- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

MODEL: Volkswagen Golf GLS 1.8T
VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door sedan
PRICE-AS-TESTED: $19,895
MILEAGE: 24 city, 31 highway

Maybe American consumers are starting to warm to hatchbacks again.
Officials at Volkswagen of America Inc. hope so. They're projecting a 21 percent increase in U.S. sales of their VW Golf and GTI hatchbacks in the 2000 model year.
The two models which share the same platform, most engines and transmissions and similar, hatchback body styling get a new, 1.8-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine this year that's designed to boost the cars' performance and image.
The engine, standard in the GTI as in the bigger VW Passat sedan and Audi A4, is a $1,550 option on the Golf GLS. Golfs have a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price plus destination charge of $15,425, while the performance-oriented GTIs start at $19,750.
Many auto industry officials say Americans tend to equate hatchback with cheap. It stems from the 1970s and early 1980s, when gas prices were rising and fuel-thrifty cars were, in many cases, small hatchbacks.
But VW, which capitalized back then on the fuel concerns by selling hundreds of thousands of fuel-thrifty VW Rabbit hatchbacks here, has kept the compact Golf/ GTI in the U.S. lineup despite sales declines from 1996 to 1998. In calendar 1999, Golf/GTI sales rose 3.9 percent to 18,990.
The test 2000 Golf GLS 1.8T had the road feel of a downsized German touring car. The front-wheel-drive took curvy mountain roads with confidence and stuck to its line even in gutsy maneuvers. Body lean is minimized.
I noticed how forgiving the suspension is. The five-door Golf's front independent MacPherson strut and rear-torsion beam-axle configuration soaked up big road bumps with no fuss, yet the car always felt well planted.
The power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering responded promptly, and a two-hour nonstop drive on highways, in mountains and in the suburbs left me energized, not fatigued. I would happily have gone on.
Note that standard tires and wheels in the Golf are 15-inchers while some other small-car competitors come with standard 14-inch tires.
Note, too, that front and rear brakes in the Golf are the more expensive discs, and an anti-lock braking system is standard on all Golfs.
But the real news is under the hood. The new, 1.8-liter, turbocharged, 20-valve, double-overhead cam, inline four-cylinder engine gets the 2,900-pound car moving quickly.
The strong pull from a standstill sets you back in your seat and lasts, since the engine has a long, flat torque curve that runs from 1,750 to 4,200 revolutions per minute. Maximum torque is 155 foot-pounds.
The output comes on so cleanly, so smoothly, I suspect many drivers won't bother distinguishing the car's turbocharged engine from a naturally aspirated one.
I zipped around city streets, struggling to stay within the speed limit. On the highway, the Golf didn't behave at all as if it only had four cylinders. I sprinted by other cars easily.
VW boasts that the Golf GLS 1.8T with manual transmission goes from 0 to 60 mph in just 8.2 seconds. Riders, however, notice the high rev sounds that accompany this performance, similar to the high-revving Honda and Toyota four-cylinders with variable-valve-timing technology.
Here, VW uses its five-valves-per-cylinder technology three valves for intake, two for exhaust to maximize engine performance.
The Golf's five-speed manual could be more precise. But even the four-speed automatic is geared so it doesn't sap the engine performance.
The new engine is the third offered for the Golf. The others are the base, 115-horsepower, 2-liter four and a 90-horsepower, 1.9-liter, turbocharged, diesel-powered four.
The firm VW seats provide good support on long trips. But I noticed quite a bit of wind noise at highway speed.
Three adults in back sit very closely, but the hatchback design affords ample cargo space 18 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded down.
Side air bags are standard in all Golfs.
VW also has three-point shoulder belts at every one of the five seat positions in the car, even in the middle of the back seat. Each passenger gets a height-adjustable and lockable head restraint, too.
Short people are likely to find the Golf one of the most accommodating cars. A height-adjustable driver seat is standard, as is a steering wheel that not only adjusts up and down but telescopes out and back. And the dead pedal that helps you brace yourself in aggressive driving is well-positioned, even for shorter drivers.

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