The Volkswagen Golf is a legend for many reasons. However, one of its most legendary moments is one that most people don’t even know about. For a very short period, Volkswagen made a taller 4×4 off-road version of the famous hatchback called the Volkswagen Golf Country. This mini 4×4 looks more like a Jeep Wrangler than a Golf. Volkswagen worked with the off-road masterminds at Steyr-Daimler-Puch to create this most extreme hatchback.
The Volkswagen Golf Country is the coolest
This little off-road terror was a factory car that VW was only cool enough to make for a very short time. In fact, Volkswagen only made this alternate Golf from 1990-1991. This rare Volkswagen came outfitted from the factory with a neatly 5-inch suspension lift, skid plates, and tubular metal struts added all over to make this thing more rigid and tough.
Before the smaller, more pacified versions of SUVs known as crossovers, there was a much more brutal and loveable link between the two segments. The Volkswagen Golf Country is really a crossover before anyone else had come up with the concept. Except for the AMC Eagle, there was no people hauler who crossed with a 4×4 utility vehicle. The Golf Country really took the first step of blending an existing road car with the utility of an off-roader.
Unfortunately, the Volkswagen Golf Country was not a hit. This is obvious now that most of us have never heard of the silly little thing. As noted by New Atlas, even though it had the segment founding Toyota RAV4, drivers really never warmed up to it. It’s clearly very cool, but it looks more like a custom dune jumper than it does a production car. Maybe the look was too intense for the time; it’s hard to say.
What made Volkswagen make the Golf Country?
For the 1989 Geneva Motor Show, VW made a more rugged Golf Mk2 called the Montana concept. VW was shocked and inspired by the little concept’s response and decided to give it a go.
Unlike the off-road concepts-turned-production editions we see nowadays, the Golf Country kept its edgy off-road spirit. The Golf Country wasn’t a watered-down Montana with little more than special graphics and larger wheels and tires. The Volkswagen Golf Country was a serious, capable, 4×4 ripper that was designed by some of the best off-road builders in the world at the time.
While the 4×4 drivetrain seems like what set the VW Golf Country apart from the crowd, it really wasn’t. VW worked with the Syncro system in other VW models, including the legendary 4×4 Syncro van. The true novelty was all the off-road accessories. Steyr-Daimler-Puch’s heavy lifting, figuratively and literally, can be seen beneath the Golf Country, where it added in tubular subframes to boost suspension by a full 4.7 inches, raising total ground clearance over 7 inches.
The only real downside of all this killer off-road suspension was that the Golf Country sucked on the road. The massive suspension lift made the body roll of Golf Country nearly intolerable. Even Volkswagen couldn’t erase the horrible on-road handling from its recollections of the little trendsetter.
Are there still any of these Golf off-roaders left?
Volkswagen built a total of 7,735 Golf Country models in 1990 and 1991. New Atlas notes that the Volkswagen Golf Country was legally available for import, but only very few made it across the pond to the States. In fact, one sold last year on Bring a Trailer for the modest sum of $12,600. They may be rare, but if you find one (and want it), these little off-roaders aren’t too expensive.
Next time you see a boring crossover, and you curse its popularity, remember the Volkswagen Golf Country. The origins of the crossover are infinitely cooler than its progeny.