Heritage

Volkswagen at 70: Do you remember these models?

Volkswagen vehicles have been sold in the U.S. for the last 70 years.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

In 1949, Ben Pon, a Dutch businessman, arrived in New York with precious cargo - two Volkswagen Type 1 models, later known as the Beetle. Pon was one of the first to attempt to sell a Volkswagen to Americans and now, 70 years on, 17 million have been sold.

Let's take a trip down memory lane.

1949 Volkswagen Beetle

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

In post-World War II Europe, the Volkswagen Beetle was well on its way to being one of the most popular vehicles on the continent. Its efficient packaging and air-cooled engine helped it win a fan base. The 25-horsepower Beetle shown here is identical to the one Pon first imported to the U.S. in 1949.

1954 Volkswagen Type 2 Bus

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Telefunken, a German radio company, painted their logo on the side of the Volkswagen Type 2 Bus and used it as a delivery van. This is the Panel Delivery version of the Bus, which features a modified version of the Beetle's floorpan and the same 30-hp flat-four engine.

1963 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

German coach builder Karmann built this Volkswagen coupe, adding sporty style to the German automaker's lineup. Like the Type 2 Bus before it, the Karmann Ghia used the same engine as the Beetle, a 34-horsepower four-cylinder, for the 1963 model year.

1967 Volkswagen Type 2 21-Window Bus

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

This is a copy of the highly sought-after 21-Window "Samba" version of the Volkswagen Type 2 21-Window Bus. It features a white-on-orange paint scheme. In the U.S., 23-window variants were known as the Sunroof Deluxe. Instead of a sliding door, the Samba as two pivot doors.

1973 Volkswagen Squareback

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Like the modern crossover, the Squareback wagon sought to prove that smaller vehicles would still haul a family. This '73 has storage under the hood and in the back. The model has 65 horsepower and was one of the first vehicles to have fuel injection technology.

1973 Volkswagen Thing

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

This Thing wasn't designed to be part of the Addams family. The original concept was meant to be a military vehicle European nations. Called the Type 181, that model was off-road friendly. By the time the vehicle came to the U.S., the 46-horsepower convertible was marketed as "Thing."

1977 Volkswagen Dasher and 2020 Volkswagen Passat

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The Dasher was designed to be a more premium model than the Beetle. Known as the Passat in Europe, the Dasher came in sedan, hatchback, and wagon variants. It was front-wheel drive and powered by a water-cooled four-cylinder engine that achieved 78 horsepower. Volkswagen produced the car for sale in the U.S. as the B1 from 1973-1981. It was the sister model of the Audi 80.

1979 Volkswagen Super Beetle

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The Super Beetle marked the end of the original Beetle era. It was the last of original generation to be sold in the U.S. The Type 1 continued to be manufactured for sale at the company's Puebla, Mexico plant until 2003, 65 years after it for launched. This model is owned by Volkswagen and has less than 1,000 miles on its 48 horsepower four-cylinder engine.

1981 Volkswagen Scirocco

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The less-sexy Scirocco succeeded the Karmann Ghia in Volkswagen's lineup. It was a Giugiaro-designed coupe that started production in 1974 and ended its run in 1982, only to be revived in 2008. The Scirocco's production ended in 2017. This 74-hosepower model had fewer than 1,000 miles on it.

1982 Volkswagen Jetta Mk1

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Volkswagen offered the Jetta as a sedan alternative to the Golf/Rabbit. The first generation of the model delivered European design and fuel efficiency. Soon after its debut in 1979 the model became the best-selling European car in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Its 76-horsepower engine was paired with either a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission.

1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The 1974, Volkswagen became selling the Golf MK1 as a front-wheel-drive, long-range replacement for the Beetle. It was known as the Volkswagen Rabbit GTI in the U.S. The Golf is still produced today for sale around the world.

1998 Volkswagen Beetle "New Beetle"

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The Beetle returned as a modern car in 1997. It contained some of the quirky attributes that played on the heritage of the model including a dashboard-mounted flower bud vase. The New Beetle was in production until July 2019 as the automaker began to shift toward more electric vehicle production.

