The 1981 Volkswagen Polo Mk2 hatchback was more French than Germanic in character with its functionality-led design.
The original 1974 Polo was not a Volkswagen at all, but a repurposed Audi 50. Designed in Ingolstadt with some input from Bertone, the 50 was a pert and pretty supermini, intended as the ideal second car for an Audi-driving household. Volkswagen upended Audi’s plans by requisitioning the design for itself as a junior sibling to the Golf.
This was an expedient move for Volkswagen, but it stymied any prospect the 50 had of establishing itself as the first premium supermini, selling on style and badge-appeal rather than practicality. The Polo was obviously identical to the 50 and undercut it on price, hence the baby Audi remained in production for only four years.
British localities often have words unknown to their neighbours; breadcake, tea cake and bap(1) can be all the same thing – or not depending where one lives. But taken collectively, it is always the bottom line that receives the most emphasis – how much? With travel restrictions now lifted, thoughts turn to holidays; dreams of the coast, sandy shores, alfresco dining and catching a crest with your board should you Continue reading “What Price the Surf?”
The jury may still be out on the Mk8, but most commentators would adjudge the 1991 Mk3 to be the poorest articulation of the qualities that made the Golf into an automotive phenomenon over the past five decades.
The 1974 Volkswagen Golf Mk1 was a simply brilliant car. In retrospect, however, it appears to be something of an outlier in the eight-generation history of the model. When one thinks of Volkswagen’s C-segment stalwart, the characteristics that come immediately to mind are the high quality of its design, engineering(1) and build, its sober, timeless styling that eschews fads and fashion, good (but not outstanding) dynamics and most importantly, the quiet self-confidence, perhaps even bordering on smugness, it instils in its owners. Golf ownership says: “I could have spent more, but why would I?”
Unburdened by any of this later baggage, the Golf Mk1 was more Italianate than Germanic in character, with its sharp Giugiaro styling, lightweight construction, and peppy and eager (if noisy) engines, to the extent that nobody would have been surprised if it had emerged as Fiat’s hatchback replacement for the 128(2). It also shared another less desirable Italian characteristic, a propensity to Continue reading “A Poor Round”
A rare market failure for the Volkswagen Group, the 1988 Corrado was a victim of poor product planning rather than its own shortcomings.
Volkswagen’s product planning is the very epitome of Teutonic efficiency and timing. It is difficult to think of an instance when the launch of a new model was greeted with anything like surprise, never mind delight, such is their predictability.
Within the wider Volkswagen group, the other marques have occasionally surprised us with their debutantes: Škoda’s 2006 Roomster and 2009 Yeti arrived during an era of unprecedented and welcome creative freedom for the Czech marque. SEAT’s wholesale switch to monobox vehicles, heralded by the 2004 Altea and Toledo, was brave left-field thinking, if ultimately a dead-end in both creative and sales terms. Continue reading “An Uncharacteristic Misstep”
Today we feature a car that was the product of a highly effective facelift of its stodgy predecessor.
The 1997 Golf Mk4 is widely acknowledged as a masterpiece of disciplined and rational design. Its svelte exterior was handsome and timeless, and a huge improvement over the flabby Mk3. The interior was a revelation, bringing a level of quality to the Golf that had not been seen before in C-segment cars. The Mk4 remained on the market for eight years, during which time it remained virtually untouched, Volkswagen sensibly realising that it was impossible to improve upon its near perfection.
When it came time to replace the Mk4, Volkswagen dropped the ball. The 2003 Golf Mk5, whilst not exactly ugly, looked rather corpulent, and much of the detailing was rather too fussy for a Golf. The Mk5 was partly a product of VW Group Chairman Ferdinand Piëch’s aggressive strategy to Continue reading “Under the knife – Bogey to Birdie”
Ten years ago, Volkswagen attempted to challenge the dominance of the Toyota Camry in the United States with a Passat developed specifically for that market. This is the story of the New Midsize Sedan.
