VW Golf Countdown: 1997-2003 Mk4 Introduced A High Quality Interior, ESC And DSG

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.

Also Read: VW Golf Countdown: 1991-1996 Mk3 Was Full Of Safety First But Not The Most Memorable Drive

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


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  • Bash

    I like this design the most.

    • Un Tipo Serio

      See, and raise.

    • alexxx

      Really?! Are you sure?
      Most boring for me…

      • Bash

        Well, its ok, what works for you, may not work for others.

    • erly5

      Me too!

  • sportvan

    Had one of these as a company car, was easily the most unreliable car I’ve ever had. Was replaced with a Facelift Focus ST that was impeccably reliable over 130,000 miles

  • Loquacious Borborygmus

    Ah! The generation that had a GTi that wasn’t a GTi.

  • DMJ

    This was the last revolutionary Golf. Everything was futuristic and high quality, it was even better than cars from the upper segment. Now it’s always evolutionary and I miss the boldness of the VW Group at that time. From the Golf, to the Audi TT, Audi A6, Audi A2, the first VW Touareg, the first Skoda Fabia. Now it’s a car group that makes everything boring and evolutionary, always afraid that the chinese costumer may dislike.
    Wake up VW!

    • designer_dick

      The only revolutionary aspect of the Mk4 was the interior quality. Everything else was pretty standard, middle of the road fare for a European small hatchback in 1997. It might have felt expensive inside, but it was roundly trounced by both the Mk4 Vauxhall Astra and original Ford Focus for driving dynamics.

      • DMJ

        I´m not talking about driving dynamics, the was the weak point of the Golf. I’m talking about the way it looked compared with it’s rivals and it looked 5 years ahead, or more, in terms of design and quality. And I’m not even a VW fan.

        • designer_dick

          It was a bog standard European small hatchback, complete with basic torsion beam rear supension. It might have looked nice and had a fancy interior, but there was certainly nothing advanced or innovative about its design.

    • alexxx


  • Alban Gojani

    The Mk 4 is the OG Golf.

  • Honda NSX-R

    I wonder how those DSGs are faring now reliability-wise

  • Karter Harmon-Wilkening

    I had a silver TDI of this generation. I loved that car… until everything started going to hell at about 50K miles and I found out how expensive repairs were.

  • Johny Hightower

    Still driving one. 210K and counting in 7 years and not a single problem with this car ??

  • Alduin

    04 R32 was a cool car but the 2000-2005 Jettas were garbage.

  • Nowan

    until Ford Focus came to this world….

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