2019 Volkswagen Atlas

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Production of the Volkswagen Atlas began in 2017 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The three-row SUV was brought to market as a 2018 model. The Atlas is known as the Volkswagen Teramont in China, the Middle East, Russia, Mexico, and Rwanda.

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The new Golf R hits all the right notes.

Volkswagen

Goldilocks might say the updated 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is “just right”. We agree and say it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing! While the looks of this all-wheel-drive are somewhat understated, the performance isn’t. The quasi-supercar wears the performance halo in VW’s Golf stable; it has come from Wolfsburg slotting within the eighth-generation GTI lineup and benefits from a new engine, new vehicle dynamics settings and new driving modes. Borrowing DNA from VW’s heralded Mk8 Golf GTI, the R is available in one well-appointed trim only but can be ordered with a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG transmission.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R All-wheel drive is standard.Volkswagen

Hot hatches are back in vogue, despite the popularity of trucks and SUVs. The new Golf R has been on hiatus since 2019; it will compete with the Honda Civic Type R and the Hyundai Veloster N, among others. It is priced at $43,645 for the manual and $44,445 for the automatic (plus $995 destination) and comes painted in Deep Black Pearl, Lapiz Blue Metallic or Pure White. It’s on sale now and can be ordered with an optional Performance Package.

Although the R shares its upgraded interior and technology with the new GTI, this slick runabout extracts more power from the 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder turbocharged engine and boasts some exclusive items onboard. The R’s manual and automatic versions both get 315 horsepower while the manual cruises with 280 lb.-ft. of torque and the dual-clutch auto gets 295.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R VW made significant tech improvements to all vehicles for 2022. Volkswagen

Outside, a new grille and lighting elements accentuate the front end of the four-door hatchback that has been freshened with a more muscular look, race-inspired styling cues and side air intakes that assist as channels to add cool air. A blue strip highlights the upper grille, that is crafted atop an illuminated LED strip; these strips stretch outward from the VW logo into the fender via the Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) giving an attractive and appealing persona along with the LED light strip and standard LED headlights that help to provide good lighting. A R badge punctuates the right side.

The Golf R gets standard 19-inch black machined aluminum-alloy wheels, with blue brake calipers and the R logo on top. R-exclusive body-color sill extensions add flair while other exterior trim elements include matte aluminum-treated exterior mirror caps; mirror housings also provide LED projected R logos onto the ground when opening and closing the front doors. In back, R-specific design cues include the new bumper with a splitter, the high-gloss black diffuser, a quad-tipped exhaust system, and standard LED taillight clusters.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R The R's cabin is tech-filled and upscale.Volkswagen

Inside the premium cabin is blue detailing throughout and a unique new multifunction perforated leather sport steering wheel, with R-specific paddle-shifters for DSG-equipped models, with blue stitching and an “R” wheel clip. The front sport seats have integrated head restraints and blue R logos and the center panels are covered with perforated Titan Black Nappa leather. The dash and doors sport carbon-look elements.

The controls have been updated with touch buttons, sliders and screens. The standard 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro offers exclusive features such as a new, horizontal engine speed display at the upper edge, as well as a lap timer. A head-up display digitally projects onto the windshield and the MIB3 Discover Pro infotainment system can display a full-screen map in the digital cluster and simultaneously on the 10-inch center display. Thirty-color ambient lighting comes standard on the Golf R. Other features include stainless-steel pedals and more carbon-look trim on the dashboard, charging ports, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Wi-fi hotspot. Of note is more cargo space than expected and a comfortable back seat.

