The usual course for vehicle development to take is for successive models to become bigger and heavier before some bright spark in product development decides that lighter and simpler is the way forward. All of these geniuses must have departed from Volkswagen, because there certainly aren't any left at Wolfsburg now. The Golf has got progressively heavier and more sophisticated in each of its four incarnations, and the Golf Mk 4 is truly a heavyweight contender in every respect. Launched in May 1998, the range initially consisted of the familiar three and five-door hatchback body styles that bore strong resemblances to the Mk 3 model, but with tidier proportions and prettier detailing. There were four petrol engines and three diesels. The petrol options included the 75bhp 1.4-litre 16v, the 100bhp 1.6, the 125bhp 1.8-litre, and its turbocharged counterpart, the 150bhp 1.8T. The diesel units offered were the 68bhp 1.9 SDi, the 90bhp 1.9TDi turbo diesel and the 1.9 TDi version boasting 110bhp. Many of these engines were familiar through use in the Audi range.
The trim levels ran from basic E, through S, SE, GT and GTi. November 1998 saw the launch of the 2,3-litre V5 engined Golfs, effectively the 'old' VR6 unit with a cylinder lopped off. In April 1999, the 2.0-litre 115bhp engine was introduced to the range, being fitted to the Golf GTi, replacing the normally aspirated 1.8-litre unit. The Golf Estate was launched in August 1999 providing another string to the Golf's bow, although many were confused by the car's similarity to the Bora estate, a car which Volkswagen wisely decided not to import to the UK.
In early 2000, the Golf V6 4-Motion was launched, a four-wheel drive uber-hatch that boasted 204bhp from its tuned V6 engine, putting this power to the ground through the Haldex-differential of Audi's TT sports coupe. August 2000 saw the 8-valve 100bhp petrol engine replaced by a 105bhp 16-valve unit. For the 2001 model year, Volkswagen replaced the 115bhp TDI engines with 130bhp units, kept the 90bhp diesels and reintroduced the 110bhp engines, previously deleted when the short-lived 115bhp Pump Duse engine came on stream. The TDi diesel range was reappraised at the end of 2001 to consist of 100, 130 and barnstorming 150bhp Pump Duse variant. A 3.2-litre V6 petrol-powered R32 flagship version with 232bhp was launched in Summer 2002. Volkswagen reprised a favourite badge in early 2003 when the value-packed Match model was announced, replacing the S trim level.