The original Golf Mk1 was a front-wheel drive, front-engined replacement for the air-cooled, rear-engined, rear-wheel drive Volkswagen Beetle. Historically, the Golf is Volkswagen's best-selling model and is among the world's top three best-selling models, with more than 30 million built by June 2013.
Initially, most Golf production was in the 3-door hatchback style. Other variants include a 5-door hatchback, station wagon (Variant, from 1993), convertible (Cabriolet and Cabrio, 1979–2002, Cabriolet, 2011–present), and a Golf-derived notchback sedan, variously called Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Vento (from 1992) or Volkswagen Bora (from 1999). The cars have filled many market segments, from being a basic, everyday car, to high-performance hot hatches.
In May 1974, Volkswagen presented the first-generation Golf as a modern front-wheel-drive, long-range replacement for the Volkswagen Beetle. Later Golf variations included the Golf GTI (introduced in June 1976 with a fuel-injected 1.6-litre engine capable of 180 km/h (110 mph)), a diesel-powered version (from September 1976), the Jetta notchback saloon version (from October 1979), the Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet (from January 1980) and a Golf-based pickup, the Volkswagen Caddy.
The third-generation Golf (Mk3) made its home-market debut in August 1991 and again grew slightly in comparison with its immediate predecessor, while its wheelbase remained unchanged.
New engines included the first Turbocharged Direct Injection (TD) diesel engine in a Golf, and a narrow-angle 2.8-litre VR6 engine. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel consumption estimates are 9.0 L/100 km (31 mpg imp; 26 mpg US) (city) and 7.4 L/100 km (38 mpg imp; 32 mpg US) (highway), with 420 km (261 mi) per tank (city) and 584 km (363 mi) per tank (highway). For the first time ever, a Golf estate (Golf Variant) joined the line-up in September 1993 (although most markets did not receive this model until early 1994). At the same time, a completely new Mk3-derived Cabriolet was introduced, replacing the 13-year-old Mk1-based version with one based on the Mk3 Golf platform from 1995 to early 1999. The Mk3 Golf Cabrio received a Mk4-style facelift in late 1999 and was continued until 2002.
The notchback version, called VW Vento (or Jetta in North America), was presented in January 1992.
It was European Car of the Year for 1992, ahead of the new Citroen ZX and General Motors' new Opel Astra model.