Golf 4: The much-loved hatchback that refuses to retire

Thursday May 7 2020

The Golf MK4 has been the most recognised model

The Golf MK4 has been the most recognised model from Volkswagen on Ugandan roads during the last 15 years. PHOTOS BY MARK KAWALYA 

By Mark Kawalya

The Golf was for a long time Volkswagen AG’s bestselling model. The series has been in production for four years shy of a half century.

That is older than the millennials you see sauntering on the streets of Kampala doing the things that millennials normally do. For many years, people could not get enough of the understated yet beautifully designed hatchback hailing from Germany.

An encounter with any of the models down the street has left many a passerby looking over their shoulder for just one last glance. From its humble beginnings in 1974 as a simple utilitarian car, the Golf metamorphosed into an indomitable bestseller for Volkswagen AG.

There is something aesthetically desirable about Volkswagen Golfs and this has been the cemented narrative about the cars for years. The Golf MK4 has been the most recognised model from Volkswagen on Ugandan roads during the last 15 years.

Talk of the brand and the model that is conjured in the minds of most Ugandans is the MK4. The Golf 4 as it is popularly known here is the fourth generation to the nameplate and the car rolled off the assembly line for the very first time in 1997.

The car came in a secondary iteration, which is the longer estate version that paled in comparison to its smaller brother in sales. The MK4 removed itself from the mainstream or normal hatchbacks and set itself on a pedestal as something premium to be reckoned with.


23 years after its launch the car has not yet lost its appeal and is still loved by Ugandan drivers. It is still remarkable to drive, comfortable as German auto engineering normally is and fast enough to outperform many other car brands.

The petrol version of the Golf MK4 had engines with six different sets of capacities. These started at 1400cc, 1600cc, 1800cc, 2000cc, 2300cc 2800cc, and finally the most powerful 3200cc variant in the R32 model. In contrast, the diesel MK4 mainly came standard with 1900cc of power.

If you are looking for more power and greater throttle response, you are better inclined to look toward the petrol options. The diesel option is great for its generally better fuel economy when compared to petrol variants of relatable engine sizes.

The Golf 4 has four transmission options with the manual having two iterations. The first is a five-speed manual shifter and the second option is capable of six speeds. The automatics gearbox had four speeds and the five-speed option for its second variant.

The interior is tastefully done with grainy plastic on the dashboard and a solid four-spoke steering wheel bearing the Volkswagen AG Logo in the center. A set of air conditioner vents seats on the top section of the dashboard. This is just below the entertainment centre that contains radio and the climate control adjusters.

What I do not like is the chrome accents used around the gear shifter in the automatic transmission models. I think this looks rather overdone and is quite unnecessary. Also some people say that MK4 body is too stocky and bland when compared to some of the newer, sexier hatchbacks on the roads these days.

General use

The ride quality of the MK4 is something to reckon with bearing in mind that the model is more than 23 years old. I have driven a 1.6 litre option and what you get is a smooth and refined ride that is quite distinctive from the normal Japanese cars of a similar age within a related class. When you drive the car, it is easy to understand why the MK4 has been popular among Ugandan drivers.

Like many German cars, it is considered a vehicle for a certain demographic that are willing to spend a little extra to drive a good car. Spare parts for the MK4 are also available and like for many older German cars, the prices are quite manageable.

According to Moses Mugoya a mechanic, like many German cars, the MK4 needs regular oil changes and a timely maintenance. He adds that you can drive a Golf 4 for many years by simply following a proactive maintenance regiment. Use lubricants that have been manufacturer-approved for both the engine and gearbox and replace the due filters.

Do not substitute water for coolant and regularly replace worn out parts from reputable dealers. It is not uncommon to drive the MK4 for 300,000km without having major issues if the car is well taken care of.

The Golf 4 has been on our roads for about 23 years since its manufacture. If you are looking for a future Golf Classic to keep and drive in the future, now is to time to go on the hunt for one when you can still get your hands on the model.

Common problems

Moses Mugoya a mechanic, says one of the issues the MK4 has is moisture that would lead to corrosion of some joints on the axel. For example, it would get into the ball joints causing rusting which would necessitate premature replacing.

Another issue was electric problems that were seen in the failure of the electric windows and central locking system. The ECU in the car would fail prematurely causing many electric functions in the car to stop working.

Buying advice

If you can get the MK4 from the bond then, by all means consider that option. It is the best choice for getting a car with minimal problems. However, it may be an unlikely option since most of the cars cannot be imported anymore.

If you are looking for a newer Golf, then you could consider the fifth generation of the Golf which is the MK5. However, it is a bit more expensive to maintain, as its parts are significantly pricier than for the MK4.