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The Volkswagen Golf Country Was VW's First SUV Attempt

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2017

What do you do when you see the SUV trend rapidly forming, but you don't really have enough money to develop your own SUV? If you're Volkswagen in the 1980s, the answer is apparently to jack up your hatchback and make it look like an SUV.

The vehicle you see above isn't a Volkswagen Golf on steroids, and it's not a Volkswagen Golf that's been placed on a Chevy Blazer frame, or something else you might do if you were bored in West Virginia. It's an actual factory-built vehicle called the Volkswagen Golf Country, and it's technically VW's first "crossover."

Never sold in the United States (but now legal to import under the "25-year rule," as the Golf Country debuted in the late 1980s), the Golf Country had all-wheel drive, 8.3 inches of ground clearance, a front skid plate and brush bar, and, perhaps my personal favorite feature, a rear-mounted spare tire placed on a swing-away frame. In today's world, car enthusiasts complain about how SUVs have really become little more than "lifted hatchbacks." Well, this SUV was literally a lifted hatchback!

Although the vast majority of Golf Country models used a 98-horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, Volkswagen apparently made 50 "Golf Country GTI" versions with a whopping 114 hp. Presumably sold mostly in areas like Switzerland, Austria and the Alps of Northern Italy, the Golf Country is little-known -- and since most people probably used them in serious weather conditions, it's likely that very few have survived 25-plus years in nice shape.

Still, this is the predecessor to all other Volkswagen SUVs -- proof, perhaps, that Volkswagen had the compact crossover craze figured out years before it actually started. Oddly, it would take them 20 years to build another compact crossover, the Tiguan, which didn't debut until 2009 -- making VW one of the last automakers to enter the actual compact crossover segment. Timing is everything.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The Volkswagen Golf Country Was VW's First SUV Attempt - Autotrader