Used Car Review – 2003 Volkswagen Golf TDI Mk4

Volkswagen Golf Mk4 TDI 5 Door
Image by IFCAR via Wikimedia Commons

A Little Car with Big Value

We all have that one friend: the friend who is extremely solid and goes about their business in a professional, quiet and dignified manner. A friend that when you go out for drinks, has a nice stout and sips it all night while you get blasted on martinis. They’re often from a big family, so the chaos doesn’t phase them. If that friend were a car, they’d be the Golf TDI.

The Volkswagen Golf is the second most mass produced car on the planet, right behind the car it was intended to replace, the Beetle. According to reports, they made 29 million of them by 2012, from their inception in 1976. So that’s a pretty solid pedigree. More importantly, this nameplate has seen absolutely everything that you can throw at it. From the incredibly economical (like this one) to the flashy hot hatchbacks of the GTI class, and just about everything in between, there is a Golf for your driving style.

Moving over to that, the 2003 Mk4 TDI that I had my hands on had done a whopping 175k miles. At this point in a small car’s life, it’s usually time to throw in the towel and throw it away. However, this example felt solid, cared for, and incredibly straight. The 1.9 liter diesel engine chugged away, making little ripples of torque when the turbo kicked in in the middle range of the gearbox. The five speed manual is obviously the way to go for this car. It made it so that it got an absolutely astonishing 49 mpg, even when I was thrashing it about Rochester. With a foot that’s not made out of Rhodium and Lead, it gets over 50. Small cars are supposed to be efficient, this one kills all of them.

As a city car, it is ok. The TDI came into its own on longer drives. The seats weren’t terrible, although I was dealing with a lower back issue at time of driving, so it could have been a Rolls Royce and any bump would have pissed me off. Needless to say, I didn’t do a speed run on my favorite bit of road for fear of Hulk-smashing a car that wasn’t mine.

A Cheap and Nasty Car for the Ages

The Mk4 has aged pretty well. It is definitely showing its age in the interior and some of the materials used, but in 2003 they were good. Overall they have held up to 13 years of almost constant use very well for a car that was relatively cheap when new. Seriously, cars in this segment rarely look, feel, and perform nearly as good as this one 13 years later. Personally, I would take it over a lot of the newer small stuff coming out of Japan or Korea right now. It’s really that efficient.

Overall, the interior was a lot better than most small cars of the era as well. Compared to the Corolla of 2003, its back seat was positively luxurious. This was a 5 door hatchback model, and while I didn’t try to stuff anything massive into the back of it (see again, busted back), the seats folded flat and there was a surprising amount of room. The controls were very ergonomic and well thought out, but its Volkswagen what do you expect?

The $15 Billion Elephant in the Room

So it’s good to drive, it’s good to ride in, how is it to own? The owner of the car had not reported any major non-warranty problems with the car. I know there is a diesel-gate comment coming, so I’m going to take that on in a blog next week where I drive one of the cars that actually cheated the test. Other than that, we want to know from any Volkswagen techs out there: how are these thing to work on, what goes wrong with them, and overall are they good cars? Put a comment below and we’ll send you some Surfwrench goodies.

So Mk4 Volkswagen TDI, if you get a chance to grab one, and you need a car that is going to get a s**tload of miles thrown at it: do it! It’s small enough that it works in a city, but economical enough to take it on a long commute. On a road trip it will work, but its small size will bite you. And while the back seat works better than a lot of other options de jour, I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone over 5’6’’ for fear of “fat guy in a little car” syndrome. Long story short, you don’t get to build 29 million of something if it’s s**t.

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