As we continue to count down to the launch of the new Golf Mk8, we arrive at the fourth-generation model, a car that signified Volkswagen trying to take the nameplate to a whole different level in terms of quality.
Developed in the mid 1990s, the Golf Mk4 made its debut in 1997 and became an instant hit. In fact, three years after its launch, it became Europe’s best selling car thanks to its high-quality interior and strong equipment levels.
It had features such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and brake assist and became the first Golf to utilize VW’s new 4MOTION all-wheel drive system. In 1999, it gained a 6-speed gearbox for the first time, but not before receiving a sat-nav system with a large color screen. In time, ESC became standard and direct injection gasoline engines (FSI) were made available.
Like with its predecessors, there were multiple body styles to choose from, as well as derivatives such as the fourth-gen VW Jetta (Bora). Its platform was also used for the first-generation Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia, two models that allowed V-Dub to market the Golf Mk4 as a more upscale product, which was by no means a stretch since interior quality was on par with that of the Mk1 Audi A3.
While the German automaker didn’t build an actual Cabriolet version of the Mk4, carrying over the third-gen with a fourth-gen-like front end instead, the compact hatchback was available as a three-door, five-door and estate.
The GTI switched to a turbocharged 1.8-liter with 150 PS. In 2001, the 180 PS Edition 25 was launched to mark the GTI’s 25th anniversary. It preceded the Golf R32, which arrived the following year with a new VR6 engine, a top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h) and, for the first time in a Golf, a dual clutch DSG gearbox.
In the end, the Mk4 will go down as one of the most important generations ever. It was the first Golf to face serious competition in the C-segment thanks to Ford and Opel launching the 1st-gen Focus and 2nd-gen Astra, respectively, in 1998. By the time production on the Mk4 ceased, Volkswagen had put 4.99 million units on the road.
VW Golf Mk4 Timeline
1997 Extremely high body quality levels, achieved by elements including laser welding
1997 Blue instrument lighting
1997 New 4MOTION all-wheel drive
1997 Navigation system with large color screen for the very first time
1998 Introduction of the optionally available Electronic Stability Control
1999 ESC becomes standard equipment
1999 First Golf with 6-speed gearbox
2002 First Golf with direct petrol injection engine (FSI)
2002 Debut of the Golf R32 as sporty, top-of-the-range model
2003 First dual clutch gearbox (DSG) in Golf R32
2003 Phase-out of the fourth generation after 4.99 million vehicles produced