Dock of the Bay

A photo for Sunday: A DTW icon in an atmospheric setting. 

“I’ll be sitting ’till the evening comes…” parking restrictions notwithstanding.

If one must be confined somewhere, there are worse places to reside than the picturesque Co. Cork harbour town I increasingly call home. Owing to matters which surely don’t require elaboration under current circumstances, I have been spending considerably more time in the anteroom to the Wild Atlantic Way than strictly intended at the start of the year. Still, one makes of things what one can.

Everything looks better against a decent backdrop, and while the Volkswagen Golf really does personify the term ubiquitous, there was something about the quality of evening light, combined with the timeless silhouette of the fourth-generation model that caused me to pause and rummage conspicuously for my phone during my (2km max) evening walk.

Actually, perhaps in light of the recent nomination of this iteration of Golf for the title of BCITW, and this model’s undoubted durability (both in the intended meaning of the term, not to mention stylistic terms), I’ve found myself once again second-glancing the many Mark IV Golfs I encounter upon my (constrained) travels, and appreciating how gracefully Peter Schreyer’s design has aged.

In a similar manner to which every iterative Porsche 911 is in effect a retro-homage to the original, so too is the Golf. But of all eight distinct generations, the Golf 4 is, as I have pointed out in the past, the Golfiest Golf of the lot. Flippancy aside, I would go so far as to ascribe to the model, a similar design for the ages accolade to that of the Mercedes W201 – and believe me, that is praise indeed.

Like that 1982 landmark from Bremen, while one can wish that the Golf IV had been a little more exciting from a dynamic perspective, neither car was about apex-shredding, or Nordschleife-baiting for that matter, even if the more emboldened versions paid at least lip service to the notion. These were serious cars for grown-ups.

The Golf 4 was not faultless, but it remains mighty difficult to argue against, either as design object, or indeed as consumer durable. But as brand-Golf begins its slow recession in commercial, not to mention iconic terms, we can perhaps begin to acknowledge the fourth generation’s true significance to the pantheon. Because, unlike some of its latterday rivals, it never required a picturesque backdrop to help sell its wares.

For decades, the Golf has been, in Europe at least, something of a talisman; an unchanging, unchangeable part of the fabric of life. But as the eighth generation stutters into a shattered market, one has to wonder if the recipe has fallen flat. Timing is everything and for Golf VIII, could it really be worse?

Cometh the hour, cometh the car. The future isn’t Golf-shaped.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

21 thoughts on “Dock of the Bay”

  1. In the age of the Corona Virus, less capacity will affect the public transportation, people can not switch to the car because is the city center there is not enough parking space. Maybe this will start the ages of the E-bikes. Bad year for the VW Golf number VIII.

  2. Good morning Eóin. The Golf IV is without doubt ‘peak Golf’ and absolutely a design classic. The new VIII is clearly derivative of the handsome VII with added fussy detailing, like those annoying ‘ears’ on the headlamps. The shut-line management is also poorer, for example the way the trailing edge of the rear door cuts into the wheel arch. That diagonal panel gap between the front wing and bumper is less natural looking than the same detail on the earlier car. I also dislike the new design cliché of the little bit of superfluous trim/badge behind the front wheel arch:

    Does all this matter? Possibly not, because this might be the future instead:

    1. Hello Daniel,

      You’ve reminded me – there’s a very brief critique of the I.D.3 on the ‘Form Trends’ YouTube channel. I was aware of the Form Trends website, but hadn’t thought to look on YouTube (durr). Lots of interesting stuff on there.

    2. In my view, a great many Golf iterations have been rather mediocre from a stylistic perspective. Of VW’s own efforts (and I accept that Wolfsburg probably had a hand in Ital Design’s first gen car), the Golf II was simply a Mark I in a fat suit. The original Golf III was delayed owing to managerial unhappiness over its appearance – heaven only knows what that looked like – but the production car just looked flaccid and lumpen. Golf V seems in retrospect, a little too ‘relaxed’ – it lacks the requisite sobriety. Its heavily facelifted Mark VI replacement largely rectified this shortcoming and as facelifts go, was a decent piece of work. The outgoing Mark VII, while obviously inferior to the Mark IV in pure design terms, was probably the ‘next best’ in the pantheon behind it.

      Where the Mark VIII sits is a matter of debate. What isn’t however is that it imbibes rather too heavily from the Herbie Schafer vessel of visual fussiness and over-decoration. What amazes me is that management saw fit to sign off on such a lacklustre iteration of the Golf – when the first signs of serious decline were already stealing upon it. They needed a birdie, not a bogie. The ID.3, which ought to be even more of a design statement, given its talismanic significance to brand-VW is also too over-egged to be satisfying to behold. The new leadership at Wolfsburg’s design studios cannot come a moment too soon.

    3. Good morning Eóin. An excellent comparative summary of the Golf generations. I concur with your description of the MkII as I’ve never been a fan of its appearance, even if it was a fine car. It lost the crispness of the Golf I for no visual gain.

      For me, the runner up to the Golf IV and Golf I in design terms is (controversially, I expect) the Golf VI. It successfully returned the ‘Golfness’ to the rather nondescript Golf V and had a handsome, substantial look to it:

      I’ve said before that it looks to me like the Golf that Bruno Sacco might have designed, which is intended as a great compliment. That it was a heavy facelift rather than a ground-up new design only adds to the achievement, in my view. Do we know who was credited with the work?