We drove the new Golf R in the Ashville, North Carolina environs along a series of backcountry roads that serpentine through the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains. Notable was the on-tap torque available with both transmissions; our favorite was the long-throw six-speed that has a well-notched gear box, however we also loved the dual clutch tranny that takes care of the business of up- and down-shifts and even “blips” the throttle for seamless shifts. Our motoring was on dry, paved roads, so there was little-to-no opportunity to assess the intelligent AWD that can send 50 percent of the power to the back, with its rear, cross-axel torque-vectoring differential, but we can report that the R has a well-balanced adaptive chassis, responsive suspension and holds tight corners at high speeds with nary a wiggle.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R The Golf R will go on sale soon.Volkswagen

Selectable drive modes (Comfort, Sport, Race, Special, Drift, and Individual) can be activated by pressing an "R" button and hold appeal for many buyers in this class, who will also enjoy the standard sport exhaust, variable-ratio steering, bigger front disc brakes, and summer tires. Standard IQ.DRIVE driver assistance technology brings Adaptive Cruise Control with semiautonomous driving mode, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Assist, Travel Assist and Emergency Assist (on the DSG version only).

The EPA has estimated 23 mpg city/30 mpg fuel economy highway for the automatic and 20/28 with the manual.

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New affordable sports sedan

The new VW Jetta GLI may be more GTI than the real GTI

The GLI is slower than a GTI but offers all the driving fun.

Victoria Scott

The Jetta GLI has always occupied a strange niche in the Volkswagen model line. The GTI is typically the go-to affordable sports Volkswagen, and the GLI has always felt like the compromise proposition for Volkswagen buyers; it was hard to endorse choosing the relatively soft, grown-up sedan vs. the youthful, more-tightly tuned hot hatch. And with the Golf moving to a four-door-only offering four years ago, it made the Jetta even less appealing, as the outgoing GTI actually offered more cargo space than the Jetta and still kept an accessible back seat.

2022 VW Jetta GLI A turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four and a six-speed manual transmission are standard.Victoria Scott

But the MK7 GTI is no more, and now the relatively forgotten GLI has a chance to stand outside the shadow of its five-door sibling. Volkswagen has fully revamped the GTI and Golf R for the 2022 model year, but the Jetta GLI persists with the last-generation interior and drivetrain that it shared with the outgoing GTI. The GLI has been refreshed for the 2022 model year, but make no mistake, under the skin, it’s the same as it has been since its introduction in 2019.

On paper, this makes it look relatively weak compared to its newest hot-hatch sibling. The GLI still persists with the third-generation EA888 2.0L turbocharged inline four, with 228 HP and 258 ft-lbs of torque; the GTI now punches out 13 more horsepower and 15 more ft-lbs with its fourth-revision EA888. All lower trims of the GLI have been dropped, with only the fully-loaded Autobahn edition offered at an MSRP of $30,995, which makes it roughly $1,500

more than the base price of the all-new GTI on offer. The GTI has actually gained a slight amount of cargo capacity, now offering just shy of 20 cubic feet, whereas the Jetta offers just 14.1 cubic feet. Nearly everything in the spec sheets favors the newest iteration of the hot hatch over the sporty Jetta.

2022 VW Jetta GLI The new GLI makes its limits clear through a communicative steering system and chassis tuning.Victoria Scott

When I drove the GLI, it was at a media event in Asheville, North Carolina, through some of the most fun and challenging roads East of the Mississippi. I bookended my hot-Jetta driving experience with the all-new MK8 GTI and Golf R, and as I’ve written here before, those two cars didn’t quite cut it for me. They’re both incredibly competent and quick hatches, but the newest iteration of VW’s infotainment makes the interiors feel considerably less usable, and the handling dynamics are now more buttoned-up and refined. Surely, the new MK8 GTI will be faster around a track than the outgoing MK7 generation car, but it didn’t strike me as nearly as much fun. With the Golf line, fun should be key; the first generation GTI had all of a whopping 108 horsepower and that was still plenty to define an entire generation of sports cars, because it was so damn enjoyable.

And so I was sad to report that the shift to the MK8 is the first step back in the history of the long-running VW line, and driving it made me nostalgic for the wholehearted embrace of driver amusement and driver involvement that the MK7 had mastered. And lo and behold, the GLI is right there, still persisting with its last generation interior that still has physical dials and buttons, and it finally has a chance to be appreciated in the way it’s always deserved to. The lesser numbers belie the true point of the new GLI: It is the final hurrah of the MK7 generation’s perfected formula.