For 22 of the past 23 years(1) and over five generations, the Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car in the United States. Over that time, a staggering total of over 9.6 million(2) Camrys were sold, an average of around 417,000 a year. It was a highly consistent seller too: the lowest annual sales total was 308,510 in 2011(3). The Camry successfully weathered the 2008-9 Global Financial Crisis and a simultaneous unintended acceleration controversy that turned out to be caused by ill-fitting floor mats.
We celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Volkswagen Up! and its siblings and wonder if the city car has a future.
The 2011 Volkswagen Up! is Wolfsburg’s third generation city car. Unlike other models in its range, the smallest car received a different name for each iteration. This is explained, at least in part, by an apparent hiatus in product planning along the way, with the second-generation Fox being a stop-gap(1) import from Brazil.
Volkswagen’s first city car was the 1998 Lupo. It was introduced because the company realised that the increasing size and weight of its Polo B-segment supermini left room in its range for a smaller model. The original 1975 Polo, essentially a rebadged Audi 50, was a petite thing, with a wheelbase of 2,335mm (92”), overall length of just 3,510mm (138¼”) and kerb weight of just 685kgs (1,510lbs). By the time that the Lupo was launched, the Polo Mk3 was 72mm (3”) longer in wheelbase, 205mm (8”) longer overall and an extraordinary 236kg (520lbs.) heavier than the Mk1. Continue reading “Which Way Up?”
Covering over 2000 kilometres in a week should be sufficient to determine whether the new Golf is swansong to a past era or herald to a new dawn.
Covid-Christmas was bound to be special. Even without any cases among our relatives, my partner and I did our utmost to plan 2020’s challenging festive season diligently. As usual, we were willing to travel to (limited numbers of) relatives at the other end of the country, but only if all relevant parties felt safe about it.
My better half’s 99-year-old grandmother made it clear that she’d rather take the risk than remain by herself (a state that had caused her to lose her ability to speak for a period during the first lockdown). Other family members organised themselves in such a way that certain branches would be able to Continue reading “Driven/Written: VW Golf 1.0 TSI (2020)”
Amid the Pandemic’s height, a reminder of a more resilient time.
There is a certain perverse satisfaction in driving what in automotive terms amounts to an old shoe. Banger, beater, clunker or jalopy – whatever term you prefer, once a car reaches a certain level of decrepitude, the keeper soon realises that not only is there no route back, but that they have been released – freed from the grinding tyranny of upkeep. It is now possible to Continue reading “Act of Defiance”
It might seem like a lifetime ago, but it was only last September when Volkswagen unveiled its new logo at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The logo was launched in conjunction with the ID.3 EV and was intended to herald a new era for the company, where the wholesale electrification of its model range would take centre stage. Unspoken, but undoubtedly the case, was the hope that it would Continue reading “Flattening the Curve”
Concluding our micro-theme on Volkswagen, while continuing another one.
There is (or ought to be) a rule which states that the longer a car remains in production, the less effective facelifting exercises become – in purely aesthetic terms at least. You will have noticed that Volkswagen (of Wolfsburg) has been in receipt of no small quantum of derisive commentary upon DTW’s pages of late, most of which was largely justified. By contrast, VW do Brasil has been portrayed as the more astute, more ingenious, and more commercially adept of the pair.
How Ralph Nader killed Volkswagen’s first Phaeton.
America had enjoyed a good Second World War from an economic perspective, and this set the stage for strong growth in the 1950’s. US GDP rose by 81% over the decade, while GDP per capita rose by 53%. Increasing affluence and a growing suburban population had supported strong auto sales, and US cars had grown larger and more ostentatious, reflecting the confidence of the era. 1959 marked the peak in the fashion for such cars, with their large tailfins and extravagant chrome laden exteriors.
