 hp, but otherwise the line carried over pretty much intact. Volkswagen's experiment with U.S. production, however, was deemed a failure and the Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, assembly plant was shut down after this model year (the plant now assembles television sets for Sony). Production of the diesel Golf also concluded.

Golf production for the 1989 model year was now split between Germany and VW's plant in Mexico but the cars themselves were basically reruns of the '88 models.

A driver-side airbag was fitted to the 1990 Cabriolet (still Rabbit based) and the GTI's 16-valve engine grew to 2.0 liters and 131 hp, but other changes were light. And not much changed for 1991 — though the eight-valve GT was renamed GTI and the GTI with the 16-valve engine became, naturally, the GTI 16-valve. Though a fourth gear was added to the automatic transmission, both 1992 and 1993 were otherwise repeats as the third Golf was on the way.

Third-Generation Golf: 1994-1998

Much as the second Golf expanded on the themes of the first Golf (er, Rabbit), so the third one did on the second. The wheelbase was up again to 97.3 inches, overall length grew to 160.5 inches and total width was now 66.7 inches. The structure was stiffer, but the basic elements of two- and four-door hatchback body styles, a MacPherson strut front suspension and five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transaxles carried over. The look was more rounded (again) and more monochromatic, but still recognizably a VW Golf — neither ugly nor really beautiful.

The new Golf's base engine was a 2.0-liter, SOHC, eight-valve four rated at 115 hp. And for 1994 at least, that same engine powered the GTI (that helps explain why VW sold only 315 examples during the year).

Meanwhile, the Cabrio continued unchanged, still based on the old Rabbit chassis. That wouldn't last long.

The Cabrio caught up with the rest of the Golf line as it was based on the third-generation Golf shell for 1995. As it did when creating the Rabbit Convertible, VW redesigned the Golf's rear fenders, added new roll-down rear-quarter windows, significantly modified the doors and front side windows and added a new integral roll bar to create the Cabrio. In all it was a straightforward application of VW's successful Cabrio formula applied to the new body style. And it was available only with the same 115-hp, 2.0-liter four that powered other Golfs.

Outside the Cabrio, the rest of the '95 Golf range was a carryover — with one lusty exception. That exception was the GTI, which now had VW's unique 2.8-liter VR6 engine under its hood.

The VR6 concept was to take a conventional V6 and narrow the angle between the two cylinder banks to just 15 degrees so that all the pistons could reside under a single cylinder head. With two overhead cams controlling two valves per cylinder, the 2.8-liter VR6 was rated at a thrilling 172 hp while producing 177 pound-feet of torque at just 4,200 rpm. Compared to the fours that had powered previous GTIs, this engine was a brute — and it emitted a magnificent basso vibrato through the exhaust system.

While the introduction of the VR6 only expanded the GTI legend, VW diminished its reputation during the 1996 model year by also offering the sport model with the base Golf's 115-hp engine. What a yawner. Other changes were limited to suspension tuning tweaks and a few minor trim variations. And the story was much the same for 1997.

The 1998 Golfs were the first available with side airbags and there were some new wheels for the GTI, but other changes were slight. There was already yet another Golf on the way.

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