Several months ago I decided I needed a small run around for doing the mundane things in life. This meant I could leave the cars I actually enjoyed driving in my garage, safe from the rigors of day to day traffic and car park life.
I wondered what to get. So my list of items included; small, cheap, fuel efficient in manual, zippy and maybe even fun? Importantly it had to be mechanically simple, reliable and cheap to work on.
So what to get? After deliberating over the pros and cons of various small cars I finally made my decision. I searched over many months until I found a low-kilometre 2003 Mk4 Golf GTI, with full service history, in silver and with two mature owners (no P platers). It was registered and always garaged but unfortunately at the time of viewing, it was undriveable. I could see it was a good example, but it had some front end damage where the owner badly mistimed his braking, resulting in a low speed crash. Granted the Mk4 is not the prettiest car on the road but they are a relatively simple and well built small vehicle. Knowing the Audi 20-valve engine from previous A4 ownership, if regularly serviced they would give many years of reliable use.
And so to test my theory of "simple and cheap to repair", consider me crazy but I dived in and bought it undriven.
Once home the parts required were radiator plus support, headlight, bonnet, grille and guard. New or used parts were cheap, abundant and easily purchased, so it cost me very little in parts plus my time of one to two day's work to disassemble and reassemble. Although it had been serviced just prior to the accident I gave it the mandatory once-over and service anyway. Once finished and driven on the road, I really wasn't expecting too much as I had read the lukewarm reviews about the Mk4 GTI, alluding to the idea that it was not in the same category of previous GTI's.
That may be the case, but as I began to experience and learn about how best to utilise its combined strengths it has grown on me as a sensible all-rounder. The interior is well made with quality fitting plastics, and comfortable sport style seating. It's reasonably quiet and has good visibility, providing good all-round vision. The gearbox ratios are well sorted and combined with usable torque that's produced at low revs allows for lazy short shifting and easy cruising in top gear at 50km/h around the suburbs. Though if required, it has a good turn of speed in any gear as the turbo spools up and does its thing from the gem of a 1.8-litre turbo Audi engine.
It has strong and dependable brakes, allowing for confident late braking when needed, all combined with a well sorted and road compliant chassis which has kept many expensive sports type cars honest "in the twisties" on occasion. This car - although an older model by today's standard - has most of the critical driver aids required, and being a 4-door hatch makes it very versatile. For a small car I respect the fact its design is capable of doing either the suburban duties or the longer kilometres on the open road run comfortably.
My only regret so far is that I didn't get a Mk4 GTI earlier in life.