There was, however, a growing appetite for smaller and more economical cars that the Big Three had largely neglected. These were often bought as second cars for wives or teenage children. This market was being satisfied by imports such as the Renault Dauphine and Volkswagen Beetle, and what would later become known as subcompact models from the smaller US manufacturers such as AMC, Nash and Studebaker, who hadn’t the financial or technical resources to Continue reading “Collateral Damage”
Volkswagen do Brasil – Wolfsburg’s younger, nimbler and more ingenious Latin cousin repeatedly showed up its more torpid German counterpart. Here’s another example.
Volkswagen’s Heinz Heinrich Nordhoff has repeatedly and justifiably been criticised over the years for his tardiness in sanctioning a replacement to the eternal and best-selling Beetle, before sales collapsed by the tail-end of the 1960s. It was not for the want of trying however, and as far back as 1955, with the Käfer selling in still-increasing quantities, Nordhoff, realising its success alone would not sustain VW indefinitely, put in train a series of Beetle-based prototypes – some to sit alongside, others to Continue reading “Wolfsburg Samba”
Volkswagen do Brasil used its creative independence to produce a car that, had it arrived a decade earlier, might have been a very credible replacement for the Beetle.
The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the defining motor vehicles of the Twentieth Century. It remained in production for 65 years and a total of 21,529,464 were built. Although much changed over its lifetime, the distinctive profile remained largely the same, with its smoothly curved roof and bonnet, and separate front and rear wings connected by running boards. Anybody seeing a 1938 prototype parked next to a 2003 final year model would Continue reading “Reimagining a Legend”
Success can often be a less clarifying state than failure. Enzo Ferrari famously asserted that he learned more from the fabled Scuderia’s many reversals on the racetrack than its more celebrated victories. Of course, one would never intentionally Continue reading “A Question of Scale”
Volkswagen persevered longer than most manufacturers with the rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout. The 1968 Type 4 was its last hurrah.
In the mid-1960’s, there was still a wide variety of mechanical layouts to be found in passenger cars. The so-called conventional layout, with a longitudinally mounted front engine and gearbox linked by a propshaft and live axle to driven rear wheels, was still predominant, and the wholesale switch to front-wheel-drive by mainstream manufacturers would not happen for another decade. Continue reading “Last Throw of the Dice”
When is a Volkswagen not a Volkswagen? When it’s an NSU. The K70’s fate forms a salutary tale.
There is an argument to be made that the Volkswagen motor company has thrived upon existential crises. Certainly they have experienced no shortage of them over their lengthy and mostly successful history. Having survived and prospered in the wake of the first of these in 1945, by the latter years of the 1960s, the Wolfsburg carmaker once again was faced with a serious reversal of fortune, with demand for the emblematic Beetle faltering, and little clear idea of how to Continue reading “Orphaned, Abandoned, Unsung”
Concluding our retrospective on Spain’s automotive flag-carrier and the rare occasional flowering of its independent design talent.
SEAT enjoyed a period of independence between 1982 and 1986 during which it introduced the MK1 Ibiza in 1984, a Supermini that was sold alongside the outdated 127-based Fura before replacing it in 1986. A four-door saloon version, the Málaga, followed a year later in 1985. The Ibiza and Málaga were the closest SEAT ever came to Continue reading “Espíritu Independiente (Part Two)”
The romance of the open road. Being your own boss. A scaled down Knight of the Road, if you will. However much your magenta tinted spectacles may offer such views, in today’s dog eat dog road conditions, it’s mighty tough out there. Especially if you’re a photocopier engineer with a large region to cover and your given steed is a B8 Passat estate – in grey. Cliched, isn’t it? Though Mark definitely does not sell the machines, his remit is simply to Continue reading “Mark, His Mk8 Motor and a Mackerel”
Seeing the ‘all-new, all-digital’ (it is neither) Golf VIII being advertised led me to dig out Car’s launch and first drive article covering the Golf II. Both the modern-day car and Car suffer from the comparison.
