1991 Volkswagen Golf III GTI | Volkswagen Cars
Volkswagen Cars: 1991 Volkswagen Golf III GTI

1991 Volkswagen Golf III GTI

Volkswagen Golf Mk III (1991–1998)

The third-generation Golf was launched in November of 1991, although it did not appear in North America until the spring of 1993. The delay in North America was due to Volkswagen's decision to supply U.S. and Canadian dealerships with Mark III Golfs (and Mark III Jettas) from the VW plant in Puebla, Mexico. Quality control problems led Volkswagen of America to reject Golfs and Jettas from Mexico; shortly thereafter, labor unrest at the plant delayed the car's North American introduction even further. The third-generation Golf and Jetta finally made it to North America, first as 1993 models in the San Diego, California area, then in the fall in the rest of North America as 1994 models. Three-door Golfs of this generation were mostly only available in North America in GTI form.

The third-generation Golf was elected Car of the Year in 1992. For the first time a station wagon derivative was produced. The GTI variants (especially with the straight-four 4 cylinder engine) are considered to be the poorest of the performance Golfs, with significantly increased weight, but with minimal power increases. A "best of breed" VR6 variant exists which was available in a well regarded "Highline" trim; this 2.8 L VR6 engine gave a significant boost in power to 174 PS (128 kW/172 hp) for the Mk. III, a car weighing only about 1285 kg (2836 lb). Compare that to the Mk. II GTI that weighed 285 kg (629 lb) less but had only 139 PS (102 kW/137 hp) and a much smaller engine to tune (1.8 L). The convertible version was called the Cabrio.

A 16-valve version of the third-generation Golf GTI was introduced in 1993. This model was greeted with a muted sense of disenchantment with the motoring press. The engine was the same enlarged to 2.0 L, with power now reaching 150 PS (110 kW/148 hp). While underpowered compared to the VR6, it was still relatively popular with driving enthusiasts in Europe (North America didn't get the GTI version proper, but had the name applied to the VR6 engine). Once again the Golf Driver version took its place as the official GTI-look-alike but with a more humble single-point injected 1.8 L engine.

The Golf MkIII was also the predecessor of the diesel craze that swept through Europe in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Volkswagen introduced the direct-injection system with the 90 PS Golf TDI in 1993. The 1996 TDI, at 110 PS (81 kW/108 hp) for a 1.9 L engine, wasn't the first diesel engine installed in a road car to achieve over 50 hp/L, but it showed the public that diesel engines could be powered without losing their fuel efficiency, while also retaining massive amounts of low-end torque, in the TDI's case, 235 N·m (173 lbf·ft) at 1900 rpm.

During the 1990s, Volkswagen sponsored three high-profile rock bands' European tours, and issued a special-edition Golf, with distinctive exterior markings, for each: the Golf Pink Floyd Edition (1994), the Golf Rolling Stones Edition (1995), and the Golf Bon Jovi Edition (1996).

In 1996 Volkswagen produced a limited 1000 special-edition 3-door '20th Anniversary' GTI's. These had the usual GTI specification but a came with checkered GTI logo'd Recaro sport seats, red seat belts, half-chrome golf ball gear knob, red stitching on the steering wheel and on the handbrake gatter and silver dialed instruments. The red theme continued externally with a red striping on the bumpers and red brake calipers, the wheels were 16" split rim BBS alloys, visually similar to the 15" that were found on VR6 model. Brush stainless steel rear twin tailpipes on the exhaust and smoked front fog and indicator lamps to match the rear lamps. 3 optional extras were made available; electric sunroof, air conditioning and metallic black paintwork. Insurance was based on the standard GTI which made this version a very desirable model. The edition was sold in only 6 colour schemes and the 1000 number figures that were produced was as follows; 600 8 valve models, 150 16 valve models and 250 TDI models. The diesel model was only produced for the European market and wasn't sold in the UK. Together with the 'colour concept' version that was produced during the final months before the production of the Mk. IV version, the 20th Anniversary model will probably be seen as the one of the rarest Mk. III models.The Golf MK. III was also avaliavle in "Ecomatic" Form. It was powered with a diesel engine and a clutchless manual transmission. The engine was switched off after 1.5 seconds of inactivity, whether by stopping or coasting. Re-starting the engine simply required depressing the accellerator pedal. VW had previously pioneered similar technology in the VW Polo "Formel E" in the 1980's.

As with the Mark I and Mark II, the Mark III would remain available in North America for a year after it was discontinued in Europe.