2022 VW Jetta GLI The GLI is every bit as capable as an everyday cruiser as a normal Jetta.Victoria Scott

So as soon as the GLI is evaluated off of the specification paperwork and on the streets, it shines. The new sheet metal looks sharp, and helps give the GLI some of the aggression it’s always been missing as the softer, more adult GTI sibling. The interior is mostly unchanged from the outgoing generation’s layout with the exception of the unfortunate capacitive-touch steering wheel shared across the VW line, but there are still physical controls for volume and climate control, and that’s enough to make it a pleasant place to be. Because the only trim available is now the fully-loaded Autobahn package, it has all of the finest tech and driver comforts VW currently offers, including Volkswagen’s excellent IQ.Drive driver-assistance package and a bumpin’ BeatsAudio 400-watt sound system. The seats are comfortable, the interior is quiet, and the driving position is relaxed enough that even when eating highway miles, it feels like a usable daily driver in the way a Jetta is expected to be. Whip it through some corners, though, and it truly makes its case.

2022 VW Jetta GLI The GLI remembers that fun doesn't show up on a stat sheet.Victoria Scott

On the two-hundred-plus tight corners of my test roads in the hills of Asheville, the GLI’s chassis felt excited in a way that the GTI no longer does. On hard braking, there’s noticeable weight transfer from front to rear that doesn’t loosen the tail but loads the front suspension in a lively, predictable manner. The Hankooks scream long before the nose gently understeers at the limit in a way that’s extremely easy to anticipate and forgiving when you do push a bit too hard. The body doesn’t suffer from excessive roll but it lets you know that it’s feeling the G’s in the same way you are; it is not a corner-terminator perfectly optimized for lap times in the same way the newest hatches are, and it’s more fun for it. The steering feel is less surgical than the MK8’s, but it makes the car more engaging in the switchbacks of North Carolina’s finest twisties. Boost comes on with just the slightest delay, and the GLI’s engine management tuning encourages revving it all the way out.

2022 VW Jetta GLI The GLI now gets 13.4-inch brake rotors for incredible stopping power.Victoria Scott

All of these traits make it slower than the new GTI, but as a driver just looking for a fun run through some incredible roads, it made me much more captivated by the GLI. As I’d line up a corner I’d actually need to throw it down a gear, make sure I nailed my braking points, and give it as much power as I could as early as I could and let the now-standard LSD yank me out of the corner. I could do all of this on the tight roads of NC-209 because I never was unclear where the limits were, thanks to how expressive the chassis tuning is and how progressively the front end loses traction. Slamming the brakes late into a corner is more confidence-inspiring than ever, too, because the GLI now gets the massive 13.4” brake rotors that previously only the MK7 Golf R had. And for an extra dose of fun, where the MK8 gained a dose of quiet and moderation, the GLI didn’t - it barks on downshifts, and it sounds great doing it.

2022 VW Jetta GLI Competition for the GLI is stronger now than ever before, with several great affordable performance cars hitting the market this year.Victoria Scott

Granted, it’s not all perfect. Downsides of the MK7 were few, but they’re still present: the manual transmission is unchanged along with the rest of the drivetrain, and so the six-speed I drove suffered from typical VW long throws and vague feel, and I did miss the new generation’s electronic brake booster as the day went on and I began to feel the GLI’s pedal fade. The price is admittedly a bit high for what it offers, with strong competition from the likes of Hyundai’s Elantra N and Honda’s 11th generation Civic Si inbound, both likely to start slightly cheaper.

But at its core, the new GLI nails Volkswagen’s ethos for affordable sports cars with such deftness that at the end of my day in Asheville, when we could take out any of the new Volkswagens we’d driven for more photos or driving time, I walked right past the technologically superior all-new hatchbacks and straight back to the GLI. A car can always be improved on paper, sure, but the GLI remembers that fun doesn’t show up on a stat sheet, and I love it for that.

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