“The Volkswagen Golf is the greatest real-world car of the last 50 years”

Mike Rutherford thinks the new or used VW Golfs that he either bought, leased or ran as company cars were the finest affordable cars on the market

Opinion - VW Golf

As a kid in the seventies I tried – and failed – to cope with my troubled displacement from the inner London I loved to the suburbs that I didn’t.

A pair of new, out-of-town schools beckoned. To be fair, the first was happy and glorious – not least because the atmosphere and teaching were effective enough for some pupils to go on and achieve great things. Mick Jagger was one of ’em. He progressed to the London School of Economics, then became the founder, frontman and de facto CEO of The Rolling Stones. Fair to say the boy done good.

My second suburban school sat inside a crumbling high-rise building that was wrong on so many levels. Apart from not getting my name right for the years I served time there, the formal ‘careers advice’ it offered was worse than useless. Example: after explaining that I wanted to train and qualify as a corporate lawyer, I was encouraged to attend an interview for a job as a carpet layer! No wonder this wretched school for Class T (troubled/thick/talentless) kids like me was eventually deemed unfit for purpose, rightfully razed to the ground and turned into a housing estate.

Consequently, I missed much of the formal education I could and should have received. But I did at least learn what to this day not a lot of people know – that the first Volkswagen Golf rolled off the Wolfsburg production line on 29 March 1974.

The seventies also taught me that the quality, usability, safety, efficiency, durability and reliability differences between my first used car (an air-cooled Beetle) and my second (a Mk1 Golf) were gargantuan. Furthermore, in the decades that followed, the new or used Golfs I bought, leased or ran as company or test cars were, without doubt, the finest affordable mid-sized cars on the market.

The likes of Ford, Renault, Peugeot, plus the Japanese and Koreans, weighed in with rival models boasting similar or lower price tags. But they rarely beat the consistently fine, strangely classless Golf. True, VW got things horribly wrong with its Dieselgate debacle that damaged the model’s reputation. And matters went from bad to worse when the electric e-Golf arrived with a range that was far too low and a price tag way too high.

Another problem for Golf in recent years is that its not-so-little sibling, the Polo, grew in size, quality, credibility and stature to become almost as spacious and desirable as its big bro, while costing thousands of pounds less. Also, the more versatile, fresher-looking T-Roc SUV can be had today for not much more than a comparatively old-fashioned, all- too-familiar Golf hatchback, which was once the best-selling car in Europe – a feat it will likely never again achieve with so many alternatives on offer. That said, the genuinely game-changing model originally launched in 1974 remains in production today, and its maker has confirmed that it will outlive the ID.3 as the electric car in the range.

Whether you’re thinking of buying a brand new Golf or a second-hand one, never forget: I’ve driven thousands of cars and can confidently confirm that the Golf is, all things considered and by some margin, the greatest real-world car of the last half-century.

Do you agree with Mike? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section...

Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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