When I wrote my last effort for DTW, Computer World, I had no idea that VW would go ‘all-digital’ in its portrayal of what is perhaps its most revered existing icon. VW’s version of ‘digital’ isn’t all that different from that of the 1983 Austin/ MG Maestro, and it seems to have paid for the extra gimmickry by de-contenting the new Golf in subtle and yet significant ways. Instantly, it seems they have thrown away that constant sense of superiority and quality which, in my mind, the Golf has always possessed.
I have never owned a Golf, and only relatively recently driven one (it was a courtesy car whilst my Octavia was in for a service). It’s a car I have often revered – starting with the MkII (I was too young to Continue reading “A Tale of Two Cars”
A photo for Sunday: A DTW icon in an atmospheric setting.
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 Continue reading “Dock of the Bay”
Nothing can be maintained indefinitely – even the most successful careers eventually end in failure. In 2017, when a drop in Volkswagen Golf sales was reported, it was viewed as an aberration, a blip in a broadly upward graph. However, just three years later, the realisation is dawning that the Golf as we know it not only has peaked, but is in notable decline.
At the Frankfurt motor show, those manufacturer-representatives in attendance, have it would appear, spent the obligatory press days smiling through clenched teeth. Boldly proffering their very latest in hybrid combustion and in a few notable cases, pure-EV offerings, the combined European, Far Eastern and in a few cases, North American carmakers are nevertheless casting anxious skywards glances towards a rapidly darkening vista.
A giant of the automotive world has departed. His like will not be seen again.
Ferdinand Piëch was not easily satisfied. Anything less than the relentless shedding of blood, sweat and tears he considered insufficient initiative – an approach many found misanthropic, yet from Piëch’s perspective, it was a mere matter of applying a categorical imperative. He would never expect more from anybody else than from himself. Continue reading “In Memoriam : Ferdinand Piëch”
The times are clearly a-changing at Wolfsburg, if Volkswagen’s smallest ‘SUV’ offering is anything to go by.
One of the nicknames given to Herbert Diess during his tenure at BMW was ‘Scrooge’. Even though he’s in charge of the VAG empire in general and the VW brand in particular these days, it would appear his business instincts haven’t changed one bit. Certainly not if the VW T-Cross, one of the first products into which he had any significant input, serves as an indication. For this Polo with rugged pretensions barely feels like the kind of car one expects a Volkswagen to be.
Obviously, it wasn’t just Herr Diess’ parsimonious tendencies that cast such an unflattering light onto the T-Cross during the week I and my partner got to sample it. The sometimes merciless nature of the rental car lottery was equally to be blamed. After all, just a few weeks prior, we’d truly been spoiled with the excellent VW Golf GTI Performance – a car that highlighted what Wolfsburg can be capable of, in truly impressive fashion. The contrast with the T-Cross therefore could scarcely have been any harsher.
Obviously, the T-Cross is supposedly one category below a Golf-size car (which is what we’d booked and I insisted upon, to no avail), and a 1.0 litre three-cylinder engine, producing the grand total of 115 metric horsepower cannot hope to Continue reading “Driven, Written: VW T-Cross (2019)”
They still know how to design and engineer a decent car at Wolfsburg, as proven by Germany’s premier hot hatch.
The rental car lottery: Source of frustration, surprise and disillusionment. In the case of myself and my partner, the feeling of an outright win had eluded us so far – until I was handed the keys to the car I’d booked as ‘VW Golf Automatic or similar’, which turned our to be not just a VW Golf indeed – a first in itself. Moreover, this Golf was arguably in the model’s most appealing guise, which meant we would be crossing half of Germany in a Golf GTI Performance. Hurrah!
A (belated) photo for Friday, which comes with a question.
This is, for those who cannot quite place it, a first-series Volkswagen Golf. It dates from the final year of Wolfsburg production – 1983 – and is, I can attest, in remarkably well-preserved and unmolested condition. Continue reading “Blown In With the Wind”
This’d be one of those under-the-radar kind of cars that I don’t notice much less write about. So what’s it doing here, today, now?
