Volkswagen Golf - the RV evolution of an icon

Robert Donaldson

20 Feb 2018, Blog Post

Do you remember the 1980s VW Golf adverts? If you don't, or are too young to remember, the premise was that your world around you may be crumbling, but you could always rely on your Golf. The strapline was "If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen".

How has this respected model fared in recent years both from a residual value perspective and popularity wise?

Firstly, a brief history of the model. It started out in Mk1 form in 1974 and, although not the first, it quickly became one of the go to cars for early adopters of the new hatchback body style. Sharp styling and good build quality were key (and still are), and once the hot hatch GTI was launched with such success it has never looked back. Plenty of generational updates followed along with estate and cabriolet variants as well as a saloon version, known separately as the Jetta. We are up to Mk7 now but the Mk1 DNA still runs through and now the Golf continues to adapt to world demands with electric and hybrid offerings.

Analysis of Glass’s data focusing on the performance of the Golf from 2001 onwards makes interesting reading. Firstly, let's track the popularity of the Golf in the U.K.

The chart below tracks the overall position ranking of the model by registrations (source: SMMT)

New car registration ranking by volume

As you can see the VW Golf has steadily risen up the rankings from a creditable 9th in 2001 to an excellent 2nd place last year when it overtook the Ford Focus - historically the UKs most popular car until its little sister, the Fiesta, took over the number one spot.

Chart 2 shows the number of new car U.K. Registrations yearly from 2001 to 2017 (source: SMMT)

Yearly new car registrations

What is interesting here is that although we're witnessing the relentless rise of the crossover, much to the detriment of hatchback C segment cars over the last 10 years, VW Golf sales stay pretty consistent with only a small dip through the financial crash.  It then picked up again in recent years. Whereas the Focus has declined, albeit from very lofty heights.

So does the continuing popularity, and plentiful supply of used examples in the wholesale market, mean problems for residual values?

The table below shows the Glass Trade values of cars at 3, 5, and 7 years of age expressed as a percentage of original cost new price for the whole market, C segment (medium size hatchback) and VW Golf.

VW golf residual value performance

It is clear to see that the Golf is currently outperforming both the whole market and its segment at all three age examples.  This shows that the car still has plenty of appeal in the used market, whatever the age or mark. However, with more Golfs registered than ever before in 2017, the challenge will be to manage the used supply closely over the coming couple of years in order to keep outperforming the market (this is where tools like Autovista Group's 'Residual Value Monitor' can help manufacturers keep a close on model RV performance).

So whether you agree with the 80s advert strap line or not, and plenty of people do judging by the Golf's performance in the charts and table above, Volkswagen can definitely say to themselves "if only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen Golf".

About the author

Robert Donaldson

Robert DonaldsonUK Car Editor

Born in Acton, London, Robert worked for a number of blue chip organisations including Compaq, British Airways and 3M. Of interest, Robert also owned a repair garage with his brother in the 90s with whom he restored older cars, before joining Glass’s in 2006.