Volkswagens, despite the brand’s German heritage, are icons all over the world, from a Jetta to the fastest Golf R, wherever in the world there is a dedicated fan base.
There are a lot of Volkswagen models that you can find in daily traffic. While the chances of a car running forever are slim to none, since eventually the sun will collapse and the solar system will cease to exist, there are a few cars in VW’s extensive lineup that have a pretty decent chance of stand the test of time and stay there for years to come.
Of course, without proper maintenance and a decent amount of care, no car will last very long.
Mk IV Jetta TDI
When we think of interesting cars, the Volkswagen Jetta or ‘Bora’ in some regions probably doesn’t top the list, let alone the TDI diesel variant. The TDI Jetta models were not fast by any contemporary definition of the word, with the early 2000s models making only 90 horsepower from their diesel engine. But the car wasn’t built to be fast; it was made for efficiency and it’s not unusual to see more than reasonable fuel consumption in a TDI.
Reliability is another plus for the Jetta. With regular maintenance and careful driving, it is not out of the realm of possibility to cover several hundred thousand km before the car needs to be taken to an emergency car service. There are several Jetta TDIs that have reached 400,000 km without any problems. While 200,000km on the clock would probably cause the owner to start thinking about a different car, this is just the break-in period for some VW engine fans.
The VW Beetle is one of the most recognizable cars ever to exist. While the model has its origins in Nazi Germany and was a creation of Ferdinand Porsche, the Beetle most people are familiar with comes from the 1960s and 1970s. The kind of Beetle used by a stereotypical hippie on their way to Woodstock it was incredibly reliable for the time, especially thanks to its air-cooled engine. In most iterations, it was a compact horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that produced under 50 horsepower.
It was air-cooled, so there was no radiator or active cooling to worry about, given that everything was in working order and the car itself wasn’t complex at all. The interior of most Beetles of that period was little more than two seats and a steering wheel. The Beetle is so reliable because there are very few things that go wrong in the first place – after all, parts add complexity and therefore a greater risk of failure.
VW Bus – T1
The older brother of the VW Beetle, the Bus or Transporter, deserves to play in any conversation about reliable Volkswagen models. For the same reasons the Beetle goes the distance, the bus excels. The air-cooled engine is a real long-distance performer, regardless of the shape of the sheet metal that surrounds it. Although for the VW fan, the Transporter has the distinct advantage of space.
The venerable VW minibus has already proven to be one of the best possible candidates for a travel vehicle, regardless of engine. An enterprising wrench can drop whatever engine it wants to make the truck a little faster, but if you’re not concerned with speed, the bone-stock air-cooled option may be best when reliability is high on the list of concerns. Given that the model has been around for more than half a century, it’s safe to say that parts availability won’t be a big concern.
Mk IV Golf TDI
If the Jetta doesn’t quite suit your sense of style when it comes to a sensible diesel commuter, then the MKIV Golf TDI could be the hatchback for you. If you choose the same era as the Jetta mentioned above, it has essentially the same transmission. You get all the fuel efficiency and reliability of a low-revving, low-maintenance diesel engine with all the capabilities of a VW Golf, one of the most popular VW cars ever produced.
Enthusiast forums sing the TDI Golf’s praises all day long on multiple threads. But with every “good” car comes a caveat. In this case, the warning happens to be about the ownership of the car as a whole. The car is as reliable as you are.
If you want to completely ignore maintenance, then the parts on your car will definitely fail prematurely. A laissez-faire attitude may slide on a car like the Corolla or Honda Civic, but it can only take you so far. However, if you replace parts when they break and keep all your fluids and belts up to date, 1.9-litre TDI engines can last a very long time – in fact, over 200,000km is not uncommon.
Mk I Golf GTI
Next to the classic Bug, the original Golf GTI might be the most recognizable VW ever released. It showed the car-buying public that Volkswagen was capable of more than just Transporters, but could also produce cars that were fun to drive and remarkably light. The first Golf GTI (also called the Rabbit) was unveiled in 1976. According to VW, it produced 108 horsepower in its first iteration, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider that it weighed just 800 kilograms.
To this day, the first generation Golf GTI is a staple at circuit day events and classic car auctions around the world. It’s the automotive equivalent of a beetle because it just won’t go away – although given its bright demeanor and cheery front fascia, exactly no one is going to be upset after seeing a 40-plus-year-old Golf saunter off into the world. It’s not uncommon to even see auction-ready examples with over 100,000km on the clock.
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