Volkswagen Golf Mk4 (A4, Typ 1J) review, problems, specs

Also known under the codename A4, Typ 1J, the fourth generation VW Golf was introduced in August 1997 and reached a multitude of markets, including Europe, US, Canada, Brazil and China, under the Bora moniker. Over time, the VW Golf Mk 4 made a name for itself due to a sense of quality (both regarding materials and assembly), robustness and comfort. Because of this earned popularity, the Mk 4 was kept in production in Europe until 2003, while US version production carried on for three more years, until 2006. Also, in Brazil and Argentina, the model’s production continues to this day.

Pros & Cons
Strong Points


Strong Points
  • excellent diesels
  • strong residual value
  • good-looking interior
  • high-quality finish
  • comfortable

Recommended Versions
Strong Points


Weak Points
  • expensive to buy
  • tedious steering
  • not as fun to drive as some rivals
  • lacks personality

Stay Away From
  • 1.4-liter petrol versions
Strong Points


Known Problems & Recalls
  • some ECU malfunctioning was reported on several occasions
  • clutches can fail as early as 40.000 miles (around 64.000 km)
  • the timing belt needs to be changed on diesel version every 60000 miles (around 96.500 km)
  • also make sure all the electric windows are functional, as well as the central locking system
  • well-known ignition issues for the 1.8T version
  • there have been nine safety-related recalls through the model’s career
Car Details

Volkswagen made sure the fourth-generation Golf would greet customers with a wide range of engines, so the hatchback was launched with an extensive choice of powerplants. In the petrol department, there’s the entry-level 1.4-liter mill (100 HP), the 1.6-liter mill (105 HP) and the sportier 1.8T version (180 HP). What you should really keep in mind is that diesel engines are the Golf’s strongest points, including the 1.9 GT TDI version. One downfall is their noisiness, but you’ll be rewarded with an energetic response at the slightest gas pedal push and good fuel economy.


The Golf Mk 4 found inspiration in the models before it and kept some of their features. Handling is not quite among them, but this doesn’t mean the fourth-gen Golf is a boring car in this regard. It does feel composed and offers a feeling of safety and control. Feedback could have been better but overall, the steering is precise. Couple that with the soft ride and you get an overall relaxing package for long and short trips, both on A-roads, highways or city streets.


Back in 1998, when the Volkswagen Golf Mk 4 was tested by the rigors of Euro NCAP, the hatchback earned four stars. This result comes thanks to VW’s decision to fit the fourth-gen Golf with amenities like a stronger body shell, ABS and a complete suite of airbags (driver, passenger and side) available in standard spec.


There’s really nothing bad to say about the cabin of the Golf Mk 4, which has already been praised by owners. Sure, rear space might be limited if you opt for the three-door version, but nonetheless, the seats are exactly what you need in terms of support and posture. Although there’s only room for two adults in the back of the five-door variant, three children will travel in optimum comfort conditions. Everything on the dashboard is placed in a logical fashion and most drivers will feel in command behind the wheel, regardless of their size.


Again, this is one of those aspects where the Golf Mk 4 earned its stripes. Starting with the plastics and ending with the seat covers, everything inside the hatchback oozes good quality. There’s a well-built aura surrounding the car’s cabin, which means you won’t hear plastics screeching or cracking and on well-maintained models, there’s barely any sign of wear and tear.


Keep in mind, this is a hatchback we’re talking about here. Despite that, the VW Golf Mk 4 offers reasonable boot space, coupled with plenty of storage spaces inside, cupholders and pockets that will provide proper home for phones, CDs and so on. In addition, the rear seats can be split-folded when needed. The bottom line is, you can take your family on a short holiday in the fourth-generation Volkswagen Golf, but the city is where the Golf likes to be driven the most.


At most, we can mention the CD player and a six-CD changer, but that only comes on higher-spec versions.


The best choice in terms of frugality is the 1.9-liter diesel, which returns 50 mpg. The 1.6-liter unit is one to be considered as well, as it returns, on an average, 40 mpg. As you can imagine, the big guns will hurt your pockets. For example, V6 petrols are only good for 25 mpg while the V5 is a bit more economical, at 32 mpg.


All models, regardless of equipment level, offer ABS, power steering and electronic brake distribution. Moreover, the steering column can be adjusted both in depth and height but it’s the better-equipped versions you should be looking at. For example, the S level brings central locking, adjustable heated mirrors and power windows. On SE variants you get air conditioning and a CD player, along with armrests for the front and rear plus remote locking. The goodies come together in the GTi and V5 models. Here, you’ll find fog lights, a CD changer, traction control and leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake. Optional equipment includes alloy rims, cruise control, parking sensors and curtain airbags.


You should keep in mind that the Golf will always be expensive, but it will offer good value for the price tag it demands. Top-shelf diesel variants are the most expensive - mostly because their frugality. Despite being a rather old model, the Golf Mk 4 enjoys high demand on the used market, which means you’ll face stiff competition in buying one.

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