    4. Hello Daniel,

      While I believe the MK5’s design lead was Murat Günak (Peugeot 307 and 607 – eek), Walter de Silva and team are credited with the extensive facelift / MK6:

      Mr Günak left VWG in 2007, so I don’t know how much input he had. I recall there was quite a row at the time about the direction Volkswagen design should take – flashy verses conservative, and conservative won. I’ll see if I can find a picture of the alternative MK6 proposal. I personally much prefer the MK6 as launched to the MK5 – much more in line with what I’d expect in terms of both design and materials used.

    5. Good morning Charles and thanks for the information. If I recall correctly, the Golf V dates from Ferdinand Piëch’s ‘megalomaniac’ period when he wanted VW to compete directly with Mercedes-Benz*, hence the big chrome grille.

      * He should simply have waited for Mercedes-Benz to race downmarket instead!

  3. From the front, the VIII looks rather beetle-browed and angry, with the headlamps set too low (a problem shared with the new Octavia):

    1. Yes, that last one is peak Golf. After that they look like different proposals for the same model year. The double creases appearing on VAG cars reminds me of the styling of Japanese cars in the 1980s. The Polo is a crease festival; VW do not need such baroque frippery.

      All models eventually decline into vague ornamentation, don´t they? The classic examples are the Buick Riviera and the Nissan 280Z. The Mini seems to be heading that way too.

    2. I have quite a bit of time for the Golf VII, which, despite being a ‘definitive’ design á la Mk IV, is very accomplished a design. As Daniel pointed out, none of the details added to Mk VIII make it more coherent, more athletic or more ‘premium’ a product. Instead, it’s vaguely faddish style is rather more reminiscent of a less established brand’s stab at countering the Golf’s supremacy than a convincing take on refining VW’s definitive product.

      Personally, I’ve given up caring about VW design for the time being. The next car coming from Wolfsburg I shall care about will be the first example of Jozef Kaban’s work, be it in concept or production car guise.

  4. “Because, unlike some of its latterday rivals, it never required a picturesque backdrop to help sell its wares.”

    True – quite the opposite, in fact. I recall that one of the pictures in the brochure showed a windswept motorway with the caption “On a cold, wet and windy day,
    you’ll be glad you chose the Golf.” I thought that was a refreshing change from the sun-drenched, winding road that you otherwise get in advertising. See:

    Click to access volkswagen-Golf-October-2002.pdf

    I had one, from 1999 to 2004, when it was replaced by a Mk5. My company car budget stretched to having the GTI version of the MK4, but I decided to get a 1.6 SE and put some extras on it (4-speed auto, air conditioning – the latter was regarded as very luxurious), much to the surprise of the fleet manager. My father had a new SAAB at the time, and the Volkswagen was almost embarrassingly better designed / more refined / luxurious.

    Apparently, when the MK4 was launched, rival manufacturers visited its stand at the motor show and discreetly hacked away at the interior materials, so that they could be analysed later. To this day, I think the MK4’s interior was the best of all the cars I’ve owned; possibly even the best that I’ve sat in, apart from a few older Mercedes-Benz.

    I find it very pleasing that there are still plenty of them around.

    1. Apologies – it looks like that link to a brochure didn’t work.

  5. Let’s forget the Virus for a sec. Golf VIII should bring revenues and profit. Id3 is an investment. Than it can be golf IX fully electric and no more ID3. Style, i do not like the front of the golf. Already ready for a nice facelift.

  6. The only Golf I actively disliked was the Mk3, a tubby little runt. The Mk4 was better of course, but distinguished itself in service with having a frungible hinge on the glovebox, and constant breakage of the window winding mechanism plastic bits, leaving the glass inside the door — just the job on a rainy windy day. I could tell stories but will forbear. The glovebox hinge was simply thinner plastic to allow the bend, and fatigue worked it to an early demise. The Mk2 and Mk4 along with the companion Jettas were the big sellers in Canada, so shoddy parts quality rather put people off a series at a time.

    Anyway, mention of Peter Schreyer reminded me that Luc Donckerwolke, ex-VW, ex-Bentley, is now now ex-Hyundai/Kia/Genesis. Just as with his previous Bentley departure, he claims that’s it, he’s out of the game. And just 18 months after replacing Schreyer as Head of H/K corporate design, no less. A restless soul, then. Going “home” to Bavaria apparently, odd for a Belgian. Based on past form, he’ll turn up somewhere despite protestations to the contrary. BMW, struggling with applying stylized hog-snouts to their cars like the new 4 Series, are of course in Bavaria and need help.

    Dockerwolke’s designs weren’t up to Schreyer’s with Kia in my opinion, the new Genesis-es are ornate but non-descript barges, and the Kona ended up looking a bandit with black eye patches from an old cartoon. Mind you Schreyer’s still around as some parked exec emeritus at H/K, so you have to wonder if that’s why the new Kia Telluride batters the Hyundai Paslisade in design, and why the Stinger makes the Genesis G70 look so anonymous.

  7. I also think the Golf VII is the peak. The IV looked great inside and out, and was quiet and refined on the move, but the GTI was a turnip. For that reason, I cannot put it above the others.

  8. Imo the MK 3 was the peak. Modern, yet classic at the same way. I see the MK 6 as a return to the MK 3-like creases to the sides and especially at the back that started to appear with the MKV, therefore I’d put the MK 6 at second place after my original favorite, the MK 3 and the MK 5 on third place. 🙂 The Mk 4 was rather too slab-sided for my liking, too late 90s/early 2000s. As for the MK 7 and 8, no offense to their fans, but I think I’d go with the Opel/Vauxhall Astra instead.

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