1998 VW Golf GL
From the moment I guided the Volkswagen Golf into my one-car garage for the first time, I wondered why North Americans have abandoned hatchbacks.
Here is a car with carrying capacity, with a folding rear seat and a removable package shelf.
Here is a car that frees up enough space for three bikes in my garage.
The Golf's interior packaging is without a doubt its greatest achievement.
An interior that's fractionally larger than its cousin Jetta's is carved from a body that is almost a full half-metre shorter. It has more rear head room, more front leg room, more shoulder room and greater trunk volume.
The efficiency of the Golf's chunky two-box design (with its almond eyes, also bette-rlooking than the Jetta), in my opinion is astounding.
This box feels solid, too. The doors close with an expensive thunk.
If only the car's interior were as well-made as it is spacious. While the layout is logical enough, with high-mounted radio controls and big rotary ventilation knobs, the Wall of Black dashboard is neither particularly attractive nor well-made.
Its many pieces creaked over pavement ripples, and I counted more than a dozen slightly mis-matched textures and shades of poorly moulded off-black plastic.
The dash's quality seems especially bothersome in light of the quality plastic on the roof pillars, the fabric headliner, the damped grab handles and the solid sun visors.
The seats are excellent, supportive and comfortable in all the right places. They make long cruises down the highway painless.
Equally painless is how the Golf tracks down the highway. Its stability and solidity at speed make it feel like a much bigger car.
Unlike most cars of comparable size and weight, the Golf isn't upset by crosswinds and doesn't readily follow road imperfections.
Call it Autobahn breeding if you wish, but the Golf feels completely at home on the 401.
Around town, it feels equally at home because of its small size.
The 2.0 L, 115 hp four â€” making the proper growly Golf-type sound â€” pulls it around speedily, even with the optional ($1100) automatic.
The steering feels a little numb, though, and has the annoying trait of wanting to stay at full lock once it's there.
In traffic, you also appreciate the car's excellent eight-speaker sound system and effective climate controls (the heater is especially powerful).
You learn to despise the thick rear roof pillar, which creates a blind spot big enough to hide a Chevy Blazer, but the mirrors, thankfully, are big and adjust far enough outward to cover it.
The $16,795 base tab is no small change for such a small car, but it nets a lot of standard features â€” from a remote central-locking system, to an alarm, to a full set of instruments, to that stereo.
Be careful with the options, though. Even metallic paint will cost you $250 extra.
My test car's sticker, with ABS, a moonroof and air conditioning, among other things, soared to $22,515.
If you aren't willing to put up with the dash, a new Golf is supposed to be on the way this fall, one whose beautiful interior â€” as airy and well-made as the current model's seems dark and flimsy â€” the European press has been raving over.
If you are, the Golf's confidence on the highway and its marvelous packaging efficiency are likely to win you over now.
Base VW Golf GL: $16,765
Metallic paint: $250
Power moonroof: $855
Air conditioning: $1295
Delivery charge: $510
Air conditioning tax: $100
Price as tested: $22,515
Laurance Yap is a Toronto-based freelance writer and
regular contributor to Auto Motive, a bilingual Chinese-English
This report was prepared with a Golf supplied by Volkswagen