How many fourth generation Volkswagens do you see every day? Probably a lot right? How many 1.8T Jettas? A lot. How many 1.8T Golfs that are NOT a GTI?… Ah. Not many. Volkswagen made very few of these. The 1.8T GLS. It’s not just a four door Golf with a turbo engine, and it’s not just a four door GTI either. It’s a rarity in the VW line up that only lasted about one year. The 1.8T GLS has the brakes of a GTI, the suspension of a Golf and the engine of a GTI. Inside of the car, everything is there that you would expect in a top of the line GLS (save for the optional leather). My father purchased the car shown here in 2000 not realizing that it would end up being the slight oddity that it is today. Interesting to note this isn’t the first oddball VW product he’s had. His 1980 Audi 4000 was a two door, and I don’t mean a fastback. Try finding one of those. So here it is, eight years later with 160,000 miles on it… but I must say, not necessarily trouble free miles.
I’ve been driving this car since it was new, and I know it quite well. The most noticable thing about the performance of it first off is that it’s pretty damned fast. The 1.8T in these models is the 150 horsepower variant, as with the early IV generation GTIs. Later the GTI would get the 180 hp version, but production on the GLS 1.8T had ceased before then.
The turbo spools up quickly with some barely noticable lag. It’s all too easy to get some significant wheel spin if you’re not used to it, especially with the traction controll disengaged. From then on out it’s a pretty constant power band. The mid range torque is great and it’s very easy to just punch the throttle in 5th and move from 65 mph to 100 quite effortlesly. At speed on the highway you can tell this car was designed with high-speed autobahn driving in mind. At 100 you feel like you’re doing maybe 80 in anything else. 65 just seems down right slow. The steering is pretty tight at speed and you feel pretty confident with it. The brakes are very good as well. Having the GTI calipers and rotors most likely makes this a big more confidence inspiring than a typical Golf. My only complaint here is that the pedal feel is very light. While the ride is smooth – as smooth as German cars get – this comes at the expense of a very light suspension which isn’t quite ideal for performance oriented driving. A stiffer set of springs would do wonders for long constant-radius turns and interstate ramps. Back road driving will certainly make you wish that the car didn’t have so much body roll. The transmission is smooth, though almost too smooth. The shift linkage lacks as much feel as I’d prefer and the clutch is extremely light and grabs a bit higher than I’d like as well. Though much of this is personal preference.
Fit and Finish:
Inside, this car sets an industry benchmark for interior quality… well… let me re-phrase that. INITIAL quality. After a few years of use, you may start to notice your glovebox door and center console lid falling off. Aside from that, the materials are all of very fine quality. There is great attention to detail paid to textures and pannel fit.
I’ve mentioned some of the issues in the interior already. The body on this car is still solid as the day it was built after 8 years of snow-belt winters and one minor accident. No bubbling rust spots at all, the paint still polishes up well and there’s not a speck of orange-peel anywhere. Panel gap is superb all around as well. The engine doesn’t burn any oil, runs smooth and strong as ever and there are no complaints here. About two years ago though there was a minor issue with the turbo wastegate sticking open, but since it’s remedy all is well. The biggest mechanical failure so far though as been the clutch. This car uses a dual plate clutch system as a lot of other VW Group products do. Two winters ago at about 130,000 this mechanism found a way to fuse solid to itself thus prefenting the car from starting, moving, etc. That was expensive. Also it’s interesting how much this car LOVES to eat brakes, ball joints and wheel bearings. The front rotors and pads have never lasted more than about a year and a half and it’s had all the bearings replaced. Twice in the front (and again soon) and once in the rear. It also decided to randomly break a spring in the left front as well. For the sake of comparison, my 1993 Saab 900 has 178,000 miles on it’s original bearings, balljoints, shocks, springs, and only it’s third set of brakes. This has become an all to familiar sight at home:
Also of note are some interesting electrical gremlins. This car loves to fry lightbulbs. I don’t think any of the lightbulbs have ever all worked at the same time since the car left the factory in Brazil. It also has a uniqe trait that requires you to strike the center console a few times before the heater control lights come on.
The Golf is a good car all in all. It just has some issues that could be associated with any number of things. Being made in South America, being an early model in the generation, being built on a monday, etc. I’d have expected a more reliable machine from VW, and I know I’m not the only one to feel this way abou the newer VW products. Aside from that the package is great when it works right and hopefully when some of the hard feelings have passed I’ll look back fondly on this car.