First and least importantly, the car’s presence here is a bit of DTW’s public service activity. I am documenting the car and making available a nice, clear side profile. Second, and more interestingly, we find the exception to the rule (and haven’t photographed that). What do I mean?
As we await the newest iteration of VW’s bestseller, we examine what opposition it will face.
It’s no good. Despite repeated efforts, no European carmaker has successfully unseated the Volkswagen Golf from its lofty promontory; a position unique insofar that not only does it occupy a sub-segment of its own, but also in that its name can be expressed as both noun and adjective.
The third generation Golf was not the model line’s finest hour – not by a long shot. So what have we here?
Former Volkswagen design supremo, Herbert Schäfer once proclaimed that only two people on this little garden planet of ours were endowed with the necessary skill, judgement and stylistic nous to create a VW Golf – those being originator, Giorgetto Giugiaro and a certain Herbert Schäfer.
In 1978 Audi withdrew from the lower end of the market when the daring and distinctive 50 ceased production. While it might have been a landmark for Audi, it was a molehill for everyone else.
The 50 didn’t sell awfully well and Audi felt it ought to focus its efforts on larger cars. However the penny dropped that premium car makers could offer smaller cars as the 90s wore on. BMW chopped up the 3-series to make the Compact (1993) and Mercedes got with the programme in 1997 with the A-class.
Today automotive News posted an item headlined “VW says next generation of cars with combustion engines will be the last”. The next sentence is “Volkswagen Group expects the era of the combustion car to fade away after it rolls out its next-generation gasoline and diesel cars beginning in 2026.” Hey sister, that’s 8 years away. Bloomberg has much the same story, by the way.
In my October 6th article I wrote “A car launched in 2018 might be replaced in 2025 leaving a short product cycle to recoup investments. That makes the period around now the last point at which it will be worth bothering to engineer for ICE engines.” I did not expect that. It means that VW will Continue reading “Is There A Way Forward Through The Frozen Glass?”
Volkswagen’s upmarket Passat derivative – was it misunderstood or simply misconceived?
If one was to plot the course of Volkswagen’s design heritage in purely aesthetic terms (if indeed such a thing were possible), it would be represented on a somewhat undulating graph, and it could be argued with some conviction that overall, the troughs have tended to outweigh the peaks. But automotive design is a cyclical discipline and all styling studios must move with, or at least reflect the times. Continue reading “Song to the Siren”
The other day I gently placed a tiny gauntlet at the feet of the readers, a challenge concerning the set of boring parked cars. What had they in common, I inquired softly.
I received some jolly interesting replies ranging from observations about their grilles to their general banality. There was also a good guess about engine displacements. Alas, despite their ingenuity and their not being 100% wrong, none of the replies were precisely, exactly and perfectly what I was looking for. So, in order to lower people’s tension levels I will Continue reading “If Only Hope and Despair Did Not Live Side By Side”
Due to certain circumstances, this author was granted the chance to successively experience two up-to-date (rental) cars up close. The resultant findings led to conclusions not just regarding the (de)merits of each vehicle, but the modern automobile in general.
We carry on our saunter down memory avenue with this look back to the champions of the summer of 1998. Where were you then?
I don’t want to talk about it. It was the second worst time of my life. Times weren’t good at Mercedes either. The A-Class had been moosed and that took some of the attention from its revolutionary cheapening of the Mercedes name and its quite hideous styling.
VW’s staple supermini proves that too much of a good thing is still too much.
The Volkswagen Polo may never have matched its bigger brother, the quintessential Golf, in terms of significance or profit margins. And yet it was the previous generation of this car, the Polo V, that proved how serious VW’s then new management under (now) notorious CEO, Martin Winterkorn, was about redefining the brand.
The summer is here and DTW’s offices become ferociously stuffy, a maelstrom of dandruff, cigar ash and wine-label dust dancing in the shafts of half-light.
