2009 Volkswagen CitiGolf (South Africa)
2009 Volkswagen CitiGolf at Umthamvuna Nature Preserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South AfricaEnlarge Photo
Most car sites run test drives of new cars. That is, cars that you can actually buy.
And now for something completely different: A test drive of an almost-brand-new, 35-year-old, 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit.
It's not called that; it's called the 2009 Volkswagen CitiGolf. Same car, though--just check the photos.
Here's how it happened: In 1984, Volkswagen stopped making the Rabbit in its ill-fated U.S. plant (closed in 1988), replacing it with the
Mexican-built 1985 Golf.
It shipped the old tooling from Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, over to Volkswagen of South Africa--including the stamping machinery for the U.S.-only Rabbit pickup (the local word is ‘bakkie'), battered examples of which still haul goods all over the country.
The first-generation Golf/Rabbit lived on for another quarter of a century in South Africa, settling into old age as VW's least expensive South African model. It went out of production less than a year ago.
Back in the day, we owned two separate 1980 Volkswagen Rabbit hatchbacks. So we jumped at the chance to rent a 2009 Volkswagen CitiGolf for a day on our South Africa sojourn, especially after the deadly dullness of the two 2010 Toyota Corollas we also rented.
Our shiny white 2009 CitiSport 1.4i came with 19,160 miles (30,900 kilometers) on the clock, stylish mag wheels, and the timeless lines we remembered from our own 1979 and 1980 Rabbits.
The very first VW Golf is a classic design, penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro's Italdesign studio as a five-door hatchback in the linear style of the day.
To our eyes, the Mark I Golf's clean, purposeful lines have aged particularly well. We think the car still looks modern 35 years after it hit the road.
Compare the VW CitiGolf to, say, any 1975 model from a U.S. or Japanese manufacturer-and decide which looks older and more old-fashioned today.
What the looks disguise, though, is how small that first Golf is by today's standards. The CitiGolf would now be considered a subcompact-it's the size of the current Volkswagen Polo, the model below the sixth-generation 2010 Volkswagen Golf.
The CitiGolf shows its age more from the driver's seat than the outside. Getting in, the doors are remarkably thin and upright. Behind the wheel, the windshield seems almost vertical, with the base remarkably close to the wheel.
The original Rabbit's large rectangular box of an instrument panel was replaced in 2004 by a 1990s design from the Skoda Fabia with a hood that arches over two large instruments (tachometer, speedometer) flanked by two small ones (temperature, gasoline level). It is plain, but functional and modern.
The interior surfaces are either body-color painted metal or black (for the carpets, lower upholstery, and headliner). But we were enormously charmed by the fabric inserts, which have a neat pattern of interlocking CitiGolf outlines-cheerful and clever, like the car itself.