Simon Kearne, the editor, moves his collection of sherry and cooking marsala to his summer residence (location: secret) and Myles Gorfe’s padded rally jacket disappears off his swivel chair. We never see him, or him taking it. He has gone, like a swallow in September.
So, this writer is also fleeing DTW’s dusty, cramped, byzantine, magazine-clogged rooms on the ninth floor for a summer pause. However, I am not going to display complete dereliction of duty and so have left a trove of articles on automotive life in 1998. which I have tagged Re-1998. They will appear over the coming weeks.
The concept of fun isn’t one we’d habitually associate with brand-Volkswagen, especially of late. But all that appears set to change.
In matters of crisis management, it is essential to maintain control of the narrative. Lose that, and the organisation becomes untethered, prey to attack from all sides. Inaction, by default, becomes one’s chosen action in both the eyes of critics and the wider public.
When Volkswagen’s systematic and sophisticated emissions gaming came to light in 2015, the carmaker seemed to have frozen in disbelief and denial. Regardless of how matters were being handled internally, the glacial pace of their response was viewed in the Continue reading “Crisis of Identity”
Death’s door revolves once more for VW’s retromobile. Perhaps we’ll miss it this time, but only if it promises to go away.
At the recent Geneva motor show, Volkswagen’s research and development chief, Frank Welsch confirmed the much rumoured demise of the Beetle. Many commenters had speculated since VW’s fortunes (both reputational and financial) took a dive in the wake of the firm’s emissions-revelations, that niche models like the Beetle were on deathwatch, so in many ways this news comes as no surprise.
We have a bit of crystal ball gazing from the chief designer of Toyota, reported in Automotive News. The mainstream car will go extinct. Not that surprising, really. But why do we have a Ford Taunus as the main image?
Starting with the idea that a large proportion of the cars made in the future will be externally controlled (“self-driving”), people’s relationship to cars will change. Simon Humphries’ vision is that most cars will be anonymous containers on wheels and a small remainder will be highly specialised luxury or performance items. He imagines “pure race cars” can be created.
I realise it’s an old and oft-discussed issue, but I have experienced VW shooting itself in the badge.
I was recently loaned a brand new VW Golf Estate for the day whilst my Octavia of similar form was in for its 10k oil-change. I have frequently read over the past few years how the differential between VW Group’s brands has blurred, but this is the first time I was presented with an opportunity to witness the phenomenon so directly. And, although I should not have been, I was a bit taken aback at the experience.
Volkswagen’s new flagship seems to be intent on making up for the lack of outright prestige with pretence and derivativeness – a cause that isn’t aided by its clunky moniker.
Tiguan, Up(!), T-Roc – VW’s recent crop of all-new model names certainly invites unkind comparisons. Renault can get away with a Twingo, nobody minded Opel’s Tigra, but Volkswagen appears to be better served by less
Volkswagen’s T-Roc compact recreational SUV is not some belated attempt at jumping on the bandwagon. It’s worse than that.
Despite decades of commentators claiming the opposite, being a designer at VW never was an easy job. One needs to be within spitting distance to current fashion, but still keep the technocratic aloofness that’s characterised the brand’s best products intact. Which is no mean feat under any circumstances. Continue reading “Getting Down With Da Kidz, Heide Style”
The newest generation of one of VW’s non-Golf evergreens stands for the greater malaise of the German car industry – and acute deficits chez Wolfsburg
To the untrained eye, this newest generation of Polo looks pretty much the same as its predecessor. Alas, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Whereas the Polo V was a small stylistic gem, boasting subtle craftsmanship of the highest order, from its expert surfacing to the delicacy of its detailing, this new car’s styling achieves the feat of managing to Continue reading “Missing The Ball At Polo”
Across the road from the bus-stop, there stood this VW Passat:
Around the C-pillar I saw a lot of what in the olden days we’d call BMW style. I reflect a lot on how BMW once did some of the work involved in epitomising German design, but it’s been a long time since this : Continue reading “A medley for Sunday”